Another early start for our trip into Jerusalem for Mass at Notre Dame and visits to the holy sites around the city.
Mass was great with contributions from the kids and some beautiful singing and it was good to meet up with Leo, John and Sue from home.
Our sightseeing today started at the top of the Mount of Olives and its spectacular view of the old city.
Mount of Olives
The Church of All Nations / Garden of Gethsemane
The beautiful Church of All Nations marks the site of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus went to pray after the Last Supper and where he was arrested. The church is simple and has 12 domes, one for each of the ‘nations’. We arrived near closing time (some of the churches are closed or close early on Sunday!) but the monk in charge allowed our group to stay and to read the passage from the Bible which describes Jesus time in Gethsemane. This was one of my favourite places of our visit.
As we entered the Old City through St Stephen’s Gate we were immediately reminded of the Muslim influence on the city as the call to prayer echoed hauntingly across the rooftops. The Via Dolorosa is the traditional route of Christ’s journey to the cross. My impression is that it’s pretty unlikely that most of the churches mark the route Christ took but they do give a sense of the events of Good Friday.
Our first stop was the Church of the Flagellation where Jesus was beaten and given his crown of thorns.
The stunning stained glass windows show Pilate washing his hands of the affair, Barabbas being released and Jesus being whipped.
Across the courtyard is the next station, a small church marking where Jesus takes up his cross.
And then the route disappears into the busy, narrow streets of the souk.
This was my first trip to the middle east and I’m not sure I was really prepared for the souk. I’ve read about it and seen similar markets on TV but the streets are so narrow and crowded that it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable, especially when you are looking after 40 kids!
Our group was too big to stop along the route and so we found ourselves having a late lunch near the final stop…
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This is a magnificent building and supposedly contains all the final stations of the cross, Golgotha, the place where Jesus’ body was laid when he was taken down from the cross and the tomb.
For me that doesn’t at all ring true. ‘Golgotha’ is a lump of rock about 1 story high with the tomb only 100 metres or so away at the other end of the church. It just seems to convenient and close.
As we stood watching people waiting in a long line to touch the tomb our friend Eric summed up how we were feeling: ‘I don’t need to look, I know he’s not there.’
And that for me was the problem with Jerusalem. I loved the Old City. The architecture is amazing. The history, both ancient and recent, is palpable. It is a city of tension where Jews and Muslims and Christians exist uncomfortably together because that’s where their holy places are, places that mark where God has been… not necessarily where He is.