Karak is one of the most important cities in southern Jordan, approximately half way between Amman and Petra. Perhaps it is better known for its massive Crusader and Islamic fortress, one of the best preserved in Jordan, dating back to the time of the first Crusades. The town, built on a triangular plateau about 900m above sea level, is still inside the old Crusader walls, with the castle at its narrow southern tip.
Situated at the junction of roads leading South to Aqaba, West to the Dead Sea, East to the desert and the main highway North to Amman, the Kings Highway. The town stands on top of the hill, with precipitous cliffs on all sides and good views down towards the Dead Sea in the west. It lies on the ancient caravan route between Egypt and Syria in the time of the Byblical kings and was used by the Greeks and the Romans. It became the Roman provincial town of Characmoba.
The plateau, on which the town stands, appears more the work of military architects rather than nature, being surrounded by deep ravines and dominating the surrounding countryside. It is mentioned in the Old Testament and can be seen on the mosaic map of the Holy Land in Madaba. A tomb or shrine of Noah is revered locally.
Karak has been an old Episcopal See since the Byzantine era, with the parish priest representing the bishop who lived in Jerusalem. Perhaps Karaks most famous occupant was Reynard de Chatillon whose reputation for treachery and brutality was unsurpassed. When Baldwin, who had built the castle in 1142 died, his son a 13 year old leper, made a peace treaty with Saladin. He died without an heir and Reynald took the throne. He promptly broke the truce with Saladin. Together with King Guy of Jerusalem, they attacked Saladin but were heavily defeated when Reynard was taken prisoner and killed. This marked the start of the decline in the Crusaders fortunes. Later the castle was taken over and enlarged by the Mamluks.
During the Ottoman rule in the late 19th century, because of the many conflicts causing great instability, a large number of Christian families fled from the town to the north and settled among the ruins of Madaba.
The Latin Patriarchate:
Father Moretain first made the aquaintance of the Christians from Karak when they went to Beit Jala during his time there as parish priest. The specific purpose of their journey had been to ask him for a priest to be sent to Karak.They had the support of the Muslims in Karak. Unfortunately the establishment of a mission there was not possible at that time, mainly due to a shortage of available priests. They had to wait some years until the time of Fr Moretains successor in Salt, Father Gatti, when Patriarch Bracco was able to consent to their request.
The first priests, Father Macagno, known as Abouna Eskandar, and Father Bandoli, known as Abouna Boulos, arrived in 1876. They settled among the Arabs, living in tents, but Abouna Boulos was soon able to start a school. This foundation date makes it the second oldest of the Latin Patriarchate schools in Jordan.
The pupils then numbered only 15 boys and 9 girls, who were eager to learn prayers and aquire general knowledge. At first the education took place in a tent or in the open air. Abouna Eskandar lived in a roughly built house in the town, with a few boxes and a bed being the only furniture. He had a ‘mobile altar’ which he set up wherever it was possible. In 1897 work began on the construction of a house for the priest in the town of Karak. For a long time, until 1927, a room in the house was used as the church and school. The building of the school for the boys was completed in 1900 with the girls school following in 1902 . The Rosary Sisters arrived in the parish two years later and took over the teaching of girls.
In 1972 the Kindergarten was built, financed by Alfred J. Blasco and his wife members of the Northern Lieutenancy of the U.S.A. At about the same time an extra wing was added to the main school. This new wing was built alongside the school in 1976 followed by the renovation of the entire school buildings in 1995. The Elementary School is still housed in the original buildings. It is situated on a very confined site, with houses right up to the boundary on three sides, with the entrance from the narrow street on the fourth.. The playground area is very limited and split into two areas with steep steps connecting the different levels.
Grades one to three are in seven classrooms, three for grade one, two for grade two and two for grade three.There are 66 children in grade one, 56 in grade two and 40 in grade three. There is no heating for these classrooms and portable gas heaters are used in the winter, during the summer they are stored in the staff room there being no other storage available.
The toilets are outside and involve a long journey up and down stairs and across the playground, causing problems in the cold winters. The classrooms are small and the science equipment, which is not really suitable, is stored in two cupboards on a landing. There is a computer room, which has nine computers but these are not really adequate. In spite of these drawbacks the standard of education is excellent.
Until 2005, Sister Cecile, a Rosary Sister, was the Principal, and had a staff of 17 teachers 16 female and 1 male. 15 are Christian and 2 non-Christian. A total of 240 pupils of whom 136 are boys and 104 girls, 126 Christian and 114 non. The day begins at 7.30 and ends at 1.30. The Kindergarten is next door with its own separate entrance from the street. It is housed in a much better building.There are four classrooms on each floor, one for KG1 and two for KG2. The other is used for television. Upstairs the four rooms are used for various activities, one has some play equipment including a splendid dolls house.
The outside play area is a very limited, narrow space with no play equipment. Again, the toilets are outside. There are safety hazards in both schools and much needs to be done. There is no multipurpose hall. One could be achieved if it was possible for the ground floor of the priests house to be reorganised and renovated. This would produce a parish and school hall with space for computers and other equipment. The area is mostly Muslim, some of the families many years ago were Christian. It is now the last area, travelling south in Jordan, with any Christian population.