Mount of Olives panorama

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Extra Day 2: Return to the Old City

Today was Sabbath, when, for a variety of reasons, LDS services are held. Today in the Jerusalem Center it was District Conference, so members from the branches and groups throughout the country gathered for a joint meeting, joined by many visitors like ourselves.

After our meetings were over, we drove through the campus of Hebrew University, quiet for Sabbath, and stopped at some overlooks on Mount Scopus, one that overlooked the Judean Wilderness to the east and another with views of the city. From there we also saw the remains of a Second Temple Period tomb with kokkhim horizontal graves such as was likely the type in which Jesus was buried.

Back to the Holy Sepulchre

We then took Tim and Teresa Wright back to the Old City to revisit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and some churches and other sites we had not managed to see with the group earlier in the week.

In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre we first climbed on top of Golgotha to see the Latin altar of Calvary, that commemorated when Jesus was nailed to the cross, and the Orthodox altar, where he was lifted upon the cross and hung until his death.

We then descended from Golgotha to enter the Chapel of Adam, where a window revealed another exposed piece of the rock, cracked either from the cross or the earthquakes that followed Jesus' death. We then worked around the church in a counterclockwise direction, visiting the lower Chapel of St. Helen and the still lower Chapel of the Invention (Finding) of the Cross.

We then made our way to the Rotunda, viewed some services being held there, and entered the small Syrian Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, off of which is small room that reveals two more kokkhim horizontal shafts that confirm that this area was, in fact, a first century burial ground.

Altar of Joseph of Arimonthea and Nicodemus
First century kokkhim graves

The iconostasis of the Greek Catholikon or sanctuary

Church of Alexander Nevsky

in the mid nineteenth century the imperial Russian government bought a prime piece of property in the Old City near the Holy Sepulchre.  Planning as a hostel for Russian pilgrims, they began construction, only to find significant archaeological remains.  These are preserved below and to the east of the sanctuary that they eventually built here as part of a larger complex.  This church is named after the Russian saint Alexander Nevsky, the patron of the Czar Alexander who was ruling Russia at the time.

These remains included the triumphal gateway into the Temple of Venus complex built in A.D. 135 by the emperor Hadrian when he re-built Jerusalem as a Roman city. It is believed that the Venus temple was built here to co-opt  the holy site of the Christians, namely where they had been commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  Nearby are the remnants of the earlier Herodian Wall,  giving evidence for where the course of the wall was in the time of Jesus.  In this wall are the remnants of a city gate, called The Gate of Judgment and believed to be the one through which Jesus passed on his way to Jerusalem.  Just to the side of the gateway is a narrow slot that some have tried to argue is the "Eye of the Needle" to which Jesus referred in the Synoptic story of the Rich Young Man.  While this might be possible, see this link for a philological and historical discussion of the expression. All of these remnants support the traditional claim of the Holy Sepulchre to be the site at least of the crucifixion, and the original church complex built by Constantine extended at least this far.

Hanging above the sanctuary of Alexander Nevsky is a beautiful series of passion paintings executed by by Russian artist Nikolay Koshelev.  If you like the work of Danish Carl Bloch, you will love these painting.

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer

Everyone should have a church in Jerusalem, even the Germans. That is what Kaiser Wilhelm II thought when he made a visit in 1898 for the dedication of a beautifully simple (relatively speaking) church not far from the previous churches mentioned in this blogpost. The main sanctuary hosts services in Arabic, German, and Danish. This church holds a warm memory, because we frequently attended English-speaking services in the nearby Cloister led by our friend Fred Strickert while we were living here.

After visiting the shop of our friend Shaban, we then exited through the Jaffa Gate, leading a view of the Citadel behind us.

Herodian Family Tomb

Our final stop was a rich family tomb that has been identified as the family tomb of Herod. While he was buried in a massive mausoleum at the Herodion near Bethlehem, this is where members of his family were buried, in view of his palace across the valley.

This tomb, featuring an intact rolling stone, gives some sense of what a rich tomb, like that of Joseph of Arimathea, would have been like in this period.

We then saw the Wrights off in a taxi to the airport, so Rachel and I will be on our own the next couple of days.

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