Baptism in the Jordan River

As the boundary of the Holy Land and the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ, the Jordan River is the most important river in Christianity. For centuries, pilgrims have travelled long distances to immerse themselves in this holy water and despite its relatively small size, the image of the “mighty” Jordan came to dominate popular imaginations.

Over the past century, however, the Jordan has fallen victim to the ongoing regional conflict and suffered severe environmental degradation. Once a meandering river full of rapids and cascades, the Jordan has been extensively developed, with dams, diversion canals and large-scale irrigation projects on the river itself, its tributaries and headwaters. As a result, flow has been reduced to about a tenth of the historic value and water quality has sharply deteriorated, with raw sewage and agricultural run-off polluting the remaining water.

Yet despite the river’s changed physical state, the Jordan’s mythical status and its association with defining moments of Jewish and Christian history continue to dominate collective imaginations in the religious realm, with nearly a million annual visitors at the three baptism sites in Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.

As part of a research project in 2013, Francesca examined various aspects of the disconnect between the physical river and its spiritual counterpart and looked at efforts to restore the Jordan River and raise awareness of the degradation of this holy river.

Articles and conference papers
- De Châtel, F. Forthcoming 2014. ‘Baptism in the Jordan River’, Origins. - De Châtel, F. 2014. ‘Baptism in the Jordan River: Immersing in a Contested Transboundary Watercourse’, WIRES Water, 1: 219-227. - Perceptions of the Jordan River: Source of Holy Water or Sewage Drain? 8th IWHA Conference, Montpellier, France, 26-28 June 2013.