Among our days in the Old City of Jerusalem, we spent time visiting holy sites of the Christian faith including the places Jesus was taken during his trial and crucifixion. Most of these sites have churches built over and around them so it’s somewhat difficult to get the feel of what it was like 2,000 years ago. And for the actual location of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, there are differences of opinion between the Protestants and the orthodox groups.

The Via Dolorosa, monks, shops and more outside the Church of Holy Sepulcher.

The Via Dolorosa, monks, shops and more outside the Church of Holy Sepulcher.

My feeling after walking around was that as much as I like history and seeing ancient sites and wonders of the world, it’s the Spirit of God that is what moves us. That Spirit can be felt just as powerfully in a walk through the woods or along the sands of the beach as it can sitting in church or standing in the “spot” where Jesus was said to have risen from the dead.

Via Dolorosa

IMG_9891On a Palm Sunday in the spring some 2,000 years ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem through the Golden Gate (now blocked up) on a donkey to the cheers of the crowds. He spent the week praying, scolding, and preaching. On Thursday of that week, he dined with his friends one last time before heading over to the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mt. of Olives. I imagine the hike they took to get there took a while and they had to go down and across the Kidron valley. I wrote before about the steepness of the Mt. of Olives, where He went up to pray to the Father that night. And then once taken by the soldiers, He had to walk back up the steep hill and through the Lion’s Gate—the beginning of the path up the Via Dolorosa.

The indentation in the wall where Jesus placed His hand.

The indentation in the wall where Jesus placed His hand.

Via Dolorosa means “Way of Grief” in Latin. There are stations along the path that mark events that happened while Jesus carried the cross on the way to Golgotha hill, the site of the crucifixion. We stopped at these stations, starting with the churches that now represent where He was tried and beaten. We continued the walk up hill and saw an indentation in a wall where He stopped and placed His hand to catch His balance. As we hiked up the steps I kept thinking that His tortuous walk was made worse by the fact He had to do it uphill in the heat.

More stations marked points where Jesus fell down, saw his mother Mary, and was helped by Simon, the man who just happened to be visiting town on this fateful day. The walk ended at what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The lavish decorations above the altar of the rock of crucifixion.

The lavish decorations above the altar of the rock of crucifixion.

In Jesus’ time the location of the crucifixion and burial was outside the city walls. Back around 300 AD, Emperor Constantine’s mother decided these sites were located in the place that is now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which houses the crucifixion rock, the place where His body was prepared for burial and the tomb where He was buried. The church is run by six different orthodox churches, each having a space in the church. Some in-fighting led to some interesting rules that were put in effect by the Muslims who were in charge of the city in the mid-1800s. One of the rules was “status quo” meaning everything that was in place at that time was to be kept exactly where it is forever. An interesting result is a ladder outside a second floor window used to help the monks get food and supplies during a siege is now forever in place as part of the façade. Another interesting fact is that a Muslim family holds the keys to the church and every morning one of the family members who has been named custodian, opens the doors.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. You can see the ladder outside the top floor window to the right.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. You can see the ladder outside the top floor window to the right.

Upon entering, we walked up some steep stairs and lined up behind the masses to get the chance to touch the rock encased in a lavishly decorated room. There was an altar there and a hole where they believe the cross was raised. My mom and I bent down to get our feel of the rock before heading down to see some of the other altars located throughout the beautiful church.

We did not go into the structure that is said to house the tomb. It too was decorated with HUGE candles outside the door. Across from the tomb structure was a beautiful open area with a high dome ceiling. The paintings on the ceiling were of the four gospel writers and in the center of the floor was a religious stone called an omphalos, marking what was once considered to be the center of the earth.

My parents and I thought the church was quite beautiful; however it didn’t really give us a spiritual feeling. As Protestants we weren’t awe-inspired by the all the decorations and incense.

Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

Many Protestants believe Golgotha and the tomb are located outside the Damascus gate. We walked a little way down a road and reached a park-like setting called the Garden Tomb. It was absolutely lovely. It had a very tranquil feeling, natural in its beauty. From a bench we could view a large rock cliff. One of the reasons this is considered to be the location of the crucifixion is because the cliff appears to have a face on the side—thus the reason it was called the place of the skull. We continued along a path to the tomb, a cave-like opening in the wall of a cliff nearby. There is much evidence supporting the claim that this area is where the crucifixion and burial happened. What I know is that to me, it brought a feeling of peace and I could really imagine the events taking place here. (Here’s a video of the site with some information on the evidence.)

Golgotha near the Garden Tomb. A face can be seen in the rock of the skull.

Golgotha near the Garden Tomb. A face can be seen in the rock of the skull.

It was a great way to end a very long day of touring. It was now the start of Shabbat so we went home to cook some dinner and prepare for our visit to Bethlehem in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Garden Tomb has two places for bodies to be laid to rest.

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The Byzantine structure that surrounds the tomb located in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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The location where Jesus what convicted by Pilate.

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One of the stations located along the Via Dolorosa.

Golgotha near the Garden Tomb. A face can be seen in the rock of the skull.

Golgotha near the Garden Tomb. A face can be seen in the rock of the skull.

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The place of Jesus’ anointing located next to rock of crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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The Via Dolorosa.

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A simple sign over an archway that opens into a small plaza outside the Church.

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The keeper of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

 

 

 

Our tour of Israel continued in the Old City of Jerusalem with a walk around the four quarters and visits to some of the holy Christian sites.

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Bullet holes can be seen in the Zion Gate from the battle in 1948 when the Jordanians seized control of the city.

Through the Jaffa gate, we walked along a main route through the Armenian section. Each section has one parking lot for everyone to house their vehicles. The Armenian one included an unexcavated Tel—one of many in the land. We arrived shortly at the Zion gate. This gate was riddled with bullet holes from when the British left and the Jordanians came to claim the city in 1948.

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The gates were at right angles to make it difficult for invaders, and hard for cars to come in and out.

Dormition Abby, David’s Tomb, the Last Supper

Beyond the gate, we toured the Dormition Abbey, a church dedicated to where Jesus’ mother Mary “fell asleep”. And then on to David’s tomb and also the site of the upper room of the house where the last supper occurred. It was somewhat difficult to really feel the presence of either of those places in its time. Nothing was there that looked like it would have back then. We were reminded once again that most of these sites are probably not where the actual events occurred or where David was buried—but rather a place someone—whether they be ancient leaders or more modern scholars—decided to put a marker on it as the official site. There was no dining room table or anything obvious like that—just a little church structure.

Up top at the four corners of the quarters.

Up top at the four corners of the quarters.

The Four Quarters

We continued through the Jewish quarter and climbed up onto a roof top area where we got a 360 degree view of the tops of the buildings of the city. This was considered the four corners—where the four quarters met. It was an interesting place—you could traverse across the roofs or go under and walk along the market alleyways.

There are no barriers between the four quarters (Christian, Jewish, Armenian, and Muslim) and everyone can walk freely through the city. The Armenians do have locked gates in some places because of previous violence but otherwise this city is a melting pot of cultures that most of the time live in peace.

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A look at the Cardo market from the rooftop.

Main Street and Shopping

The Cardo was Jerusalem’s main street about 1,500 years ago. We walked along this ancient thoroughfare, taking in the wonderful smells of spices and mid-eastern foods, browsed the touristy gifts and the linens and jewelry made by the shopkeepers and Bedouin traders, and felt some of the original stones that lined the ground. The Cardo was pretty wide, unlike the other narrow streets where the shops were just like they were thousands of years ago—pretty much cubby holes with men tending the store—some asleep in the heat, some chatting with friends, and others engaging tourists.

The smells of the spices wafted through the streets.

The smells of the spices wafted through the streets.

Negotiating is key in this culture. These guys were not afraid to start very high and I had to bring them way down and keep the shekel/dollar conversion in mind. I was delighted by one young man who made some earrings for me on the spot with pieces he had in bowls in his shop. Dad and I bought some gifts and trinkets and strolled through the markets on the Shabbat. We took a break at a nice little outdoor cafe and ate some more shawarma and falafel for dinner while watching the local kids biking and running in the streets. No playgrounds were in site but they found ways to entertain themselves and laugh just like the country kids. There were also a lot of cats who were fed by various locals and tourists—keeping out the rodents is a nice benefit of the strays in the streets.

Next time, we’ll explore the last of the Christian sites we visited in the Old City.

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A beautiful mosaic adorns the walls in the Jewish quarter.

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The rifle isn’t real, or at least not manned. This was a window in a wall above the street.

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Shopkeepers pass the time in the Arab market in the Old City of Jerusalem.

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The ancient stones line this street are beautiful.

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Children come out for play time in the open area where dad and I had dinner.

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It’s dinner time for these lucky kitties.

1 Corinthians 12: 12-13

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”

A view of the Old City from the Mt. of Olives.

A view of the Old City from the Mt. of Olives.

Our tour of Jerusalem continues with more walking of course! After our visit to the Western Wall, our guide hailed a taxi to take us out through the Dung Gate and up the Mt. of Olives. When I say up I mean a seriously steep climb up a one-lane windy path. Meeting another car along the way had me worried we would not have the horse power to keep going forward if we had to stop. But, after a number of well-timed horn blasts we were at the top, staring out over the ancient Jewish cemetery where the tombs sit up off the ground and covered with a number of rocks from visitors.

The Golden Gate.

The Golden Gate.

We took in the view of the Old City and the Temple Mount and could see the stretch of the Eastern wall of the city beyond the Kidron Valley where the Golden Gate (also referred to as the Gate of Mercy) is located. It was sealed by an Ottoman Sultan in the 1500s. Some say that was done because that is the gate Jesus passed through on Palm Sunday and where he will return again, and the Sultan wanted to prevent that from happening. Um, Mr. Sultan, I think if God wants to come through that gate, it won’t matter if you seal it.

Once again I thought of the hikes that Jesus took up and around some rough country in pretty hot weather. We could imagine Jesus praying and teaching as they looked across the ancient and holy countryside and sat among olive trees.

Dominus Flevit--the view through its beautiful window.

Dominus Flevit–the view through its beautiful window.

It was a cool 108 degrees outside and our slow walk down the slope took us by many security cameras (Israel is known for its security measures) and then in to the Dominus Flevit, a church built to commemorate the Lord’s weeping over Jerusalem. It features a beautiful view of the city and the Dome of the Rock through its chapel window. We saw a number of ossuaries (carved boxes that held the bones of people—collected after a year or so of burial). In the garden of the church area were a few olive trees left from days when they grew over the mountainside.

Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane.

The Garden of Gethsemane.

Our final stop at the bottom was the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent his last night on earth praying with his disciples. This is where he was arrested and taken to trial. It was interesting and a bit strange to hear our Jewish guide tell us the story with a new twist—it was the Romans who arrested him and according to her “there may have been some involvement with the Jewish leaders” but she was doubtful.

My mom and I had some interesting discussions about that later. We have nothing against Jewish people and would never judge the ancient Jews for their part in Jesus’ arrest and conviction. As Christians we believe Jesus took all of our sins upon himself—both people who were there and people who live now—so it may well have been us there mocking him and putting him on trial. Having said that, as a Christian hearing these new testament stories from someone who is reading from a book that does not necessarily follow our beliefs did take something away from the experience. I would recommend to other Christians to visit Israel with a church group or be guided by Christian guides if they feel that would be important to their Holy Land experience. We think it would have enhanced our spiritual experience if we had been led by a believer who shared our faith.

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A mosaic in the Church of the Ascension in the Garden of Gethsemane.

From the Garden we continued our trek up a long steep path (this time walking and drinking about three bottles of water) through the Lion’s Gate which leads to the famous Via Dolorosa, the street that took Jesus from his torture to his death on the cross. I’ll cover our travels there and the rest of the holy sites in the next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Garden of Gethsemane

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A view from Dominus Flevit of the Eastern Wall and the Dome of the Rock.

Steep walk down the hill.

Steep walk down the hill.

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Tombs in the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mt. of Olives.

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The view of the Mt. of Olives from the road outside the Dung Gate.

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A closer look at the Dome of the Rock. A ladder there shows someone working on some of the golden tiles.

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The tunnel along the wall. The stone to the bottom right is original.

Our stay in Jerusalem began with a walk to and around the Old City. In the morning we went on a tour through the tunnels that ran under the Muslim quarter and along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. The city was built up upon platforms so there is room underneath the homes and businesses to walk around close to the foundations.

There’s something about touching stone that is thousands of years old. Imagining what it was like for the 150,000 slaves and 30,000 free workers who built Herod’s temple was a stretch. It was hard to figure out how they managed to move the one stone that comprised the Wall because it was—wait for it—560 tons.

Let’s digress for a moment and ponder how heavy that is. When fully loaded at take-off, the massively huge A380 Airbus airplane we flew out on weighs as much as 110 adult elephants, which coincidentally is about 560 tons. I’ll let you think about that and then imagine a bunch of ancient slaves heaving that up Mount Moriah and into place. I walked up that hill from the valley with just a back pack and thought I was going to faint.

The wing of our Airbus stretched very far out and  were huge.

The wing of our Airbus stretched very far out and were huge.

As we walked through the narrow tunnel and touched the ancient wall, we got closer to the holiest place for the Jews. Why so holy? Well, back several thousand years ago when Abraham was living in this land, God told him to sacrifice his youngest son Isaac. Abraham was going through with God’s command but was stopped by God at the last minute. It was on that sacrificial rock that the inner most room of the temple was built and where the ark of the convent was kept. (You remember Indiana Jones, right?)

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The view of the Western (Wailing) Wall with the Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount.

Only one guy could go in to see the ark and only once a year. The room was called the holy of holies. The closest place to the holy of holies along the walls of the Temple Mount, is a spot in the tunnels. Not everyone can go there at will, so most people pray along the plaza of the Western Wall.

We also went to the plaza area. It was separated into two sections, one for men and the other for women. Standing there, touching it and looking up at how high it was and being so close to something so ancient and so famous throughout the world was a unique experience. My parents and I wrote out blessings or prayers and placed them in the cracks of the walls. Our guide said those notes are considered holy and are collected and buried.

A number of young men have their bar-mitzvah celebrations at the wall.

A number of young men have their bar-mitzvah celebrations at the wall.

We beheld so many historical places on our trip through the Old City that it can’t be told all at once. So for now, I’ll end with our quick trip to the museum which was very nice—a good place for visiting if you make it to Israel when peace is at hand.

Israel Museum

We were pretty tired after a day of walking and decided to drive over to the Israel museum. Nice and cool, out of the 100 degree heat, we strolled through more ancient relics, artifacts, anthropods (kind of like an Egyptian sarcophagus), ossuaries, and more. We viewed an amulet with a scripture from Numbers, and some of the Dead Sea scrolls that were actually the book of Isaiah.

To keep costs down we stopped at a market and picked up some dinners and snacks and Israel wine and enjoyed a nice meal on our terrace patio.

A view of the wall from the steps down from the city that open into the plaza area.

A view of the wall from the steps down from the city that open into the plaza area.