Saturday 15 September 2018
Met early by Maher our group made its way first to Mt Zion , one of four mounts in Jerusalem – the others being: the Mt of Olives (where our hotel is); Mt Scopus; and Mt Moriah, the mount where tradition says Moses was prepared to sacrifice Isaac. It was near here that we visited the room of the Last Supper. The hall of the Last supper is a 12th century Crusader structure, built on the upper level above the traditional place of the tomb of King David. After spending some time here imagining that last meal of Jesus and his disciples, we headed off close by to the relatively new church building – that of the Dormition Church built in 1910 by Wilhelm II of Germany on a plot of land given to him by the Ottoman Empire (the then rulers of Jerusalem) The church was established where, according to tradition, Mary, mother of Jesus, fell asleep (tradition states she never died!). The church’s name derives from this event- “The Dormition”, meaning “sleep”. The interior of the church is impressive, with a mosaic floor. The mosaic presents a Latin quotation of the Book of Psalms: “May the Lord bless you from Zion”- a verse referring to Mount Zion where the church stands.
We entered the Old City via the Zion Gate and across the Jewish Quarter (very quiet due to the Shabbat) to the Western Wall. Having been able to be here yesterday afternoon, we headed quickly across into the Muslim Quarter (alive and full of colour, noise and people – lots of people!) to see the route Jesus trod on the way to his crucifixion (the Via Dolorosa) It was here we mingled with another pilgrim group who were singing loudly and carrying a cross. It was hard to make progress due to the busy market stalls and the mass of people. After making a detour down a spice alleyway we came to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the church built over the place of Jesus execution on a cross and his tomb. We were told we had an hour here and we needed every minute as the queues very long. For me, I had mixed feelings in this place. On the one hand I knew that these sites are guesses at best, but on the other hand – I was at the place where tradition dictates Jesus died on the Cross. For all those Good Friday services I had attended and celebrated – here I was at the foot of the Cross. Could I not spend a moment in adoration and prayer? The devotion shown by the masses from all over the world was astonishing and moving.
We then made our way back to our minivan for the afternoon trip to Bethlehem. It is in the Palestinian controlled area and so we had a young local guide who was very good. He explained to us that the word Bethlehem means either in Hebrew ‘House of Bread; or in Arabic ‘House of Meat’. In any case – it is the town of great sandwiches!
We first went to centre square – named Manger Square – to be informed that the predominant religion of the city is Christian and that the tourist trade is the main source of income for the city and its residents. We then visited the Church of the Nativity – built over the place where Jesus is said to have been born. The first evidence of a cave in Bethlehem being venerated as Christ’s birthplace is in the writings of Justin Martyr around 160 AD. In 326, Constantine and his mother St. Helena commissioned a church to be built over the cave. This first church, dedicated on May 31, 339, had an octagonal floor plan and was placed directly above the cave. The Constantinian church was destroyed by Justinian in 530 AD, who built the much larger church that remains today.
Again, crowds were large, and we waited awhile to go down and see the spot where Jesus is said to be born. There is a star on the ground and many were venerating or even kissing the spot.
After our fantastic visit and a visit to a gift shop we headed back to Jerusalem to visit the Garden of Gethsemane – the grove where Jesus is said to have prayed on the night of his arrest. A beautiful grove purchased by the Crusaders and given to the Franciscans who have managed the site ever since. The church next door is a striking modern one built in 1952.
Back to the hotel for a lovely dinner and early to bed – ready for a drive north to Nazareth and the sea of Galilee tomorrow – sadly the last full day of the trip!
Church of Last Supper
J in the Last Supper room
Mary looking peaceful?
At the Western Wall once more
The route Jesus took to Calvary
Pilgrims group 1
Pilgrim group 2
getting a bit busy!
Tomb of Jesus?
Church of Nativity – Bethlehem
It was hot and crowded as we waited to descend to see where Jesus was born
Jesus born here?
Church at the Garden of Gethsemane