The Spafford grave in the Protestant Cemetery

How the Spaffords came to make Jerusalem their home is an interesting story, but I will leave it for you to read in Bertha Spafford Vester, Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City 1881–1949. It may be difficult to locate a copy of the book for a reasonable price, but it is available in Kindle format for $8.39. Click here: Our Jerusalem.

The members of the American Colony lived under a series of governments — the Turks, British, Jordanians, and Israelis. Horatio died in 1888 during the Turkish rule. The American Colony had secured a place for burials on the south eastern slope of the traditional Mount Zion overlooking the Hinnom Valley.

Before I can show you the grave marker of Horatio Spafford I should tell you about the desecration of his original grave. Toward the end of the 19th century, when the members of the American Colony needed a grave site, they learned that earlier burials had been removed and the remains placed “temporarily” in a large pit. After much effort, permission was granted by various ruling authorities for the bones to be gathered, and a small plot was granted for the burial of the American Colony members.

That small plot is pictured below. It is immediately inside the gate to the cemetery. The large marker identifies seven members of the American Colony whose remains were recovered: John C. Whiting; Horatio G. Spafford; William C. Sylvester; Herbert Drake; Margaret W. Lee; Geo. A. Fuller; John Miller. I have noticed at least four of these names in Vester’s Our Jerusalem. Whiting was also from Chicago. He and his family came to Jerusalem with the Spaffords, as did Margaret Lee.

Grave stone for Spafford and other members of the American Colony in the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Grave stone for Spafford and other members of the American Colony in the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The two smaller markers in the wall identify others whose bones were recovered and buried in the common grave.

In 1896 a group of 37 Swedish farmers left Nås, Sweden, and made their way to Jerusalem. They took up residence at the American Colony. (Vester says there were 38, including 17 children, and a babe in arms. Perhaps the infant was born after leaving Sweden.) The Swedes mostly engaged in farming in the nearby Kidron Valley. I think you would enjoy reading the comment to the last post written by reader Erik Wold. You may see his photographs of Nås and read his Norwegian comments here (use Google Translate if you do not read Norwegian). The Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf won a Nobel prize for her novel called Jerusalem, which was based on the American Colony. Bertha Vester says that her mother, Anna Spafford, “is the heroine in her book and is called Mrs. Gordon.”

Something else that has fascinated me is the fact that Eric Matson and the American Colony photographers worked from this location. About 40 years ago I edited a series of Bible Class literature called Truth in Life. We used some of Eric Matson’s wonderful Bible land photographs in the series. For more information about the work of Matson and the other photographers see Life in the Holy Land. I think Matson was the heir of one of the settlers from Sweden.

I do not know anything about the present ownership of the American Colony Hotel, but it is a prestigious 5-star luxury hotel.

Entrance to the American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Entrance to the American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Would you like to see more photographs from the Protestant Cemetery?

12 responses to “The Spafford grave in the Protestant Cemetery

  1. Pingback: Restoration in the Protestant Cemetery in Jerusalem | Ferrell's Travel Blog

  2. Here’s a picture showing the old “American Cemetery”, the original burial ground for the early Colony members which was displaced by the building of the Dormition Church & Abbey ca. 1900. The image, which I think is by Bonfils, is the only one of that spot I have ever tracked down; it resides in the archive of the Palestine Exploration Fund. The cemetery is the walled compound in the center of the photograph:

    TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC

  3. Pingback: Vandalism in Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion | Ferrell's Travel Blog

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  5. Pingback: Locusts still plague the Bible lands |

  6. Pingback: Locusts still plague the Bible lands | Ferrell's Travel Blog

  7. By the way, the full text of Bertha Vester’s memoir “Our Jerusalem” seems to be available on-line free, in various formats, here: (Note: This page incorrectly lists the author as “Lowell Thomas”, who in fact penned only the introduction.)

    TOM POWERS / Jerusalem

  8. Reblogged this on Arne Berge and commented:
    Spaffford-familien er sentral i eit svært spesielt kapittel i Jerusalems historie; utviklinga av The American Colony. Eg har tidlegare skrive om denne historia her på bloggen. Leiarskikkelsen Anna Spafford var født i Stavanger. Nå skriv Ferrell’s Travel Blog om familien i ein serie om menneske som er gravlagt på den protestantiske kyrkjegarden på Sionshøgda.

  9. Tom, your informative comments are much appreciated. I have the set of “Matson” photos developed by Todd Bolen (, but I must confess that I had overlooked your fine article on The American Colony.
    Much of what you pointed out about the Spaffords I had learned in my reading, but did not want the posts to be too long.
    By the way, I had already prepared the post on Conrad Schick, including your material, when your comments came. Thanks.

  10. Several comments — as you can see, I find the whole American Colony phenomenon endlessly fascinating!

    Horatio Spafford’s original grave was not on the southeastern slope of Mt. Zion, but more or less on the summit, in a cemetery that has not existed for well over a hundred years. It was the old “American Cemetery” owned by the Presbyterian church, part of the tract that the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II gave to Kaiser Wilhelm in 1898 — which wound up as the site of today’s Dormition Church. The only photo I have ever seen of it is a Bonfils image from 1880, looking southeast, showing it as a small, walled compound, with the David’s Tomb/ Upper Room structure not far beyond it.

    After about the turn of the century, the American Colony acquired their own burial ground on the slopes of Mt. Scopus. It is not far from the main entrance of the Hebrew University campus, just on the western descent of the hill. If you can find the resident caretaker to let you in, it’s rather interesting, for those who know the Colony story and its characters.

    It’s worth noting that most of the “Matson” photos were not taken by Eric Matson himself. He was one of several photographers, and not one of the earliest — he was still a child when the studio was organized about 1897. What happened is that Matson came into possession of the large archive when the Colony broke up in the early 1930s, then added many images of his own up until 1946. It was all given to the Library of Congress in the 1970s under the “Matson” name. Some of this history has just been pieced together in recent years. And, yes, a collection of some of the best images is available through Todd Bolen’s “Life in the Holy Land” site (disclosure: I wrote the annotations for the Jerusalem volume of several hundred images).

    About the hotel: It is managed by a Swiss firm but is still owned by descendants of the original American Colony families, some of whom sit on the board. The last family member to live on the grounds, Valentine Vester (Bertha Spafford Vester’s daughter-in-law) passed away just a few years ago. Another remaining outgrowth of the Colony enterprise is the Spafford Children’s Center, a wonderful ministry based in the Old City and housed in the very first Colony buildings.

    About the Swedish connection: Anna Spafford first got involved with the Swedes in America, during a visit she made to Chicago in 1894-1896. The preacher Olof Larson had a flock there of Swedish immigrants, and another congregation which he had started back in Sweden, both of which got caught up in Ms. Spafford’s charismatic proclamations of the imminent Second Coming of Christ and thus made their way to Jerusalem. It’s quite a strange and convoluted story.

    Some of your readers may be interested in an article I wrote on the American Colony, with an emphasis on their photographic legacy. It is included on Todd Bolen’s DVDs of the American Colony photographs (see above), plus it is available via my web-log, here:

    Finally, for a couple of more critical and objective treatments of the American Colony story, try “Anna’s House: The American Colony in Jerusalem” by Odd Karsten Tveit OR “American Priestess: The Extraordinary Story of Anna Spafford and the American Colony in Jerusalem” by Jane Fletcher Geniesse.

  11. Very interesting. The strange thing was that I met Eric Matsons daugther in Nås in Sweden during these crazy 75 min we were there. She was born in Israel at the American Colony. Her father Eric was son of Olof and just a kid when they left Nås heading for Jerusalem. I have highlighted the name on the picture of the memory stone in the village.

    The whole story is so fascinating. Here in Scandinavia everybody who knows the story just think of this as a religious fanatism and a terrible disaster. However if you look at it from Jerusalem and the American Colony it is different. These contrasts is so interesting.

    The real name of the fanatic preacher that Selma Lagerlof calls Helgum was Olof Henrik Larson. He was born in Grundsund Sweden (not too far from where I leave and old people in Grundsund knows this). He went to Chicago and met Spafford there. Anna Spafford was born in Norway.

  12. Thanks for this great look at the American Colony. I would definitely like to see more photographs from the cemetery.

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