Holy Land Pilgrimage Part 3 – Jerusalem
Sunday 31st October
A very early start this morning – 5.15am! In order to be able to pray the Stations of the Cross in the Via Dolorosa before the streets became packed, we got up before the locals. We are able to pray the stations in peace and quiet, ending outside the Holy Sepulchre with the last of the stations (the real ones being inside the building, but you are not allowed to talk in there, so we prayed them together outside and then entered in and saw them afterwards). Having entered the Basilica, which was built in 1149 by the Crusaders, we climbed the steps on the right of the entrance up to Golgotha (Calvary), the place of the crucifixion. Still very early in the morning, it was very quiet in there, and as we in turn knelt under the altar of the Greek Orthodox Chapel to touch The Rock, the actual spot of Crucifixion, we were all deeply moved by the moment. The Rock extends either side of the altar, and black discs mark the spot where the thieves who were crucified at the same time as Jesus died. Moving back down to the floor of the Basilica is the Stone of Anointing where the body of Jesus, having been taken down from the cross, was handed to Mary. His Body was laid out on this stone and anointed with a mixture of myrrh, aloe and aromatic oils before being placed in The Tomb. The Holy Sepulchre (The Tomb) is the holiest place in Christendom, and lies in the centre of the Basilica. We also visited the Catholic Chapel of the Finding of the Cross (the Basilica is owned by 6 denominations), which is beside the Chapel of Helena, where the True Cross of Jesus was found by her along with the other crucifixion implements (which are displayed in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem in Rome). As we passed through the old part of the City of Jerusalem, we saw the Citadel and the Jewish Cemetery. We entered the Temple Mount which of course today is more Mount, and less Temple! The first temple on this site stood between 1006-586 BC, and was replaced by a more modest structure built between 537-515 BC and stood until 70 AD when it was destroyed during the First Jewish Uprising. The platform on which it stood can be seen in the pictures below, and shows the sheer size of what must have stood there. Due to the concentration of the importance of Golgotha nearby, this site was largely disregarded by Christians in the Byzantium times. After the Arab conquest in 638 it became the focus of Muslim veneration with construction of The Dome of the Rock in 691. Muslims believe this is the site of Mohammed’s ascent into heaven. Destruction by earthquake and fire followed and various periods of rebuilding took place. The Dome became a Christian church during the time of the Crusaders, and when they were defeated in 1187, the site was reclaimed by the Muslims. The Dome was gold plated in 1994 (apparently by gold provided by the King of Jordan at a cost of more than £16m). From there, passing through St Stephen’s Gate, we went to St Anne’s Church, the mother of Mary, and Mary’s birth place. The place of her birth is in the crypt of the church, which is today used by the White Fathers as a Greek Seminary. Next to the church are the Pools of Bethesda (as described in John 5:2), where Jesus performed the miracle of the healing of the crippled man, when he said “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” The pools would not have been very deep in Jesus’ time and looking down onto them today, you can see how much lower the city of Jerusalem was when compared to today (after centuries of building and re-building). From here we went to the Western (Wailing) Wall which has been a focus for the Jewish Faith since the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD. The Wall is actually the foundation stones of the podium to Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples. It got its name “Wailing” (although it is not terribly “PC” to use that term) from the lamentations of the pilgrim Jews visiting the site. The wall is split 80% for the men and 20% for the women, and strict dress code and headdress must be observed at all times. Hastily written prayers for the speedy recovery of the sick, for the peace of Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah are pushed into the cracks within the wall. After an afternoon of free time, we congregated on the steps to the Holy Sepulchre for a group photograph, and celebrated mass in the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene, which is next to The Tomb. After dinner, we went to a local bar in Old Town Jerusalem for a final evening of chat and merriment, before leaving the following day.
It was an immense pleasure to spend the week with everyone in the group, and to have the opportunity to visit the Holy Sites and discover The Holy Land. For all of us, the scriptures from Christmas to Easter and beyond will never be the same again! We must pay tribute to Rami (our tour guide) and John (the coach driver) for making the pilgrimage so memorable and for explaining everything in such a clear and informative way – this brought the whole experience alive! Also to Laila (travel agency in Bethlehem) for ensuring everything went to plan – we were really very well looked after. We aim to keep in touch with them in the months to come as we (the parish) do what we can to assist the Palestinian Christians, and at some point in the future (2012 perhaps), we hope to lead another pilgrimage to this most remarkable of places.