Balian, the Baron (or Lord) of Ibelin, played an important role in the politics of the crusader kingdoms in Palestine throughout the reigns of Baldwin IV and Guy de Lusignan and during the Third Crusade. He is most famous for defending the city of Jerusalem against Salah ad-Din (Saladin) in 1187. He spent the bulk of his life in what is now Israel and southern Lebanon, but was then the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
If I am going to write about Balian -- as I am! -- I need to go to places were he was born, grew up, fought, and played a role in history. So next year, 2014, is the year of my pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
It is exciting to follow in the footsteps of other pilgrims -- and also be in the company of other pilgrims, because Ethiopia is a Christian country with a long tradition of ties to Jerusalem. Indeed, there were Ethiopian churches and an Ethiopian community in Jerusalem when Balian defended it. The fall of Jerusalem so distressed the Ethiopian king at that time, that he built a New Jerusalem here in Ethiopia, in a place now named for him: Lalibella. There churches were carved out of bedrock in amazing demonstration of technical know-how and the place is still quite magical. But it can't replace the historical Jerusalem, so nowadays Ethiopian Airlines offers daily flights to Tel Aviv to accommodate the Ethiopian pilgrims to Jerusalem.
I look forward to being among them -- and then following in Balian's (as well as Christ's!) footsteps as I visit the key sites. Wish me well!