Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Sunday in the Old City

Today Rachel stayed home with Samuel so that Elaine and I could take Mother and Lindsay into the Old City.  Physically this was not particularly easy for Mom.  Between her bad knee and her kidney disease-induced anemia, walking long distances, particularly up and down the heavily stepped Old City streets was a bit of an ordeal.  To make it easier, my friend Jared Ludlow drove us right up to and through Lion's Gate (also known as St. Steven's Gate).  This put us right on the Via Dolorosa, which we followed to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (red on the map below).  After that we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (blue), doubled back to the Austrian Hospice (green), and then worked our way through the Muslim Quarter to exit out the famous Damascus Gate (purple).

Via Dolorosa means "Way of Sorrow," and it is the traditional route of Jesus from his condemnation to his crucifixion.  Although the current route was set rather late, about the eighteenth century, the basic route was established in Crusader times, based upon the assumption that Pilate would have tried Jesus in the Fortress Antonia, which was on the northwest corner of the Temple Mount.  More and more scholars now propose that as the Roman governor, Pilate would have lived in the old palace of Herod the Great, on the west side of the city near the current Jaffa Gate, rather than in the spartan barracks of the Roman contingent keeping an eye on the temple.

Anyway, walking this route with its periodically marked "stations of the cross" really turns ones thoughts to what our Lord experienced during that difficult walk to Golgotha.  Mother and Lindsay were both surprised at how hilly the Old City is, with frequent steps set into the steep, narrow streets.

Fifth Station of the Cross: the Latin reads, "The cross is placed upon Simon of Cyrene"

Mother on the Via Dolorosa: I was so surprised at the incline of the Via Dolorosa AND the steps. I had thought that the road to the cross was just an even road, I had no idea that it contained a "million" steps. The rocks of the road were shinny, having a patina caused by the thousands of people over the years that have walked the station of the cross. It was humbling to think of Jesus walking that road carrying the cross.

Lindsay on the Via Dolorosa: Walking through the Via Dolorosa was a great experience because we didn't rush through it. We walked more slowly and and were able to really take in what happened along that road. The old feeling of the steps and the roads were more like what I had imagined Jerusalem being like. It was great to just look around at everything and soak it all in of being in a new environment.

Since today was Sunday, we began the day with a service at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the same place I took Rachel last week.  The main church, built in the late nineteenth century by Kaiser Wilhelm II, is used by the Arabic congregation, followed by the German-speaking congregation.   Because the English-speaking congregation is quite small, it meets in the small Chapel of St. John, but this is actually pretty neat because it used to be the refrectory (dining hall) for the Order of St. John Hospitalers in the eleventh century.  In other words, we attended a service in a Crusader-era chapel!

It was, of course, the fourth Sunday of Advent, and a Lutheran church is one of the best to attend for this, since Martin Luther loved both Advent and Christmas.  It was a good service, and I loved the music we sang.  We started with "Of the Father's Love Begotten," a Gregorian plainchant that sets one of the earliest Christmas hymns known, one composed perhaps as early as the fourth century (take this link to here Ryan Murphy and I discuss this in our Mormon Identities episode on the history of Christmas music).  One of the readings was the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), which served as the theme of the sermon and which we also sang.  It was Lindsay's first time in another church's service, and I think it was a good experience for her.

Mother on the Lutheran Advent Service: It was a lovely service, strange to be in a chapel that was over one thousand years old. People were friendly and glad to see us there.

Lindsay on the Lutheran Advent Service: Being that this was my first church service other than an LDS service, I really enjoyed it. It was quite different than what I am used to, but in a good way. I liked that the service was more interactive; every so often the whole congregation would stand and sing or say a scripture, and I thoroughly enjoyed this new experience both in a foreign country and also in a Lutheran Church.

As we came out of the service, the bells were ringing in the tall tower of the Church of the Redeemer!

Next we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most holy site for much of Christianity for almost two thousand years.  I have blogged about this church and its history before (see here and here, scroll towards the end of each entry).

Sadly, some LDS tour groups, eager to focus attention on Gethsemane and the Garden Tomb, do not even come to this important site, so we always expose our students---and our friends and family---to it and all the other important Christian holy places.  In many ways, both archaeology and tradition make a good case for the Holy Sepulchre's being the place of Jesus' crucifixion and perhaps burial.  Regardless, the faith of millions of Christians who have come here for almost two thousand years has made this place sacred.

In 1853 the Ottoman Turkish sultan made a decree setting the division of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, laying out which churches get what sections and can hold services where when.  Subsequently the British, Jordanians, and now the Israelis have all confirmed the status quo agreement.  As a result, very little can be changed unless the six Christian communities involved agree.  As a result, this ladder, placed against an upper window before 1853, has not been moved since

As one enters the church, immediately to the left is the rock of Gologotha, enclosed by the Chapel of Adam below and the Latin and Greek chapels of Golgotha above.  In both cases tiny windows, or, in the case of the Greek chapel, and actual opening under the altar, give only tiny glimpses of the rocky outcropping.  But in the aisle of the church that proceeds to the east, a larger part of the stone can be seen behind plexiglass.

The candle in the center of this picture is the one that I lit before the Greek altar of Golgotha for our friend, Carrie Ann Coomes Kemp, a single mom fighting breast cancer.

Mosaic of Jesus' body being taken down from the cross.  Note the skull and cross bones beneath it.  A Medieval story/allegory claimed that Adam was buried under Golgotha, making him the first beneficiary of the salvific blood of Christ.
A large exposed section of Golgotha
Immediately in front of one entering the church (and hence to the left of Golgotha) is a large stone slap that represents Jesus' being placed on the ground to be anointed and wrapped after her was taken down from the cross.
Mosaic of Jesus' body being anointed and wrapped

A pilgrim showing reverence at the unction stone
One then moves into the large rotunda, the dome of which hovers over the shrine, known as the aedicule, that was built and rebuilt over a first century tomb that has traditionally been held to be that of Christ's.

My favorite place in the church is the Catholicon, the large Greek orthodox worship area in the center of the building.  It is actually often relatively empty compared to Golgotha and the rotunda, which are often thronged by pilgrims.

Mother on the Church of the Holy SepulchreThis was a touching and sacred place to be. Even though the church was filled with pilgrams coming to see and worship, a little noisily I must admit, the feelings evoked were real and tender. There were places, especially where the outcropping of the rock was, that gave such feelings of the crusifixion and an understanding of His death, the tears were always close to the surface.

Lindsay on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: The Holy Sepulchre was a great experience becasue in the States, you just don't see sites like these---old and historic. I enjoyed that when you would go to the different chapels, you could see a distinct difference from each religion. It made it more real that so many people believe in Christ and the suffering he went through for each of us individually. I loved just looking up at the massive ceilings and ancient architecture.

Leaving the Holy Sepulchre, we doubled back on the Via Dolorosa to the Austrian Hospice, which is one of the largest and perhaps best known of the nineteenth century compounds that European powers built to provide safe lodging for their nationals who came to Jerusalem as pilgrims.  We had lunch there (they have great Weiner Schnitzel!), relaxing on the patio.  But the real reason that we had come to the Austrian Hospice was to take Mom and Lindsay up on its roof, where there are some of the best views of the Old City and the surrounding area.

The Austrian Hospice

Enjoying lunch on the front porch of the Austrian Hospice

Mother and Lindsay with the Dome of the Rock

The blue-gray domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre rise above the roof of the Austrian Hospice
The Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount as seen from the Austrian Hospice

The Jewish Quarter
The Mount of Olives seen from the roof of the Austrian Hospice
Mother on the view from the Austrian Hospice: This was such an interesting sight.  To stand on the rooftop and view the Holy City was awesome. Seeing where the Temple Mount was and the area it covered was amazing. Just to sit on the roof and soak up the feelings was wonderful. Elaine and Lindsay left to go to a few shops, and Eric and I sat there for a while. To see Jerusalem, to feel Jerusalem, to experience Jerusalem was the culmination of something that I had longed a lifetime to see.

Lindsay on the view from the Austrian Hospice: The view from the Hospice was unlike anything I expected. You could just see everything throughout the entire Old City, and it really made me happy that I am able to be here and experience all of these events. I am actually figuring out where things are in comparison to each other and it is thrilling to see how much I am learning in such a short amount of time here. I could have just stayed there all afternoon and enjoyed the view and sun because it was so beautiful.

After getting our pictures, Elaine and Lindsay hurried back to the Christian Quarter to do a little shopping.  Mother was not quite up to hoofing it around the streets of the Old City too much, so we sat on the roof of the Austrian Hospice for about fifteen minutes longer, just enjoying the view and soaking up the ambiance and feel of Jerusalem.

We then walked up El Wad Road the short distance to Damascus Gate.  This actually gave Mom a big dose of local color.  Passing through the gate, we sat outside it in the sun, waiting for Elaine and Lindsay and striking up a conversation with an older Palestinian man who had been born in 1938.  He was just about the same age as Mom, and he had seen his city under the British, the Jordanians, then went abroad to Brazil and the U.S., and now had lived for over twenty years under Israeli occupation.

Bags of spices for sale in the Old City

Damascus Gate today lies quite a bit below the modern street level

As the sun set on Jerusalem today, we had had quite a good day!

1 comment:

  1. I am very appreciative of having found your site! Since I missed all but the last few days of your 1st semester, I am happy to be experiencing your Mother's introduction. I will be happily following your next semester from Idaho! Thank you!!!!