pilgrimage day 9.0 – destination, Jerusalem

It’s a well known adage that life is not about the destination, but the journey. This pilgrimage was about Jesus’ journey, but the destination, where Jesus fulfilled his mission, had equal gravity. Even though we had been in Jerusalem a few days already, day 9 we ‘arrived’, everything after this day felt like a winding down of the pilgrimage. Day 9 was also, fittingly, the harshest single day of the whole trip, but, somehow, I felt full of energy and verve. The day was so ridiculously long that I’m splitting it into two posts (which is saying something becuase the posts so far have been way-too-long-for-blog). Anyways, we woke at 5am and left for a 6am Mass at the Holy Sepulcher. We got our Mass in early at the overbooked Christian epicentre, during its Catholic time-slice. We walked a windy, complicated path through the Old City during a grey pre-dawn to get there. The streets were weirdly quiet compared to their regular buzz and clutter. Once we got inside the empty, echoey church we gathered at it’s focus: the enclosure built around Jesus’ tomb. After a while we entered through a narrow entry to a teeny room, the size of a large elevator, for a Mass which contemplated Jesus’ resurrection from the very spot where we were standing. At the end of Mass, one at a time, we walk-crawled through a low arch into an even teenier room at the middle of the enclosure where there was only a large altar built over the rocks of the tomb. Here we knelt and reached into a hole to touch those scared rocks. By the time we emerged from the enclosure, there were already more pilgrims starting to gather.

early morning at the Holy Sepulchre

early morning at the Holy Sepulchre

a glimpse into the sepulchre

a glimpse into the sepulchre

After a quick breakfast nip back to the hotel, we drove off to the Western Wall (a.k.a. Wailing Wall or Kotel), that site of contentiousness between the Jewish and Muslim. The wall’s history is obviously interesting and the fact that Jews are able to pray there freely is a big deal as it is the only part of the Temple that remains. At the commission in which the Jewish sought free worship at the wall, the following argument was made which I think sums up the wall’s meaning and the Jews desperation to hold onto it:

“Being judged before you today stands a nation that has been deprived of everything that is dear and sacred to it from its emergence in its own land – the graves of its patriarchs, the graves of its great kings, the graves of its holy prophets and, above all, the site of its glorious Temple. Everything has been taken from it and of all the witnesses to its sanctity, only one vestige remains – one side of a tiny portion of a wall, which, on one side, borders the place of its former Temple. In front of this bare stone wall, that nation stands under the open sky, in the heat of summer and in the rains of winter, and pours out its heart to its God in heaven.”

There are seperate queues for men and women to enter the site of the wall and very strict rules around maintaining its sanctity. There’s also a seperation at the wall such that there is a part for the tourists  and another for devout (I think Hasidic) Jews. Something else you notice is that, since the wall is so sacred, people do not turn their back on is, so as you leave you walk backwards facing the wall at all times.We got 5 minuts to walk around, and I didn’t walk all the way up and touch wall becuase I thought there wouldn’t be enough time. As we left I instantly regretted it, but Angie, who did touch the wall, did something which really moved me; she saw I was upset, picked up my hand and rubbed it against hers saying ‘Now we both touched the wall’.

rules of sanctity

rules of sanctity

the holiest place

the holiest place

Next we moved onto an even more contested site, the same space is, for Jews, the Temple Mount, where the Temple once stood and, for Muslims, it is where Mohammed ascended into heaven and where he will again appear at final judgement. It is the most holy place for Jews and the third most holy place for Muslims. One thing both agree on is that it is where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. The space is occupied by two important Islamic places of worship the  Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, (as in the rock on which Abraham prepared Isaac for sacrifice). We walked through a make-shift tunnel with heavily armed soldiers posted along it to get to the Temple Mount.

Temple Mount arch

Temple Mount arch

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

We left the Temple Mount and walked through the Muslim quarter to see two things: St. Anne’s which is considered the birthplace of Mary and the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus restored a blind man’s vision. Bizarrely and unexpectedly we were shuffled into a choir formation in St. Annes to sing a hymn becuase the acoustics there are really good. It was odd becuase there was an air of rush, we had to do this thing we didn’t know we were going to do *fast* bacuase there were other groups chomping at the bit for their choral moment. So, it seems, that’s what you do at St. Anne’s, you’re expected to sing; if you ever go, be prepared. At the pools there there was lots of talking by Frank (which I didn’t really process since I was still thinking about the Temple Mount) and a very quick looksee before we had to move onto to the Via Dolorosa.

one of many altars in St. Annes

one of many altars in St. Anne's

We got to do something very special and follow the Via Dolorosa, the way Jesus walked after his condemnation to his cruxifiction. We walked this path carrying a large wooden cross in turns and stopping at each station of the cross to read from the Bible and pray. The streets were narrow and filled with nonplussed shopkeepers who looked like they’ve seen thousands of Via Dolorosa processions. Ultimately we reached a little green door which turned out to be a wierd back entrance to the Holy Sepulchre, where we completed the last five stations and wandered around among the throngs of people. This time we also got to go to the altar above the rock of Calvary and touch that rock.

via dolorossa - the stations

via dolorossa - the stations

walking the via dolorosa

walking the via dolorosa

oddities through the back entrance of the Holy Sepulchre

oddities through the back entrance of the Holy Sepulchre

After that people got to rest for a while in the plaza outside the church before walking a good while through the shop-filled lanes to get to a Maronite nunnery where Frank had organised a lunch for us. The nuns there knew him well since he had grown up near the nunnery and spent lots of time there as a boy getting up to mischief such as hiding from his parents in their bell tower. We were led up a long flight of stairs which has very hard on the older folk. We ended up on a rooftop where we got an awesome view of rooftops used as backyards, statellites, domes, churches. Frank dissected the view, pointing out the different religious quarters and landmarks. Lunch was simple, homey and delicious and our table was filled with rollicking good table mates like Tia, Mae, Luisa, Fr. Chico, Caroline and Veronica.

lots of folk needed helping hands during all the walking

lots of folk needed helping hands during all the walking

rooftop backyard

rooftop backyard

look at this ladys apron

look at this lady's apron

Next, what we did after chilling at the Maronite nunnery…

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3 Responses to “pilgrimage day 9.0 – destination, Jerusalem”

  1. Rudy Neeser Says:

    “Now we both touched the wall.” That was very sweet.

  2. Bryan Wong Says:

    Sounds like it was quite the experience. The pictures are awesome as well (some look more like postcards). Looking forward to part 2!

  3. ildarabbit Says:

    twas sweet rudy

    welcome back bwong! perhaps i will get to hear about your travels as well soon 🙂

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