1/28 – In the morning, we walked through the Jaffa Gate into the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
I read a book about how crowded the Old City was, and was prepared for a crush of humanity. No crush – we strolled right in.
What was the first thing we saw? A Christmas tree and Christmas streetlights! This is a holiday that just won’t quit.
We are soon at the Church of the Holy Sepluchre, built over a temple to Aphrodite on the site where Jesus is believed to have been crucified. (Thanks again to the Emperor Constantine and his mom, St. Helena.) The church is a mix of Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian elements. The final stations of the cross of the Via Dolorosa are in this church. (The Via Dolorosa starts in the Islamic Quarter, and is a stone paved narrow street like all the others. Don’t know what I was expecting – a dirt road? A hill? Something outside the center of the city, I guess.) Outside is a chapel that marks where Jesus was stripped of his clothes.
Just through the door is the Stone of Unction or Anointing, where Jesus’ body was laid when he was taken down from the cross.
Here was the place of crucifixion.
We queued up to enter the tomb, a very dark, small space filled with gold, where you had to bend or kneel to enter. Only five people were allowed in at a time, and there was a priest standing outside keeping the line moving.
There is the stone at the place of crucifixion, and another stone in a glass case. Could one of them be the stone that was rolled away from the tomb? I wish there was more signage.
Here are some other images from the church. The walls are marked with small crosses by the pilgrims who traveled here.
I have to say that this church had lots of gold and glitter, but it did not feel like a holy place to me. Sometimes, all the tourists jostling with their Selfie Sticks just make me sad, although I am no better, trying to capture images for this blog. It was hard to imagine what these objects had to do with the Crucifixion. We actually left the church, bought a book (from a Muslim shopkeeper) to explain what we were seeing, then went back in and walked through again. There was no place to sit and contemplate, which I guess I missed.
We walked from the Christian quarter to the Jewish Quarter, to visit the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. We had to go through a metal detector and security check to enter. The sign said that God’s presence is always here.
The area has separate entrances for men and women. There were a lot more women praying today.
A sign asked that heads be covered appropriately. I tied on my trusty headscarf, then realized the sign was for the men! A box of paper kippas was provided so the men could cover their heads. The women were bare-headed, reading from little books and rocking in prayer. Here you could sit or stand or touch the wall as the spirit moved you.
From where we stood at the Wall, we could see the Dome of the Rock in the Islamic Quarter. Unfortunately, the police were allowing Muslims only into the Islamic Quarter, as it was a time of prayer.
In the Armenian Church in the Armenian Quarter, we saw another station of the cross where Jesus met his mother. Look at the imprint of sandals on the mosaic floor that mark the spot.
We left the Old City through the Damascus Gate, and walked across town to see the Garden Tomb.
The Garden Tomb is a site run by Evangelical Anglicans, that offers a different theory on where Jesus was crucified and buried. The land is thought to be the garden owned by Joseph of Arimathea. It sits within sight of the Hill of the Skull, thought to be Golgatha. The message was emphasized that it matters not where Jesus died, but WHY. There was a tomb carved from a cave, and a wine press. It felt more like a holy place to me. A peaceful, contemplative experience. I’m very glad we visited here.
On our way home, we saw a sign for an Ethiopian Church, so we removed our shoes and peeked in.
A long day with many images to ponder.