I'm looking back at my notes on what we did on our second day in Jerusalem, which was a Friday. If I hadn't written it all down I would say that it was impossible, that I was somehow misremembering. But there it all is, in a nice, numbered list in my little notebook:
We got up early in the morning and had breakfast in our hospice. I mention that because I wanted to show this picture of Peter. Doesn't every man dream of being alone in a roomful of women? Ha!
First, we visited the cathedral of St. James. This church, in the Christian Quarter, is an Armenian establishment. It is built over the supposed site of the tomb of James the Apostle. It was not open, but we were able to enter the courtyard.
PETER AT THE GATES OF THE CATHEDRAL OF ST. JAMES
Our goal for the morning was to see the sites on the Mount of Olives. This famous hill lies directly east of the city, and of course was the location for many of the events of Christ's time in Jerusalem. A cab driver took us the LONG way up to the top of the hill. Rather than trying to visit the various sites and churches in any sort of chronological order, it makes the most sense to start at the top and work your way down. The hill is steep, and even in February it was fairly warm!
Our first stop was, a bit ironically, a mosque. The Mosque of the Ascension was built over the top of an earlier Crusader church constructed on top of an even earlier church of the fourth century, to mark the supposed site of Christ's ascension to heaven after the Resurrection. The basis for this association is a "footprint" in marble, supposedly the footprint of Christ. This is apparently not a very visited spot, and poorly upkept. Because Jesus is also considered a Prophet in Islam, it is a site for veneration in that religion as well, but obviously not a popular one. Besides the small dome built over the site of the footprint, you can also identify some nice Crusader column capitals that were stuck in willy-nilly when the later Muslim construction was done.
THE MOSQUE OF THE ASCENSION.
THE "FOOTPRINT OF CHRIST" INSIDE THE SMALL MOSQUE.
Based on that site and the neighborhood immediately surrounding it, our first impression of the Mount of Olives was that it was dirty and rundown, full of litter. Luckily, as we worked our way downhill it became much more pleasant and picturesque.
Our next stop was the Church of the Paternoster (Our Father). This church was constructed in the late 19th century by a French princess. Interestingly, there was a church constructed here by Constantine's mother, Helena (St. Helen), because the site was believed to be where Christ ascended to heaven. Wait a minute...? Yes, there are many competing claims for lots of the Biblical narratives. It's something you just come to terms with when visiting the Holy Land. At any rate, by the time the present church was constructed, the grotto it was built over was considered to have been the site where Christ taught his Disciples to pray. Hence the name "Paternoster" ("Our Father, who art in heaven...").
THE SO-CALLED GROTTO OF THE PATERNOSTER
The church is very pretty. The main attraction is the fact that the Lord's Prayer is mounted on beautiful painted tiles all around the church and cloister, inside and out, in more than 60 languages, some of which we had never heard of.
I was particularly happy to see this one:
The next church we visited was the Dominus Velit ("The Lord Wept") chapel. It is situated in a gorgeous grove, overlooking the Golden Gate of the Old City. It marks the spot at which Christ wept over the future fate of Jerusalem before he made the Triumphal Entry (Luke 19:41). The view from inside the chapel is spectacular.
PETER CAPTURED THIS GREAT IMAGE OF TWO OF THE CHAPEL'S NUNS. THEY WERE SITTING ON THE WALL, LOOKING OUT OVER THE OLD CITY AND SINGING A SONG ABOUT JERUSALEM.
THE VIEW OF THE OLD CITY FROM THE DOMINUS VELIT CHAPEL.
On our way down the hill, we passed many Jewish cemeteries, located here as I mentioned before because the Valley of Jehoshaphat, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, will be, according to Jewish tradition and an Old Testament passage (Joel 3: 1-17), the site of the Resurrection of souls on the Day of Judgment. We did not go into any of the cemeteries.
A MAN VISITS A TOMB ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
The Garden of Gethsemane was our next goal. Although no one can be sure where on the Mount of Olives stood the actual grove that Christ prayed in, and where he was arrested, the trees in this grove are old enough to have been standing in the time of Christ. Because they are fenced off, the effect is somewhat sterile, but I suppose it is also important to protect them from people (like me) who want to pull off a twig to take home. Nope, you can't reach any of the branches!
Just past the grove stands the modern Church of All Nations (built using donations from 12 different nations, in 1924), which is built (supposedly) on top of the rock where Christ knelt and prayed (it is sometimes also called the Church of the Agony). As usual, there was an earlier Crusader church here, on top of an even earlier church of the 4th century. It is an impressive building, but I found the mosaics on the pediment too modern and jarring. Inside, the rock is surrounded by a cast-iron crown of thorns. We did not get to see it because there was a service going on at the time we visited.
We left the Garden of Gethsemane and crossed the road to the Tomb of the Virgin which is obviously revered as the site of the burial of the Virgin Mary. This site also has a long history. It is a subterranean burial grotto which lies in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (recall it's associations with the Day of Judgment). There are tombs inside the walls of the church that date to the 1st century AD. The main crypt area was carved in the Byzantine period from solid rock. There was once an upper, above-ground church which was built by the Crusaders, but Saladin destroyed it when he conquered Jerusalem in 1187. Today, ownership of the crypt is shared by Greek, Armenian, Syrian, and Coptic Christians. We were totally unprepared for what we would see there. It is without a doubt one of the most lingering impressions of our days in Jerusalem. Descending the steep stairs, past tombs carved into the walls, the crypt is mostly dark, but lit faintly by hundreds of lamps hanging from the ceiling, and by candles. The air is completely filled with incense, and singing and chanting is continuously performed. While we were inside, there were two competing services going on -- we know one was Greek and think the other was Armenian (maybe). They were definitely trying to out-sing one another! I will try to attach a video at the bottom of this entry for those who are interested in trying to sort it out.
THE STAIRS DOWN TO THE TOMB OF THE VIRGIN
From the Tomb of the Virgin we decided to walk back to the Old City through the floor of the Valley of Jehoshaphat (also called the Kidron Valley in the New Testament -- Jehoshaphat is the Old Testament name). Jehoshaphat means "God judges." I don't think, from the looks of it, that many people choose this particular route. There are interesting things to see there though, including three rock-cut Jewish tombs dated to the 1st and 2nd centuries BC, although one of them was thought in Medieval times to have belonged to David's eldest son, and was so called the Tomb of Absalom. One of them we know from inscription was the burial place of a family of priests.
THE "TOMB OF ABSALOM"
The Valley spit us out at its southern end into a somewhat depressing Muslim neighborhood. From there we climbed up to the oldest part of the Old City (that is, the area where the oldest settlement of Jerusalem is known to have existed), to see the City of David. The City of David is really the name for the whole area, since it is known to have been the site of the original founding of the city. Now a super-touristy archaeological area, it is worth seeing, but not very well interpreted. There are remains of a palace that "may" have belonged to David, as well as walls dateable to as early as the 13th century BC. But the main attractions are subterranean: the first is now known as Warren's Shaft, for the 19th century Englishman who discovered it. It is a tunnel dug by the Canaanites to reach a pool that is naturally replenished by the Gihon spring. You can walk through the tunnel and down to the pool, where you can see remains of the 18th century BC (!) Cannanite wall.
THE CANAANITE WALL AND POOL, DATING FROM THE 18TH CENTURY BC.
The other attraction we were not prepared for. In the 10th century BC, the Hebrew king Hezekiah famously built his own tunnel to bring the water from the spring all the way into the city, a much-needed resource in time of siege. The prepared traveler can bring (or buy there for a more-than-modest price) water shoes and a small flashlight and wade in water (which would have been thigh-high on me even in the midst of this dry season!) through the entire tunnel and out to the pool. The two tunnels start as one, then Hezekiah's tunnel branches off, so we were able to peek in. It is completely, 100% pitch black, and the water was REALLY rushing through it by the sound of it! I wanted to go, but we were both wearing jeans, and Peter was really not interested in walking around wet for the rest of the day. I know he was right, but I really really wanted to do it! But not by myself! So who will volunteer to go back with me and have that little adventure?
Believe it or not, or day was not even half over at that point. Back in the Old City, we happened to spy a spot that our guidebook had told us provided an access to a "shortcut" over the city -- along the roofs. We went up, and were rewarded with a really unique perspective on things. Markets below us, church towers at almost eye-level -- and lots of traditional Jewish men and boys crossing the city that way. We came out by a Jewish school, practically through their courtyard, which was a bit awkward.
Back on the ground, we walked back to the Christian Quarter, to the Syrian Orthodox church of St. Mark's. It is a pretty little church, built supposedly on the site of the home of Mary, the mother of Mark the Evangelist. The main attraction is an old, old, old icon of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child that tradition says was painted by Luke, from life! Of course that is impossible, but even a non-specialist can clearly see that it is an incredibly old icon, and painted on parchment, which is unusual. No photos of it are allowed, but the nun inside gave us handfuls of prayer cards with the image on it to take away. Also, the cellar room below the church is where some scholars do believe that the Last Supper actually took place.
THIS IS A SHODDY COPY OF THE REALLY OLD ICON. THIS ONE HANGS ABOVE AN ALTAR IN THE CELLAR WHICH MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE ROOM IN WHICH THE LAST SUPPER TOOK PLACE.
Our next visit was to the Alexander Hospice. This is the most important church in Jerusalem for the Russian Orthodox believers. It is also extremely important archaeologically. Inside this church lie some of the scant remains of the original Church of the Holy Sepulcher, constructed by Constantine on the site of the crucifixion and burial of Christ. I will share later about our visit to the "modern" Holy Sepulcher church (itself quite old) which lies next door, but we wanted to see what we could of the fourth-century building -- which, unfortunately, is not much. But the ruins of the church and other monuments excavated inside the Alexander Hospice are extremely important. I'll walk you through a few pictures of the site so you can see what the great importance is:
TRIUMPHAL ARCH FROM HADRIAN'S FORUM, CA. 135.
IN THIS ROOM OF THE CHURCH, THE ONLY ONE WHERE PHOTOS CAN BE TAKEN, LIE SOME REMAINS OF WHAT IS PROBABLY AN ALTAR FROM ONE OF THE MANY CHAPELS IN THE ORIGINAL HOLY SEPULCHER. YEP, UNDER THAT RED CLOTH!
YES, I ASKED FOR PERMISSION BEFORE SNAPPING THIS. THE PICTURE DOESN'T SHOW MUCH, BUT IT'S SOMETHING.
The other important archaeological find within the church is something that they will not allow pictures to be taken of, unfortunately. It's the remains of a Herodian-era wall with a large gate in it (so, late 1st century BC- early 1st century AD). To one side of the major gateway in the wall is a much smaller opening with a tapering top. This may be the "Eye of the Needle" (as in, it's easier for a camel to pass through it... (Matthew 19:24)). Whether or not that is the case, the discovery of this wall proved once and for all that the site of the Holy Sepulcher, and therefore of the supposed tomb of Christ, was outside the city walls at the time of the Crucifixion (a fact which many scholars had previously doubted). Although this does not prove the location of the tomb, it does lend credence to its identification. That would also make this particular gate the famous Gate of Judgment through which all condemned criminals were led to execution.
From there we popped across the street to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Not to be deterred by a little exhaustion, we climbed the 177 steps to the top of the belltower, to look out on the city:
NOW WE WERE LOOKING DOWN ON THE PEOPLE WALKING ACROSS THE ROOFTOPS, AS WE HAD BEEN A FEW HOURS BEFORE!
FROM UP THERE WE GOT A REALLY FINE VIEW OF THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER, WHICH I WILL TALK MORE ABOUT BELOW. OH HEY -- IS THAT SCAFFOLDING?
177 steps back down (very dizzying!), we decided to take advantage of another opportunity to see the city from a high angle. By the Jaffa Gate there is a tiny entrance that leads up to the top of the Old City walls. For a reasonable fee, you can walk two different stretches of the wall. Together, the two routes almost completely circumnavigate the city, and walking them is a fantastic way of grasping the layout of the often confusing city. However, it requires going up and down several small but steep flights of stairs, and in most places the only safety guard on the interior side of the wall is one of those ridiculous railings that hits you at just about the height where if you fell against it it would cause you to fall off the wall, rather than stop you. If anyone is prone to vertigo, this is probably not the activity for them. But for the rest of you, it is highly recommended! Because it was now a Friday afternoon and time for Muslim prayers, we had to avoid the section of the walls that passes near the Dome of the Rock, and above the Muslim Quarter. So we walked along the Christian and Jewish quarters instead, from the Jaffa Gate to the Dung Gate, near the Western Wall. So we saw mainly sites on the west and south sides of the Old City:
I WAS COMPLETELY UNAWARE THAT THERE WAS A WINDMILL IN THE MODERN CITY. IT WAS BUILT BY SIR MOSES MONTEFIORE, A RICH BRITISH JEW WHO FOUNDED THE FIRST JEWISH COMMUNITY OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF THE OLD CITY IN 1891. HE CALLED IT MISHKENOT SHAANANIM ("DWELLINGS OF TRANQUILITY"), BUT PEOPLE WERE AFRAID TO MOVE THERE BECAUSE THEY WERE AT THE MERCY OF BANDITS IF THEY LIVED OUTSIDE THE WALLS. MONTEFIORE WANTED THE RESIDENTS TO BE SELF-SUFFICIENT AND MILL THEIR OWN FLOUR. UNFORTUNATELY, THERE IS NOT ENOUGH WIND IN JERUSALEM TO DO THAT! NOW THE NEIGHBORHOOD IS VERY UPSCALE, AND IS CALLED YEMIN MOSHE.
When we got back down, we did what all guidebooks and US consular personnel advise against: we walked smack through the middle of the Muslim Quarter after noon prayers. And guess what? No problems whatsoever. Of course this is not always the case, and you have to be on your toes and very aware of the vibe in the area. But don't allow the overly cautious to keep you from doing something you really want to do, and we had a goal: to walk the Via Dolorosa with the Franciscan friars, who traverse the route every Friday afternoon.
But before meeting up with the friars, we visited briefly the Church of St. Anne. It was so amazing that we had to go back the next day and take another look, so I will save the description of the church and grounds until that point. But this first visit was interesting because I fell into a conversation with a priest who had been a parish priest for many years at a church not a mile away from my old apartment in North Hollywood. And there we both were in Jerusalem.
Walking the Via Dolorosa, the path that Christ walked on the day of his Crucifixion, should be a highlight of anyone's trip to Jerusalem, whether they are Christian, or religious at all, or not. Although the walk can of course be made on your own, every Friday at 3 pm, the Franciscan friars lead a group in the walk, and in prayers and song along the way (if you don't know the Catholic mass in Latin, you are out of luck for following along though!). I was surprised by the size and diversity of the crowd that walked with us. In many ways what we saw during this hourlong experience encapsulated the experiences and tensions of living and worshiping in Jerusalem, home to so many faiths. Again, I hope some pictures and captions can tell the story.
THE MEETING-PLACE FOR THE VIA DOLOROSA WALK IS A MUSLIM SCHOOL COURTYARD. HERE, A CATHOLIC NUN GAZES OUT THE WINDOW OF THE COURTYARD AT THE NEARBY DOME OF THE ROCK, WHERE FRIDAY'S PRAYERS, THE MOST IMPORTANT OF THE MUSLIM WEEK, ARE BEING CARRIED OUT.
OUR GROUP INCLUDED NOT ONLY CHRISTIANS, BUT OTHER INTERESTED INDIVIDUALS. YOU CAN SEE FROM THE HEADGEAR OF THE CROWD THAT IT INCLUDES MUSLIMS AS WELL.
THE MONKS GATHER. NOTICE THE MUSLIM MAN ON THE RIGHT.
SEE WHAT HE IS CARRYING? A WHIP? HE ACCOMPANIED US THE ENTIRE WAY. WE DID NOT UNDERSTAND HIS SIGNIFICANCE AT THE TIME, ALTHOUGH WE WONDERED ABOUT IT. ONE OF OUR FRIENDS HERE IN ISTANBUL WHO LIVED IN JERUSALEM FOR MANY YEARS TOLD US THAT HE IS THERE TO KEEP THE PEACE. BECAUSE THE ROUTE OF THE VIA DOLOROSA PASSES THROUGH THE MUSLIM QUARTER, AND FRIDAY IS A PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE DAY, HIS WHIP ASSURES THAT NO ONE WILL BOTHER THE MONKS OR THEIR CROWD.
AS WE MOVED ALONG THE ROUTE, WE WOULD STOP AT EACH STATION OF THE CROSS, AND THE FRIARS WOULD RECITE, OVER A LOUDSPEAKER SYSTEM, A READING OR A PASSAGE OF SCRIPTURE RELATED TO THAT STATION (SOME STATIONS ARE NOT MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE). THEY RECITED FIRST IN SPANISH, THEN IN ENGLISH. AS WE MOVED BETWEEN STATIONS, THERE WAS SINGING AND CHANTING IN LATIN. INTERESTINGLY, AS WE PASSED THROUGH THE "TERRITORY" OF OTHER CHURCHES AND MONASTIC GROUPS, WE WERE JOINED BY MORE AND MORE MONKS AND NUNS OF DIFFERENT ORDERS. THEY WOULD BE STANDING READY AT WHICHEVER STATION WAS INSIDE THEIR CHURCH, THEN WOULD CONTINUE WITH US.
EACH STATION IS MARKED BY A SIGN AND INSCRIPTION. HERE YOU SEE THE TITLE "ST (WHICH STANDS FOR STATION): FOLLOWED BY THE FRANCISCAN "JERUSALEM CROSS" THAT IS MADE UP OF FIVE SMALLER CROSSES. THAT IS THEIR WAY OF INDICATING THAT THIS IS THE FIFTH STATION, THE SPOT WHERE CHRIST FELL AND SIMON OF CYRENE WAS FORCED TO CARRY HIS CROSS. FROM THIS POINT, THE VIA DOLOROSA ASCENDS THE HILL TO CALVARY. THE ACTUAL STATIONS ARE INSIDE SMALL CHAPELS OR CHURCHES. WE COULD NOT ALL FIT IN, SO MOST OF US STOOD OUTSIDE WHILE THE MONKS WENT IN, THEN PEEKED IN THE DOORS AS WE WALKED ON ALONG.
THE FINAL FIVE STATIONS ARE INSIDE THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER. APPROACHING THE CHURCH, ONE OF THE LAST STATIONS OUTSIDE OF IT IS STATION NINE, WHERE CHRIST FELL FOR THE THIRD TIME. SOMEONE HAD LEANED A CROSS AGAINST THE WALL.
WHEN WE ENTERED THE COURTYARD ON THE BACK OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER, WHERE STATION TEN IS LOCATED, WE FOUND A LARGE NUMBER OF MONKS AND NUNS WAITING SILENTLY FOR US TO ARRIVE. IT WAS A VERY DIFFICULT AREA TO WALK INTO!
WHILE WE WAITED FOR THE LARGE GROUP OF PEOPLE TO FILE INTO THE COURTYARD, WE ADMIRED THE BUILDINGS ON THE ROOF. THESE SIMPLE STRUCTURES ARE ACTUALLY AN ETHIOPIAN MONASTERY. MULTIPLE RELIGIOUS GROUPS "OWN" VARIOUS PARTS OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER (MORE ON THAT LATER), AND THE ETHIOPIANS GOT BOOTED UP TO THE ROOF ON THE BACK WHEN THEY COULDN'T PAY THEIR TAXES TO THE OTTOMANS IN THE 17TH CENTURY, AND HERE THEY STAY!
TWO OF THE ETHIOPIAN MONKS
WE PASSED THROUGH THEIR CHAPEL ON OUR WAY INTO THE CHURCH (THE BACK WAY). IT IS MUCH MORE COLORFUL THAN ANY OF THE OTHER CHAPELS IN THE CHURCH.
I'm not going to describe the Stations inside the Holy Sepulcher at this point, because we went back the next morning, very early, to look around the church when there were not hundreds of people inside and I would rather "narrate" it and show you those pictures in another post. I am glad that we went twice though, because the first time it was a hive of activity and we needed to see it that way, too. Each of the monastic groups that owns one small portion of the church was trying to carry on a service, or a procession, all at the same time, and they kept bumping into each other! At one point I am certain that the Armenian monks organized a procession JUST BECAUSE the Roman Catholics were holding a mass in front of the tomb. There seemed to be no other reason for the Armenians to suddenly line up and march from one side of the church to the other, chanting loudly! The disagreements over who owns what part of the church have been so extreme that back in November, a fistfight broke out between the various groups of monks, and they started hitting each other over the head with chairs! Nothing like that happened while we were there, but they were definitely trying to outdo each other.
AN ARMENIAN ORTHODOX MONK PREPARES TO JOIN THE PROCESSION ACROSS THE CHURCH (WHERE THE CATHOLICS ARE HOLDING A SERVICE)
But we did have a very special opportunity on this first visit. As you can see in the pictures below, there were dozens and dozens of people lined up waiting to see if they would be allowed to go into the actual tomb of Christ.
THAT LARGE BOX IN THE CENTER IS THE SHRINE ENCLOSING THE ACTUAL TOMB. I WILL INCLUDE BETTER PHOTOS OF IT IN THE NEXT POST.
The rock of the mountain where the tomb was said to be was cut away by Constantine in the early 4th century, leaving only the tomb itself as a free-standing structure. Over the years, the box enclosing it became more and more ornate. All of the denominations own it in common, and take turns holding services inside and manning the door. Today, if you receive permission to enter that box-shaped shrine in the center of the church, you pass through a small antechamber and into the actual tomb itself, which is tiny: maybe seven feet long by three feet wide. Of course everyone wants this experience, but the monks who tend the tomb do not allow everyone to go inside. We were very dismayed when we saw how many people were waiting, and how few were going in. I walked over to one of the Armenian monks standing to one side and asked him if we would be able to go inside if we came back very early the next day, when there was not such a crowd. He just said, "I will take you in. I will tell them you are Armenian." So before we knew it, he swept us up past all of those people, spoke to the two monks guarding the door, and we were inside!
The first small antechamber inside holds a piece of rock that tradition says is part of the stone that was rolled away from the door of the tomb by an angel. Through a second small door is the actual burial chamber. There is just room to kneel by the side of the shelf that was carved for a body to be laid on it. There is no doubt that this was a tomb of roughly the 1st century AD, although the marble slab here now, which was intentionally cracked to make it unattractive to Ottoman looters, was only installed in 1555. While we may never know with certainty that it is actually the tomb in which Christ was placed, the experience is still a powerful one. Hanging a few feet above your head, if you look up, are dozens of red glass lamps, which give the effect that there is no ceiling, only a dark expanse with tiny lights. We only stayed inside for a minute or so, but we were allowed to touch the rock-cut shelf the way countless thousands of pilgrims have done for 1700 years before us. It was truly the experience of a lifetime!
IN THE TOMB OF MARY: