Our friend and contributor, Allen Lai, continues with his report on his travels to the Holy Land. Stewart Goes Walkies is once again, very grateful.
The old city – Jerusalem, where everything happened.
Returning from Yardenit, we entered the Old Walled City. It is a very interesting place to be and is less than one square kilometer, (in comparison, Cheung Chau Island in HK is 2.5 sq.km).
Despite Israel’s claim over the city it is divided into four uneven quarters. The Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Jewish Quarter. While security is tight the different quarters managed to live in a degree of harmony. I have drawn a rough sketch to give the readers an idea.
It is home to several sites of key importance and holiness to the three major Abrahamic religions: the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Judaism, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christianity, the Dome of the Rock, and the al-Aqsa Mosque for Islam. It was added to the World Heritage Site list of UNESCO in 1981.
Being there is like stepping back in time. No modern high rises, neon signs, or present-day retail shops. Traveling in the narrow cobblestone streets, women in their hijabs and men in their robes, Jewish men in their kipper, or the big black Borsalino, and pushy street vendors. Only the occasional armed security detail with their machine guns at the ready and camouflage uniforms brought me back to reality.
The Cenacle – The Last Supper.
Up on Mount Zion, Jerusalem. The Cenacle (Latin for “dining room”), also known as the Upper Room just outside the Old City walls.
The site is administered by the Israeli authorities and is part of a building holding the so-called “King David’s Tomb” on its ground floor.
After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The crowd welcomed him to Jerusalem. A meal was prepared for him and his 12 disciples. During the meal, Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.” He continued to offer each of them wine and bread, which nowadays is duly consecrated by prayer. These have become emblems of the Lord’s body and blood, to be eaten and drunk reverently, in remembrance of Him.
The situation is best presented by Leonardo da Vinci’s oil painting of the Last Supper, now in the Dominican convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, Milano. Well, that will take me another chapter just to talk about this famous and historic painting.
The design of the rooms is a testimony of the religious tug-of-war waged here. It features the Romanesque style arches favored by crusader architects, together with a huge Muslim mihrab niche facing Mecca. Then there is the Ottoman dome and stained glass windows with Arabic inscriptions.
Entering the Cenacle, the atmosphere is very different. Different groups from all over the world, gather here, some are praying, some do their service in small groups, and some are singing. It’s very quiet, people whisper and sing quietly, with respect. Then there are tourists like me, just running around with their cameras, instead of soaking in the solemnity of the scene.
The Basilica of Agony – Where Jesus was betrayed
A short distance away. Standing at the foot of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Church of Agony is built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony the night he was betrayed and before he was crucified.
The church and the adjacent Garden of Gethsemane, with its eight ancient olive trees, (DNA tests revealed that they were planted at the time of Jesus’ period). It is believed that it was here under the olive trees, that Judas kissed Jesus in front of the authorities. (‘Judas, would you betray me with a kiss’ – Luke 22:48) This lead to the foundations of the Christian faith: Jesus’s arrest, his trial, his death by crucifixion, and eventually his resurrection, known collectively as the Passion of Christ.
The Basilica of Agony, was first built by the Byzantines in 379 and it’s now also called the Basilica of all Nations, as it was funded and rebuilt by 12 nations in 1920, and hence it has 12 domes.
It’s a beautiful church with a pervading atmosphere of sorrowful reverence. The architect, Antonio Barluzzi, evoked the night-time of the Agony by leaving the interior in semi-darkness, relieved only by subdued natural light filtered through violet-blue alabaster windows.
The somber blue of a star-studded night sky is recreated in the ceiling domes, the stars being surrounded by olive branches reminiscent of the Gethsemane garden. Visitors here seem to be in a meditation mode provided by this evocative place.
As I said, I am not a believer, but sitting in the garden, looking at those thousand years old olive trees, I can’t help but wonder.
Via Dolorosa – The Path Jesus walked to his crucifixion.
The Via Dolorosa, Latin for “Sorrowful Way”. It represents the path that Jesus would have taken, forced by the Roman soldiers, on the way to his crucifixion. The winding route from the former Antonia Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — a distance of about 600 meters (2,000 feet) — is a celebrated place of Christian pilgrimage.
It has 14 stations or 14 points that mark a special event, of which nine happened along this route. From where Jesus was condemned, carrying the cross, where he fell three times, Mother Mary watched him pass by, Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross, and women wept and mourned.
We followed the path passing through the old city, nowadays along the side are mostly souvenir shops. The street is crowded, and there are full-size wooden crosses that one can pick up for free and experience something of what Jesus went through. Pilgrims all over the world walked side by side, regardless of race, religion, and sex. Some cried and some knelt and prayed as they proceeded, small groups performing services at each station. It was very touching for an outsider like me to watch.
Church of Sepulchre – Crucifixion, burial, and the resurrection.
At the end of Via Dolorosa stood the Church of the Sepulchre, It is a major Christian pilgrimage destination, the church proper is the last station of the Via Dolorosa, representing the final episodes of the Passion of Jesus. Where Jesus was stripped, nailed to the cross, died on the cross, taken down, and laid to rest in the tomb.
In AD 70 Jerusalem had been reduced to ruins during the First Jewish–Roman War. It was only in 312 after Constantine the Great converted to Christianity that they started looking for Christ’s tomb and a shrine was built. It was constructed over two holy sites, where Jesus was buried, and to the east, the site of Calvary.
Inside, on the right up a flight of stairs, is the Rock of Calvary, where the Crucifixion is believed to have occurred, it’s encased in glass at the lavish Altar of the Crucifixion and is the most-visited area within the church. Right at the entrance laid a big slab of rock, the Stone of Unction, where Jesus’s body was laid and prepared for burial, Further in is the Tomb Edicule, the shrine that encloses Jesus’s tomb. If I may draw a diagram to illustrate how it was done. They enlarged the cave where the tomb was, built a shrine, then dig around the shrine and built the church of Sepulchre. Again, I have drawn a diagram of how it evolved through time.
Who runs the Church of the Sepulchre?
Being such a holy place, the main denominations sharing property over the church are the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic churches, and to a lesser degree the Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches. A set of complicated rules governs the transit rights of the other groups through each particular section on any given day. This means that everyone has a hand in it but no one has the right to it.
Arguments and violent clashes are not uncommon. For example, on a hot summer day, a monk moved his chair some 20cm more into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile act and violation of the status quo. Eleven were hospitalized after a fight resulting from this ‘provocation’.
This state of affairs makes any agreement about renovations or repairs on the edifice impossible. As a result of this, the church is in a state of decay.
The famous immovable ladder
Another example is at the front entrance, there is a ladder hanging from the second-floor window. The famous immovable ladder is a bizarre outcome of this religious stubbornness pushed to extremes. Sometime in the first half of the 18th century, someone placed a ladder up against the wall of the church. No one is sure who he was, or more importantly, to which sect he belonged. The ladder remains there to this date. No one dares touch it, lest they disturb the status quo, and provoke the wrath of others. The exact date when the ladder was placed is not known but the first evidence of it comes from a 1728 engraving by Elzearius Horn.
The resurrection of Jesus
The basis of the Christian belief is that God raised Jesus on the third day after his crucifixion, restoring his exalted life as Christ and Lord. After Jesus’s resurrection, Mark’s gospels stated that Jesus went back to Galilee, met his disciples, and gave them the Great Commission to travel to all nations and spread his gospel.
Church of the Primacy of St. Peter
Right next to the sea of Galilee, the Church of Primacy of St. Peter was built on top of a large rock. It is believed that Jesus returned after the resurrection for the third time and stood on this rock, showing Peter where to fish. Standing by this magical rock, caressing it with my ringed hand, I felt so peaceful and felt that my parents were present with me at that moment.
After this, I finished my trip following the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As an outsider, I found it very, very interesting, educating, and emotionally touching.
To travel to the holy land may not appear to one with no religious beliefs, yet Jerusalem whose cultural rejuvenation is a magnet for those who want to look beyond its theological persona. It took me about 4 days to visit all these sites and more. I totally recommend anyone regardless of your belief to take this trip. If you are looking for that once-in-a-lifetime trip, this may be the one.
Again, I wholeheartedly thank Stewart for letting me use his blog. By writing my journal, it helps me to research all those places that I visited, refresh my memories and be able to share my knowledge with you all. Happy reading and as Stewart said if any of our readers have a story about a trip they have taken or an adventure they have had, please feel free to send it to Stewart Goes Walkies.
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