Our first morning in Jerusalem was an early one. We had a long day ahead and our tour guide was adamant that we get going early to beat the crowds. There were a few factors that had to be taken into account when deciding what time was good for a wakeup call.
1. We had just checked into a much larger hotel and most of our rooms were on the 14th and 16th floor.
2. The lifts in the hotel were bizarre. Besides queues upon queues of people at random times as groups arrived (it had taken me 45 mins to get to my room upon arrival the night before), there was also the added bonus of the lifts not respecting the sacred code of the elevators. You could press your button for what floor you wanted and the elevator could either stop at every floor on the way up to yours (14 for me), go straight up to the floor below yours and then go straight back down to pick someone up on floor 2 again or it could just completely ignore you and stop wherever it wanted until you eventually got to your floor.
3. Our new hotel had happy hour in the bar between 8pm and 10pm. Happy hour was banned from Ireland by the evil powers that be almost half a decade ago as part of their campaign to abolish the American stereotype of Irish people being cuddly little drunks who hoarded away bowls of Lucky Charms. As a result of this, the effects of being happy at happy hour did not just disappear at 10. Oh no, we were happy for a long time after happy hour which led to some late nights in Jerusalem.
I was very excited about breakfast in the new hotel. Visions of bacon and sausages and black pudding ran through this heathens mind as we navigated the floors in our great and all knowing elevator. But alas it wasn’t too be. My idea of a multi-cultural breakfast where the rules of religion and race were thrown out the window was not to be. Instead I saw eggs in tomatoes, looking very similar to the ones in the first hotel. Cereal it is so! The common worldwide bond of cereal that makes milk chocolatey is something that should be discussed by world leaders as a possible catalyst for a peaceful eutopia. Naturally Coco the monkey would be made president with Quiky the Nesquik bunny as his number 2 and professor Weeto as their minder.
“”Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth – Put out my hand and touched the Face of God”
We were leaving the hotel early to go on a tour. But no ordinary tour, today we were going to walk the Via Dolorosa or ‘Way of the Cross’. Well…..maybe we were, maybe we weren’t. Who’s counting. Actually, my good friend Simon Sebag Montefiore is counting!! (Have you read my review of his book?? He has!)
So what does he have to say about it? An edited version of course:
‘Every event in this (Jesus’ passion) story was to develop its own geography in Jerusalem, though many of these sites are probably historically wrong….He carried the crossbar for his own crucifixion, out of the Citadel prison and through the streets of the upper city….Jesus left Jerusalem for the last time, turning left through the Gennath Gate into….the aptly named….Golgotha…..This is a totally different route from the traditional Via Dolorosa. The Gennath gate….was identified…in the northern part of the Jewish quarter…Christians wrongly believed that the Antonia fortress was…where Pilate had made his judgements. Medieval Franciscan Monks developed the tradition of the stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa, From the Antonia site to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – almost certainly the wrong route.’
I’m sorry to burst your bubble and to do so in such long winded fashion only adds salt to the wound. I have a lot of spare pinches of salt to throw around so it was inevitable that one would find its way into a fresh wound. But hey, the route may not have been legit but the destination and the experience of getting there sure were!
So…finally….we have left the hotel. And following our faithful guide Louis like blind ducks behind their mother, we prepared to walk the (wrong) Way of the Cross!
So the idea was simple. We picked up our cross at the start and carried it through the street’s of Jerusalem, stopping at the marked sites of the stations of the cross until we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There’s not much point in reading about it so let’s just take a photographic adventure….
We had made it with our cross all the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a huge maze of a church, containing many interior chapels and sites, which was built over the actual site of Golgotha and the tomb where Jesus’ body was put after his crucifixion. There have been many churches and temples built on this site over the centuries but this one has been standing since about 1027 -although it has gone through multiple renovations since then.
There is only one entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and that is through a single door on the south side of the building. Let’s hope a fire doesnt break out!
The church is a very confusing building so I will do my best to retrace our steps:
To the right as you enter is the entrance to Golgotha, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.
As you make your way up towards the site (it was on a hill remember!), there is a room that is reserved only for the Pope to pray in.
Once you reach the top of the stairs you are faced with the alter of Golgotha which contains, in a glass box, the Rock of Calvary. The rock can be seen on both sides of the alter and underneath is a hole where you can reach in and touch, where it is said to be, the spot where Jesus’ cross was. There was also a spot for some good aul’ fashioned candle lighting.
Back down the stairs and just beside the entrance is: The Stone of the Anointing. This is the stone that Jesus’ body was laid on and anointed with oil by Joseph of Arimathea after it was taken down from the cross. The stone had some funky lamps hanging over it. Of course, in true Holy Land fashion, this stone was only actually placed in this area in the 19th Century reconstruction of the Church. But shhhh… dont tell anyone that last bit because it was fun to see people grow weak in its presence and throw themselves upon it!
Next we followed a path into a larger room known as the Rotunda.This is the centre of one of the church’s domes. In the centre of this room is the Aedicule which contains the Holy Sepulchre itself. The Aedicule has two rooms, one containing what is known as ‘The Angel Stone’, which is the stone used to close the tomb and a second room containing the Holy Sepulchre which is the tomb in which Jesus was laid in.
As you can imagine with the Holy Sepulchre being a focal point for all of Christendom, its a pretty popular place and because of this, the queue to get into the tomb was pretty big…about an hour long. But of course we queued. You wouldn’t go to Disneyland without queuing up for Space Mountain!
While we were in the queue we saw a man at the back of the room praying. He had long brown hair, a brown beard and was dressed in white cloth robes.
“Jesus, Mary and good St. Joseph, it’s the J-man” , we exclaimed in our best Irish accents.
I tried to get some pictures of this elusive figure but I couldn’t catch him. They all came out blurry.
After we visited the tomb, and were free from the queue, I went looking for him to try get a picture but he was no where to be seen. Vanished into thin air. Or……ascended into heaven?? Answers on a postcard please.
Not having enough of morbid fascination for one day we went from one tomb to another tomb to another tomb. Next up was Mary’s tomb which would be followed closely by King David’s tomb. Tombtastic.
Ok, I say the tomb of Mary but I have no recollection of where we went next, all I have are the photos. I know it was a church, it had a French flag, there was an Irish priest there, inside there were lots of paintings of women from the Bible such as Ruth and there was some sort of statue in the middle of a room which depicted the body of Mary in a reposed state. But didn’t Mary not die and go straight to Heaven?? I know….maybe this was an Orthodox church cos they don’t believe that one….or maybe it wasnt a tomb…but why the body?? Oh God….I’M SO CONFUSED!!!!!!! I’m hyper-ventilating. I think I’m coming down with Jerusalem fever. Lets get out of here to the next site!!!
Next stop was the upper room, site of not only The Last Supper but also of the Washing of the feet, The gathering of the disciples after Jesus’ ascension, some resurrection appearances by Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost. All under one roof, handy!
Since at least the fourth century AD a structure identified as the Cenacle, the site of the Last Supper, has been a popular Christian pilgrimage site in Jerusalem. It has been visited by pilgrims as far back as 384 AD. The building has been destroyed and reconstructed many times since then, culminating in the Gothic structure which stands today.
While we were in the room there was a curious bunch of Christian’s wearing little orange hats. Even more curious was the crying, wailing and moaning that was coming out of them. The leader of the group, who I can only presume (and hope) was a priest, was touching each group member on the head and clutching the hands of others while chanting and praying. This action reduced those whom he touched to a quivering, emotional wreck who could no longer contain themselves and either spoke in tongues or dropped to the floor in tears. Turned out they were Pentecostal Christians.
I wanted to have a go but I thought that it would either have no effect on me and I would have inadvertently made a mockery of their beliefs or I would have lost control of my bodily functions, wet my self and inadvertently made a mockery of me. Pentecostal Christianity looks like great craic all the same!
Down the stairs, in the room below, we found King David’s tomb. How convenient these Pilgrims are! Here we were seperated as the women could only visit a small part of the tomb while the mighty men could visit a much larger section.
I got thinking while I was in here…..If King David was the greatest of all Jewish kings…..and this was his tomb….why on earth would Jesus and his mates have been allowed to host their parties in the room up above?? You wouldn’t rent a room at the top floor of a sacred church to a bunch of college students now would you?? Of course not!
But of course, this isnt actually David’s tomb silly! Its more just a spot of remembrance. No-one knows the exact spot of David’s final resting place. Its been lost for centuries. They don’t actually know if it’s in Jerusalem or not. Sad really. I know how it feels, I lost my car keys for days once and hadn’t a notion where to find them so I can empathize with the Jews on this one.
As we meandered around the streets of Jerusalem we finally came to one of the most famous spots. The Temple Mount. Original home to the Jewish temple, now home to the Muslim Dome on the Rock and the Jewish Western, or Wailing, Wall. This Western Wall is the most significant site in Jewish worship. This is the wall which, following the destruction of the Temple, has been revered by Jews as the centre of all worship.
Again, men and women were segregated with men praying on the left side of the wall and women to the right. After praying, women are not allowed turn their back on the wall and must walk backwards away from the wall as a reminder to them that they are more likely to turn away from God then a man is. Oh sexism. I wish we had more of you in Ireland.
Being at such a famous landmark and the site where 3 religions meet was the perfect opportunity for a photo op:
Our final stop after a loooooong day was the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. This was a church built to commemorate the spot where Peter denied Jesus. The spot was originally home to a Byzantine shrine which was built in 457 but destroyed in the 11th Century. Since then, a crusader church was built there in the 1100’s. The church fell into ruin but was restored again in 1931.
It would be rude at this point not to mention the ornate door that this Church had. Great for recreating scenes from ‘E.T’.
Underneath the Church was a cave, discovered in the 19th Century, where it is believed that Jesus was kept during his arrest.
Around the grounds of the church were other statues depicting Peter’s denial and some old ruins.
So there ends another day in the Holy Land. We had crammed more than thought to be humanly possible into this day so we were only delighted to head home for dinner and another overly stretched happy hour.