Sacred Sites in Contested Regions

Our Lady on the Wall

Our Lady of the Wall  is a mural covering part of Israel’s separation barrier. This unique icon of the Virgin Mary, which is located about 200 meters from the IDF checkpoint in Bethlehem, was painted in 2010 by Ian Knowles, a British artist. In the meantime, it has attracted a growing number of visitors, many of whom are pilgrims. According to the local narrative of the place, Ian Knowles, a British iconographer and former priest, was commissioned to paint the mural by nuns from the nearby Emmanuel Monastery. Situated among graffiti, the icon graces a corner piece of the towering, gray wall structure.

Some of the attributes of the Icon are: Mary pregnant, and suffering as in the icon Console my Pain. She clasps her outer radiant garment close to her chest as in icons of the Passion, yet opens her mantle to be a safe refuge. She is clothed as the woman in the book of Revelation in a golden garment, and with a crown of 12 stars, with a moon beneath her. Three ancient olive trees symbolize the endurance of faith, hope, and charity. Beneath the image of Mary, the artist rendered an open doorway that offers a distant view of Jerusalem. The Virgin, according to Knowles, stands as “a contrast to violence and injustice, in the hope of peace and reconciliation for all…. It will [also] ensure that the indigenous Arab Christian icon tradition, now hanging on by a thread, is preserved in a new generation” (interview with Ian Knowles, November 1, 2012).  




Field notes from Our Lady on the Wall

Elisa Farinacci 

On April 10, 2014 a group of 220 pilgrims and local nuns made their way to the checkpoint 300 in order to witness the presence of the wall and celebrate the Holy Mass at the icon of Our Lady of the Wall. The religious activities that have sprung from the presence of the icon have become for the pilgrims who come to Palestine a way to familiarize with the political situation in this land as well as soliciting God’s intervention to bring peace and justice. As Abuna Mario, an Italian priest who has lived in this area for ten years, said “we call upon the Lord because, if horizontally our voice is heard by no one, because this wall truly breaks everything, they have not yet closed the top, they have not yet built a roof and therefore we believe that by addressing the sky someone will listen to us”. Therefore this place has become both a place of religious resistance and devotion.


On the morning of April 10, the great number of pilgrims arose suspicion among the Israeli soldiers who were guarding the checkpoint. They arrived and asked the priests what was happening. In response the priests replied that they were not doing anything wrong, that they just wanted to pray at Our Lady of the Wall and they would pray for them as well. The soldiers said that if they wanted to pray, they would have to do so inside the gates of the monastery of the Emmanuel and not by the Wall. The argument lasted sometime, but in the end the priests agreed just to move one meter away from the Wall refusing to give in to the soldier’s request. As the Holy Mass started, more armed soldiers arrived at the sight. However, none of them tried to interrupt the moment of prayer. They seemed intrigued by this event and they started taking pictures and videos of the Mass. At the conclusion of the celebration all the pilgrims went to the soldiers and shook their hands and hugged them wishing peace upon them.

Field notes and pictures by Elisa Farinacci