Sunday, March 15, 2009
Holy Land Trip Day 10: Jerusalem Day 3
THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER, SCAFFOLDING AND ALL. VIEW FROM THE BELL TOWER OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH OF THE REDEEMER.
A MONK IN A DOORWAY INSIDE THE CHURCH
Our last day in Jerusalem started very early. We wanted to be back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where we had finished our previous day, early enough that there would be few people there. It opens at 4:30, and we managed to make it by about 5:30.
As I mentioned in the last post, the final Stations of the Cross are inside the church itself, which was constructed on the presumed site of the crucifixion and burial of Christ. So, in effect, the church was built on top of Golgotha, and encompassing the tomb at the foot of it.
After passing through the external courtyard, if you turn right inside the door and climb the steep stairway there, you find yourself atop Golgotha. There are three further Stations here:
STATION 11: CHRIST IS NAILED TO THE CROSS. THIS CHAPEL IS OWNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.
TO THE LEFT OF THE CATHOLIC ALTAR IS A SMALLER ALTAR CALLED THE "STABAT MATER," WHICH IS PLACED TO THE RIGHT OF THE SPOT OF THE CRUCIFIXION, MARKING THE PLACE WHERE MARY STOOD AND WEPT.
STATION 12: CHRIST DIES ON THE CROSS. THIS BEAUTIFUL GREEK ORTHODOX ALTAR IS PLACED DIRECTLY OVER THE SPOT DESIGNATED AS THE ONE WHERE THE CROSS WAS PLACED. YOU CAN APPROACH THE ALTAR, KNEEL, AND REACH UNDERNEATH TO TOUCH THE ACTUAL ROCK OF GOLGOTHA, AS I AM DOING HERE.
THE ROCK OF GOLGOTHA. LESS IMPRESSIVE IN PHOTO FORM.
Back downstairs, directly beneath the chapel at the top of Golgotha, there is a smaller chapel, built up against the base of the rock. It is called the Chapel of Adam (early Christian tradition held that Christ was crucified over the spot where the skull of Adam was buried), and you can see there a fissure in the rock of Golgotha that some believe was caused by the earthquake that occurred as Christ died:
THE ALTAR IN THE CHAPEL OF ADAM
Outside this chapel is the Stone of Annointment (or the Stone of Unction), a slab that commemorates the wrapping and preparation of Christ's body for burial. The marble that is there now dates only from 1810, but the spot has been revered at least since the Medieval period. Many visitors display a lot of emotion when viewing this spot, with many kneeling to kiss the stone:
Going another story below the church to the Chapel of St. Helena (the mother of Constantine, the one who discovered the "True Cross" of the crucifixion in the early fourth century and convinced her son to build the first Holy Sepulcher on this spot), you can see not only the scant remains of the first church that remain on this spot, but also many examples of graffiti carved over hundreds of years by devout pilgrims.
THE STAIRS DESCENDING TO THE CHAPEL OF ST. HELENA
THE WALL ON THE WAY DOWN IS COVERED WITH THOUSANDS OF CROSSES CARVED BY PILGRIMS
THIS CROSS ON THE FLOOR MARKS THE SPOT WHERE ST. HELENA DISCOVERED THE "TRUE CROSS"
The rest of the church is filled with small chapels, some of which were open and some of which were not. As I mentioned in the last post, each is owned and maintained by a different denomination. The morning that we were there, early as it was, there was already a mass going on on the spot of the 11th Station, as well as another service that was making full use of the impressive pipe organ. I will try to attach a video below so anyone who is interested can hear it.
We were very glad that we had been able to enter the Tomb of Christ the day before, as it was closed for a service this morning. There were four or five monks inside chanting, although we could not of course see what they were doing.
THE FRONT OF THE SHRINE OF THE TOMB, WITHOUT ALL THE TOURISTS OF THE DAY BEFORE
PETER BESIDE THE SHRINE BUILT AROUND THE TOMB
On the back of the tomb is the smallest chapel in the entire church -- the Coptic chapel on the back of the square shrine. The Copts claim that a stone inside is part of the original tomb, but this is highly doubtful as it is granite and the interior of the tomb is limestone. There is always a monk sitting here, and visitors may light a candle.
LIGHTING A CANDLE IN THE COPTIC CHAPEL. YOU CAN SEE A MONK BEHIND ME.
Behind the square shrine is the entrance to yet another chapel, the very interesting Syrian Chapel. The Syrian Orthodox church maintains this area, which many visitors miss. It is of great archaeological interest because inside, along the back walls, are several tunnels whose sides are covered with Jewish rock-cut tombs that date from 100 BC to 100 AD. This of course proves that this area was used for burial, which somewhat shores up the assertion that Christ's tomb may have been in this area. It also indicates the limits of the area that Constantine dug out of the rock to build his church:
THE ALTAR IN THE SYRIAN CHAPEL
A NOT-VERY-GOOD PHOTO OF SOME OF THE TOMBS. FLASH PICTURES INSIDE DARK CAVES NEVER TURN OUT WELL.
All in all, the Holy Sepulcher is not only the holiest site of all for Christian believers, it is one of the most important religious sites in the world. It is a case study in archaeology, religious history, and the mediation of modern conflicts between religious groups. Definitely a not-to-be-missed site.
From the church, we went back to the Jaffa Gate and walked the second section of walls, the one we had not had access to the day before because it passes the Muslim section of town. Some views:
A VIEW ALONG THE WALL TOWARDS THE DOME OF THE ROCK
SOME CHILDREN ON THE PLAYGROUND AT A SCHOOL. YES, THEY ARE WAVING AT US.
THE CHAOS OF JERUSALEM
The place where we came down from the wall is very close to the church of St. Anne's, which I mentioned in an earlier post. The archaeological excavations that are ongoing on the grounds of this church are fascinating. Archaeologists have determined that this was the site of the Bethesda pool, where the Bible says that people afflicted with various conditions would lie and wait for the waters to move (because they were stirred by an angel). When this happened, the first one into the water would be healed. Here, Christ healed a lame man who had gone to the pool every day for many years, but had no one to help him into the water. The site is most interesting not only because it matches up with the story in John 5, but because excavations below the Byzantine and Crusader churches built on top of the site have revealed an ancient temple to Asclepius, the Roman god of medicine, indicating that the water at the site continued to be utilized for its healing qualities in the centuries after Christ:
THE EXCAVATIONS AT THE SITE ARE IMPRESSIVE. THE TALL RUINS SEEN HERE ARE OF A CRUSADER CHURCH ON TOP OF A BYZANTINE CHURCH
AT THE POOL OF BETHESDA
After St. Anne's, we stopped briefly for a photo op at the Ecce Homo arch, part of a Roman triumphal arch that Christian tradition says is the spot where Pontius Pilate showed Christ to the crowd, who then called for his crucifixion. "Ecce Homo." "Behold, the man." The arch is actually datable to a later period than the crucifixion of Christ, so there is nothing but tradition behind its identification as this spot, which was more likely near the Citadel discussed in an earlier post.
THE SO-CALLED "ECCE HOMO ARCH"
We worked our way slowly out through the Muslim market to the Damascus Gate. There, we paused outside the city to contemplate the sheer number and diversity of the people passing in and out of that famous gate. It really does give one the feeling that everyone, sooner or later, comes to Jerusalem. Knowing that it has been just this busy, with trade and pilgrims, for many hundreds of years, makes it even more interesting:
Having left the Old City, we visited the nearby Rockefeller Museum. The collection here is astounding. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed. The objects range from the first known mask in the world, a painted limestone face found in a Judean cave and dated to ca. 7000 BC, through Canaanite and early Hebrew objects, and into the Christian period. The carved lentils from the doorway of the Holy Sepulcher as it stood before a disastrous fire in 1808 are remarkable. The collection is fairly superb, but a lack of organization and explanatory labels, so common in this part of the world, mar the experience. Still, it should be visited.
From there we caught the servees to Bethlehem. Most of that experience I have already detailed in the first post about this trip, an account of our time in the West Bank. What I did not do in that original post, however, was discuss the Church of the Nativity and the Milk Grotto in any detail, and show pictures of them.
The Church of the Nativity obviously marks the supposed site of the birth of Christ. This is one of the earliest surviving Christian churches in the world, built in the fourth century, although various sections of it were reworked over the centuries. The nave itself dates to the time of the emperor Justinian, in the fifth century. It's interior is fairly astounding, including 44 pink limestone columns, most of them original to the 4th-century church, which were painted with images of saints during the Crusader period.
PETER SNAPPED THIS GREAT SHOT OF PALESTINIAN SECURITY FORCES PATROLLING THE SOUTH AISLE OF THE CHURCH
ONE OF THE CRUSADER-ERA PAINTINGS ON A PILLAR OF THE NAVE
Of course, the highlight of a visit to the church is the grotto beneath the altar, the site of the manger. The precise spot is marked by a silver star on the floor, and tourists (like us) take turns kneeling there.
WE WERE IN THE GROTTO WITH A GROUP OF PILGRIMS FROM NIGERIA.
In the smaller St. Catherine's church next door, stairs lead down to a grotto that is said to have been the study, and the burial place, of St. Jerome, and the site where, in the late fourth century, he completed the Vulgate, the definitive edition of the Bible, translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.
As we walked through the town, we stopped to watch some local workmen creating the olivewood sculpture that is prized all over the world:
The Milk Grotto, which I also described in an earlier post, is a modern building (1872) built on the site of another 4th century church. Although the story of Mary hiding in a cave with the infant Christ before fleeing to Egypt is not in the Bible, it was clearly important enough in the mythology of early Christianity to warrant a church. The building there today is somewhat bizarre because of its super-modern appearance:
EXTERIOR OF THE MILK GROTTO
A CHAPEL IN THE MILK GROTTO
THERE IS ALWAYS A NUN PRAYING IN THE GROTTO, DAY AND NIGHT
Since I have discussed the rest of our experience in the West Bank already, I will just take the chance to say again that our trip to Bethlehem was a powerful and moving experience, and I would urge others to take advantage of the opportunity to do so if it arises.
From Bethlehem it was back to pick up our bags at the hospice, then we caught the sunset bus to Tel Aviv (because Saturday is the Sabbath, the buses do not run until sundown). There we were picked up at the station by Ilan, the husband of Tsameret, my fellow Fellow here at the Research Center. Because we would be doing them the favor of escorting their two small children back to Istanbul from Israel the next day, her parents were kind enough to put us up for the night in their home. Tsameret's brother and sister-in-law came over, and we all had a nice family meal and discussed the upcoming Israeli elections (yes, politics over dinner. I know it is risky, but SO interesting!). It was nice after so many nights in hotels and on the move to relax in a family atmosphere.