The region was known in the Bible as Ammon or the Ammonite Kingdom. Rabbath Ammon, great city of the Ammonites in the Old Testament, was the capital of the kingdom and famous for it’s springs and citadel. King David sent Joab, head of the Israelite army, to besiege Rabbath, after being insulted by King Nahash. On taking the town, David burnt many of the inhabitants alive in a brick kiln.
Th ancient Semetic name of Amman was first changed to Philadelphia , Greek for brotherly love, by Ptolemy the Second, who reigned from 283 to 246 B.C. and occupied and rebuilt the city. He was supposedly given the nickname of Philadelphus, so it was named Phildelphia after him.
During the Roman period, Herod took the city in 30 B.C. and it became an important centre along the trade route from Syria to the Red Sea.
Later in Byzantine times, it was the seat of the Christian Bishops of the area. It’s importance declined during the 10th century, gradually being reduced to nothing more than a village, until a colony of Circassians settled here in 1878. By the early 20th century there were only about 2000 inhabitants and for almost a century it became little more than a stopping place on the Damascus to Medina railway.
In 1921, Emir Abdullah made it his headquarters so it became the central, administrative town and capital of Transjordan. With the foundation of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1946 it continued as capital of the Kingdom. Following the troubles in their land west of the Jordan in 1948, a large number of Palestinians settled in the city. Until 1948, Amman was a village of closely huddled houses in the valleys below Jebel al-Qal’a, with a handful of buildings on the lower slopes of the surrounding hills. But the floods of Palestinians, escaping or ejected from the newly formed State of Israel, doubled the city’s population in just two weeks. Makeshift camps to house the refugees were set up on the outskirts. Later, following another huge influx of refugees from the West Bank occupied by Israel in 1967, creeping development began to merge the areas together to form the city’s sprawling suburbs.
Misdar Church and school 2007
Misdar church 1936 (Compare the 2 photos!)
Originally they were from the north and south of the country.
The Christians first came to the area because of the springs of fresh water. Later, after the establishment of the Christian parish and the building of the church, they were joined by others from surrounding countries.
The springs still provide water for the area today, the site being marked by a circular paved area and a park for relaxation.
Reminders of the historical Roman and Byzantine past can be seen on the citadel, in the theatres and many churches from these periods.
Now, with the continued influx of refugees from countries around Jordan, the city consists of the oldest part, the traditional centre called ‘Downtown’ (in Arabic ‘Balad’), with radiating from this, modern, rapidly expanding areas.
When it was established in 1890, Misdar was the first private school in Amman and at the same time the first school in the area. Fr Youssef, a Maronite priest, used to come from Salt to help with teaching the children in the basics of reading and writing during their religious education. He had no building so he just gathered the children together in a group wherever they were.
The first official parish was established in 1924, the building of the church and school was finished in 1928. Originally the building was of two rooms, on the site where the present playground stands, between the entrance and the main school. This continued until 1948 when many people from Palestine fled to the area. There were so many children that they had to be taught in tents because there was not enough room for them in the two rooms.
When these refugees, who were not only Christian but included some Muslim, had settled they started to build small houses. Again in 1967 many more joined them. This made for a large parish, which grew over the years when many more fled from countries around the Middle East and it became a destination area for immigration. It is now more or less used as a staging post or ‘jumping off place’ for emigration to countries in the rest of the world. As it takes time to obtain the necessary visas and documents, both parents and children consider themselves only temporary residents.
It was the Church and Residence of the Vicariate until the late 1960s when the Vicariate moved to Webdeh. Later, with the building of the new Bishops Residence, Cathedral and offices in 1998, the Vicariate moved to Sweifyeh. Today Misdar still continues to be the Mother Church of Amman. Twelve parishes were born from here when priests left to establish missions in other parts of the country. Before he became Patriarch, H.B. Michel Sabbah was the parish priest with four or five other priests helping him.
The community is composed of a population of many faiths with both Catholic and Orthodox rites (Latin, Melchite, Maronite, Syrian, Armenian, Coptic, Greek, Chaldean) and increasing numbers of Muslims. From an area that was predominantly Christian it is now mostly Muslim. There are now about 800 families in the parish, which has numerous active organisations.
Situated in the Downtown district of Amman with poor, old housing and low wages, many of the population are living below the poverty line. The majority of the Middle Class people leave when they have saved enough money to remove to other, more pleasant districts of Amman or Fuheis.
Since 1991 there has been an increase in the immigration of people from Iraq due to the ongoing disturbances caused by the invasions and wars.
There is now a significant population of Iraqi, who have an Iraqi priest to look after their welfare and he is able to celebrate Mass for them in the church on Sundays at 8.30 a.m.
The first school buildings were on the space, which is now occupied by the playground. They were demolished when the classrooms at the side of the street were constructed.
A retired lady, Miriam Haddad, told me she had taught in the school from 1946 to 1962. At that time it was a small school with only the few classrooms at the side of the street. These are still in use today as laboratories for science and computer studies. By the time she left, it had become a mixed school for children from grades one to six, with two grades sharing a classroom. There were more boys than girls and at the fifth and sixth grades it was not allowed for the girls and boys to be taught together in the same classrooms.
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