Bethany: Women’s solidarity and spikenard scented candles

Giacomo Pizzi23 October 2020

 We are greeted with an apron with pink flamingos by the women of the Al Hana centre in Bethany. They wear this playful uniform during their candle-making meetings. The women of the Bethany centre are Palestinian women who come together every week to create, talk and support each other. When the Mosaic Centre and the Pro Terra Sancta Association got to know them and decided to collaborate with them, they found a united and supportive group, thirty women, but above all thirty friends. From the very first moment you enter their home, you can feel the desire to be together that animates them. They are women of different ages, between 35 and 70 years old, who bring with them often complex personal and family histories and who forget their worries for a few hours when they find themselves doing manual labour. 

“The idea of producing scented candles was born in relation to the female traditions of Bethany,” explains Osama Hamdan, head of the “Betania Ospitale” project, funded by AICS (Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development). Two important women friends of Jesus lived in Bethany: Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus. Mary, in particular, is known in the Gospel for having sprinkled Christ’s feet with the oil of spikenard, a fragrant and very expensive oil from the Indies. The oil of spikenard did not grow and does not grow in Palestine, for this reason it was very precious and because of its symbolic value it is used by Mary. This evangelical tradition has given rise to numerous activities with women’s associations carried out by Mosaic Centre and Pro Terra Sancta: initiatives and projects aimed at creating a connection between the local population and pilgrims to increase work and tourism.


Together with Ayman, who looks after relations with local associations, we observe their candle production. Each lady on her table proudly shows us her creations. Candles can have many uses,” explains Raneen. “Traditionally, when a child is born, small gifts are given to family and friends. These little scented candles are a great solution for many mothers”. Candles with the scent of rose, jasmine, lavender, of all colours and decorated in the most varied, different and unique ways like the women in the centre.

After a short time together with them it is clear to us that the Al Hana centre also has a therapeutic value for each of them. As we eat a hearty homemade Palestinian breakfast together we listen to their stories: “My husband died,” says Shaima, “he worked in Dubai. He left me with four children. The youngest, only 13 years old, has been arrested and is in an Israeli juvenile prison. I can see him once a year for a lot of money. Shaima is moved, she dries her tears and then starts talking to the other women again, she doesn’t lose heart and so none of them lose heart. The centre is an open space in which to confront other women without fear of being judged. “Until recently, women were afraid of getting angry or stopping their husbands, even when he was violent. Now things are changing,” says Fathma confidently. “I have just separated from my husband, I live with my 19-year-old son. He also works and helps me with the house,” explains another girl from the centre. Scented candles are the end, but also the means by which these women become protagonists of stories of emancipation and redemption. A creative workshop in which suffering, if shared, seems a little less frightening.