A Travellerspoint blog

Marathon Intro

The following was written two days after the events of the day. But most of the account was written a week later on the plane home. I indicate where that part starts.

The first official day of touring was today. I am writing this Saturday morning though, and there isn't time to actually report. Thursday (the date of this entry) and Friday are both extremely full.

However, I can direct my Faithful Readers to the account of today at

http://holylandpilgrimage2013.wordpress.com

Note that in the above link, after the account of our activities of today, there are fuller accounts of our visit with the bishop yesterday, including a picture of our whole group, and of the visit to the Armenian Church on Tuesday.

Here begins the part written on the plane home, assisted by the pictures on my hard drive and by my guide book. My only big regret about it is that I can't for the life of me remember what I ate at Nafoura!

Anyway, we began our marathon day of touring the Old City on the Mount of Olives, which afforded an excellent overview of the places we would see that day. Faraj and Yuval pointed out the different quarters of the city, the main monuments, and the relationship of the various gates to the walls. We looked down on the innumerable graves of the Jewish cemetery. Evidently, the idea is that the people buried on the Mount of Olives will be the first ones to rise to heaven on Judgment Day. So there is quite a demand for grave sites, and they are quite expensive. There is also a substantial but smaller Muslim cemetery and a Christian cemetery too, though that’s only for priests.

Our first stop was the Church of the Pater Noster on the Mount of Olives. There is a tradition that this was the very site where Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer. Well. . .whatever. . .it is a beautiful, contemplative sort of place. All around the walls are tiles with the text of the Pater Noster in various languages. As it is quite moving and not particularly crowded, it was a great place to start our first day and indeed our visit to the Holy Land.

Back on the bus and down the mountain, stopping at St. Stephen’s Gate right outside the Muslim cemetery. From St. Stephen’s Gate, we entered the Via Dolorosa. Of course, one can be pretty skeptical of specific stations of the cross occurring at specific spots, but it is undoubtedly the case that Jesus indeed did carry the cross through these streets. Faraj did most of the commentary. He takes a fairly literal approach to the biblical accounts. At one point, when some hair-splitting came up among the group, though, Yuval spoke movingly about such sites being a focus for faith and pilgrimage through the ages no matter what the specifics of the historical events were. I liked this because that was exactly how I felt on our walk to Compostela, where the stories of St. James were a lot less "historical" than anything we were commemorating here.

As we proceeded on our way, we passed a large group of Orthodox men singing, dancing, and parading the Torah. They were celebrating the feast of Simhat Torah. This would have been a beautiful thing to see except that normally such celebrations take place in neighborhood sinagogues. Here they were deliberately doing it in a Muslim neighborhood, an “in your face” gesture. There is a threatening aspect to it, as militant religious groups have been gradually displacing residents of the Muslim Quarter in a conscious attempt to “Judaize” the city. Having seen the events of Tuesday, I saw no reason to question this interpretation.

Finally, we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, often called the “holiest site in Christendom.” Supposedly the church is on the very spots where Jesus was crucified and buried. This is subject to considerable debate, given how narrow Jerusalem would have had to have been in those days for the events to have occurred outside the walls. But the point about pilgrims through the centuries still obtains. We at St. Mark’s are a pretty non-literal bunch, but we joined the throngs crowding the elaborate chapel over the traditional stone of crucifixion. I did not prostrate myself to kiss it, as it would truly have been a miracle if I had been able to get up again! But I did kneel down to touch it, feeling a connection to the events so long ago, wherever they occurred, to the unique link that Christianity maintains between human suffering and the divine, and to the throngs of pilgrims through all the centuries since then.

The church is really enormous, as it covers both the crucifixion and the burial of Christ. It is composed of a labyrinth of various chapels, large and small. The last five stations are inside the church. So after the chapel of the crucifixion, we passed the Stone of Anointing. Pilgrims kneel by it and rub oil on it and kiss it. I think an earlier stone was replaced by the present one a few hundred years ago, but this one still draws pilgrims. Finally, one comes to the room that is built around the Holy Sepulcher itself. This room is really impressive, with huge columns dating from the time of Constantine. A large wooden structure in the middle encloses the traditional site of the tomb. The line was extremely long, so Faraj suggested that we could come back to it on our own some time. He took us to a different spot, where we could see another tomb, one with no connection to a famous personage, but which was probably much like that of Jesus. This is off a dusty anteroom. It is entered through a door about three feet high. You look in, and you can see a room lit with candles where the family could sit and mourn and beyond it a room where they would have put the body. Faraj explained that in ancient times, they would have not rolled the stone over the opening until three days passed, just to make sure the person was really dead. Note that Faraj is the last person to use such a detail to question the Resurrection.

Whew! Lots of intense holiness there. Time for lunch. We went to Abu Shukri, where some folks say you get the best hummus and falafel in Jerusalem. I certainly won’t question that. We had plenty of both along with the sort of spread of salads and mezze that I have already experienced in other places.

Properly fortified, it was time for the Western/Wailing Wall and Al-Haram ash-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), called the Temple Mount by the Jews. We started with the Western Wall. It is debated whether this is actually part of the foundation of Solomon’s temple. It is certainly part of the foundation of the Second Temple built by Herod. We saw the two sections, one for men to pray and another—smaller—for women. Both sections had white plastic chairs where people sat when they weren’t going up to pray at the wall. Because it was a holiday, Simhat Torah, it was forbidden to write anything while on the plaza near the wall. (Not sure why, but it’s forbidden.) Some of us wrote prayers ahead of time to stuff into the cracks in the wall. I had not done this because I didn’t have any paper. However, I did go down to touch the wall with my hands and forehead. I brought to mind the need for peace in this so troubled place. That led me to hope for the various kinds of peace in the lives of the people I love—lots of you reading this blog in fact! As I did so often on this day, I thought of the people through the ages who have brought their prayers to this place. I had noticed that the other people backed away from the wall instead of turning their backs to it, so that is what I did.

After that, our group went up to the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the great pilgrimage sites of the Muslim world, after Mecca and Medina. Here, interestingly enough, it was Yuval who continued the narration. Though Faraj is Arab, he is Christian and very focused on the Christian narrative. Part of the mosque is a large courtyard with trees, a welcome respite from the blinding sun everywhere outside when one is standing on the golden stone. Crossing the courtyard, we went up some stairs and before us was the Dome of the Rock. This is a stunning building, dating from the seventh century. The dome is covered with a thin coating of solid gold, and the rest of the building is covered with beautiful blue tiles. It covers a rock that Muslims believe is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Ismael and from which Mohammed ascended to heaven. They also believe it to be the spot from which the creation of the world began. Now, a Jewish tradition also holds that it is the place where creation began, and they believe this is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. They also believe it to be standing on the spot occupied by the Temple of Solomon, hence the name Temple Mount for this place. No place on Earth produces more contention. None of this was evident when we were there. It was just simply beautiful. And quite peaceful.

After this, we returned to St. George’s and I for one collapsed for a bit. Then most of us walked back to the Old City for a delicious dinner at Nafoura, a restaurant with a garden directly next to the great sixteenth century wall which was lit with soft golden light.

View from Mount of Olives

View from Mount of Olives


Pater Noster Church

Pater Noster Church


Chapel of the Crucifixion

Chapel of the Crucifixion


Western Wall

Western Wall


Al Aqsa Mosque

Al Aqsa Mosque


Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Israel

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