Posts Tagged ‘Byzantine’

pilgrimage day 10 – i don’t understand this day

January 25, 2009

Today we left Israel early in the morning. Frank and Jono drove with us to the Jordan border. Everyone was a bit nervous about this border crossing after V made an announcement that Israeli officials can be blunt and rude with us but we should be compliant – and no smiling. It did dredge up imaginings of being cast out into the desert passport-less and I swear one mama was literally wringing her wrists as we stood in the queue at the plane-less airport-type building at Allenby Bridge. After making it through we stood around in the sun with our bus waiting for a new Jordanian bus and guide. We chatted and discovered from Frank that his sister-in-law had landed in hospital the day before which is why he was pacing around on his phone and didn’t come to dinner with us. We all have a very camaraderie-filled goodbye with Frank and Jono and load onto our new bus, which much less luxurious. Our new guide is named Ammar and he is very apologetic for the bus’ lateness. He then collects all our passports (I really hated this mass collecting and processing of our passports) and went to some other office before returning and handing them back again. At this point a very young, armed Jordanian policeman joined us, apparently standard issue for every tour bus in Jordan, these guys don’t want nothing messing with their fledgling tourism trade. We started by driving out to the Jordan river, there was a bit of a walk to get there. It was very hot and the terrain was beautiful and open. We walk down to the river, which is not nearly as pretty as you might imagine – all green and stagnant looking. Each of us were baptised by Fr. on a pier at the river’s edge, very special. So special actually that some folks started emptying their water bottled to gather some Jordan water as a momento. We also visited a luxe chuch dedicated to the descent of the Holy Spirit during Jesus’ baptism.

*sploosh*

Baptism off the pier at the Jordan River

Jordan River Church

Jordan River Church

Next we visited Mount Nebo from which Moses and Israelites first saw the Promised Land, but where God told Moses that he would die on the mountain before being able to enter. Very bitter-sweet. We had a Mass here and I did the reading which, of course, was filled to a healthy proportion of those hard-to-pronounce Hebrew place names. But at least it was in English, at first it look the monk a while to find the reading in English for me! Looking it up now, I see there was lots we didn’t see at Mount Nebo, such as the amazing modern sculpture of Mose’s staff and the Memorial Church of Moses and, most awesome, the view of the Promised Land. Unfortunately, instead of visiting these we were taken to a shop where disabled people make and sell mosaics. I’m all for supporting this kind of thing but, in retrospect, I am bummed that we missed out on the cool things on Mount Nebo, especially that Promised Land view. We were given a demo on how the mosaics are made and given ample time to wander around their shop (where everything was very expensive but I did buy a wooden doll and a blue/silver ring).

remembering Moses

remembering Moses

Next on the adenga we drive to Madaba were we are taken to a restaurant for a pretty decent lunch. We hear that we are supposed to see a church in Madaba but there is a funeral taking place there so we will come back later.

madaba

madaba

friendly boys

friendly boys

What followed was a lot of driving around the Jordanian countryside with very little indication of where we were going. The lanscape was very different to Israel, instead of lots of small square houses cluttering hills, there were large tracts open land dotted with lavish mansions and a few smaller settlements. I got very hiccupy and car sick and caught only tidbits of Ammar’s discursions such as 75% of Jordan’s population are young, they have no natural resources, they have been trying to grow tourism since 2000 and they see people as their best resource. The bus was getting to me, in fact the 10 days of bus was getting to me; I remember tunring to Isabel and saying “It feels like this is our life now, everyday will be like this: We wake up at 6 or ealier, get loaded onto a bus and driven around and see too many places to remember”. Eventually, the bus stopped at a look out point from which you can see the Dead Sea in the distance and some mountain. I have no idea what was special about the mountain or why we had stopped to look at it. After we spent a couple of minutes checking out the mystery mountain we got back into the bus and drove all the way back through the countryside to Madaba.

dotted with masions

dotted with mansions

mystery mountain

mystery mountain

The bus stopped again and I had a little sit down to recuperate from the bus ride before all of us got led at a great speed through these interesting streets, past shops with lots of gypsy/bohemian style wares to St. George’s church. This was actually interesting, The church was built over an early Byzantine church and a mosaic map covers a large part of the church’s floor. The Madaba map has big chunks missing and which is widely believed to be the earliest map of the Holy Land, you can see Jerusalem, Galilee and the Jordan River on it. We got 5 minutes inside the church which was a bummer because the map was really detailed and fun to look at. Then we were rushed back through the intersting streets and hustled onto the bus. This day made very little sense to me, we spent hours driving, seemingly, with lots of time to kill around the countryside and when we were actually off the bus we were still rushing everywhere and couldn’t look at things properlly. When I got back on the bus people were cranky about this. I muttered to myself “I don’t understand this day” and V #2 turned around to me and said “I dont’ understand this day either” which led to some secretive giggling. I had resorted to sitting at the back of the bus today because of my car sickness and there were lots of laughs šŸ™‚

Arabis want peace / Carpet Land

Arabis want peace / Carpet Land

madaba map showing the Jordan river

madaba map showing the Jordan river

Next, we found ourselves at Jordan airport where the Ladeira’s had to do some frantic repacking before boarding a flight to Egypt. I got to sit next to H and Aunty A, who told me a ponderous and hilarious joke about three old sisters. We arrived in Cairo late at night, all our luggage was mounted onto a mega mountain cart and we were loaded onto a new bus with a fresh, friendly guide named Max who made lots of references to Bafana and the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Max tells us the “Cairo” translates into “the overwhelming city”, which turned out the be a most fitting name. He also spouts off other facts like there are 20 million people living in Cairo and 2 million cars, Giza is actually pronounced “Gee-zaa”, Egypt has 117 pyramids and 94% of its land is uninhabitable. Interesting but folks were way to tired for more learning and were falling asleep left, right and centre, including Mae who was next to me. Cairo was busy, people were preparing for Eid which was the next day and it took us a whole hour to drive to our hotel. Once we got there we had to id our luggage by putting stickers on them and get our room keys. Becuase it was so later we were told we could sleep all the way until 8 the next day – a huge treat! Inside the hotel was overkill with bright lights, live music and middle-aged tourist dancing the waltz (I think). T&W promptly put down their bags and took the the floor without missing a beat, it was like something out of a deoderant ad. After a good while of waiting we finally got to our very fancy rooms where I missed the obvious cue to tip the porter, Luisa felt very ill from the plane food and I had a bath with pursed lips (for fear of drinking any to the hectic Egypt water). *snore*

oh clever, pyramid shaped lamps in a hotel overlooking Giza

oh clever, pyramid shaped lamps in a hotel overlooking Giza

Tally for the day: 2 border crossings, 3 churches, 1 river baptism, 2 mountains – 1 known and 1 mystery, lots of countryside bus, 1 short flight, 1 hotel change

pilgrimage day 9.5 – destination, Jerusalem

January 21, 2009

…After a welcome rest at the Maronite nunnery we had an unusual stop at the Notre Dame hostel, a hotel specifically for pilgrims, which V had mentioned several times. Despite V’s every effort she could not get us a booking there and it was the first time one of her groups was staying only at secular hotels. But we were still going to visit, and were met by a very grand, dignified priest and led into the hostel’s own chapel featuring a very pink Mary statue.Ā  As we entered the chapel, Fr. Chico whispers to me that we were now among the most conservative of priests. In the chapel the dignified priest welcomed us and said how sad it made him that there was no space for one of V’s groups in his hostel. After a short talk we left, climbing the stairs out Fr. Chico whispered to me again that the order of priests here are called the LegionnairesĀ  but a he calls them the Millionaires because they are very rich and feel it is their calling to convert the wealthy. I ask him is he is impressed with them and he said “No, we are not impressed with them” . I ask Fr. Chico about his order; he is from the Cambionnaires which started in Portugal and are dedicated to practicing in Africa and other war-torn and poverty-stricken places. Fr. Chico has no parish but lives in a remote, rural part of Mpumalanga. Next we hauled uphill to a Shroud of Turin museum where we were met by a very lively Irish priest who took us through the museum briefly and told us about some of the shroud’s oddnesses and some of the very convincing evidence from physics, pollen analysis and photography, which suggest that the shroud and its image are not simple cloth and imprint. One of the weirdest things about the shroud is that when photographed you get a negative image and a you get a positive image when you look at the photograph’s negative. There was even a 3D reconstruction of the figure depicted in the shroud using some fancy CG technique, and it really looked like what we think of when we picture Jesus.

Shroud of Turin weirdness

Shroud of Turin weirdness

We loaded onto a bus and were driven somewhere but weren’t told where … oh look we’re at the foot of the Mount of Olives and oh we are taking part in another procession – a Palm Sunday procession. At this point H and Aunty B decided to stay in the bus, they were struggling with bad knees and swollen ankles and it was a good choice. Cynthia would not be held back though, but she really struggled on the walk up. Mae, Tia and I almost lost the group because Mae went back to the bus to fetch her jersey. We had a moment of panic (during which there were some harsh words from me *blush*) as we watched the bus drive away and had no idea where our group was. But, holy-thank-goodness we found the group at an teeny grey dome-shaped building. It was the Dome of the Ascension, which is actually mosque, but is built over the spot where people think Jesus ascended into Heaven. After this we went to Pater Noster (eh? isn’t that a town on South Africa’s coast? No actually it is also the “Our Father…” prayer) the traditional spot where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. There is a church there among very pretty gardens complete with rose bushes. All around the gardens and the church are tiled plaques with the Our Father in all different languages – even found Zulu and Afrikaans!

in the Dome of the Acsension

in the Dome of the Acsension

Our Father in Sotho, Portuguese, Zulu, Creole, Siswati, Afrikaans

Our Father in Sotho, Portuguese, Zulu, Creole, Siswati, Afrikaans

Then we walked up a steep hill where Clive and I took turns kind of pushing Cynthia up the hill. We walked a steep road up to a look out point where we could see Jerusalem and look down the Mount of Olives over the vast cemetaries. The Mount of Olives is hot cemetary property since it’s believed that those buried there will be the first taken up to Heaven. Plots there are very expensive and there are a number of famous people buried there.

Mount of Olives cemetaries

Mount of Olives cemeteries

cemetary ritual

cemetary ritual

Next we properly began the Palm Sunday procession walking a sharp downhill to Dominus Flevit (translated: Jesus wept), a church built over the spot where Jesus wept anticipating his Father’s will. The church was built to resemble a tear drop and on the altar there is a mosaic of a chicken sheltering chicks in its wings (symbolic of Jesus wanting to shelter Jerusalem). And behind the altar was a big window overlooking Jerusalem.

Dominus Flevit

Dominus Flevit

sheltering wings

sheltering wings

After walking around the gardens surrounding the church for a while (and me falling on my butt while walking down the wheelchair ramp) we carried on downhill to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. We saw veeeeery old, chunky olive trees and the Church of all Nations, which we were told has 12 domes, one for each nation that funded its building. But looking it up it seems like more than 12: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Italy, France, Spain, UK, Belguim, Canada, Germany, USA and Australia, each country funding different parts of the church. The church is built on the site of a 12th century Crusader chapel which was later a Byzantine basilica which was detroyed by an earthquake. Now it is an amazing Franciscan church, vast and full of mosaics of complex garden scenes and in tones of deep blue, golds and browns. At this stage there was some confusion, and people didn’t know if they should be in the church or wait outside. Frank disappeared and could be glimpsed once or twice pacing up and down talking in a very concerned way on his phone. After the waiting around, a bit of whinging and some how-the-church-should-operate debate, Frank reappeared and we were led to another part of the garden where a Franciscan monk greeted us. We got to do one of the best things of the whole day – we sat for an hour of silence to pray and meditate on peace for Israel and the world. This was very special thinking about Jesus being in the garden and feeling like one of his disciples trying to focus on prayer and tune out distraction and tireness like they were trying to on the night Jesus was arrested. It was also the perfect rest and calm down after a long day.

Church of All Nations

Church of All Nations

devotion

devotion

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane

We thought after this long day we would go rest, but instead of going for dinner and resting at our hotel we went for a special farewell dinner at a different hotel. The farewell was out last day with Frank and Jono who we had all grown fond of (although their fondness for us was debatable). The farewell dinner was a bit strange though since neither Frank nor Jono attended so it seemed a bit…er pointless in terms of bidding them farewell. Another notable feature of the dinner was that Tia got a big birthday cake due to a misunderstanding wherein V believed it was a her birthday when, in fact, it was only her birthday 3 days time. Eventually we were taken back to our hotel, people were tired and ratty but the Portuguese contingency was very dedicated – we still got together for a makeshift Portuguese Mass in honour of Tia in one of their hotel rooms complete with hotel table wine and rolls for the Eucharist. And then it was time to pack in preparation for going to Jordan and then Cairo – we did not get enough sleep …

Tally for the day: 8 chuches, 2 sacred sites, 3 mosques, 1 set of ruins, 2 processions, 2 gardens, 1 nunnery, 1 museum, 1 dinner outĀ  (whoa!)

pilgrimage day 3 – the holy triangle

November 18, 2008

After the airport-heavy first two days, people woke up acting and feeling much more civilised on the third day. Breakfast featured lots of hummus which was something we would come to eat in dollops with just about every meal. We were told that there was a lot on the schedule and we should not stop to shop as we would be taken to a nice shop with all the souvenirs we could possibly want at a set time in the day. After that preface, we drove to Ein Kerem, which is where Elizabeth, Mary’s sister, and her husband Zachariah lived. These fine folk were also John the Baptist’s parents. We started by walking up a steep hill (which caused lots of huffing and puffing) to the Church of the Visitation a really beautiful Franciscan church with an awesome view and two towers and some striking artwork fo the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth and of John the Baptist escaping death by Herod’s soldiers (who were killing all the boys in Israel at the time to try and off Jesus). There was even a rock which John the B supposedly hid behind to escape the soldiers (but I was kind of sceptical about that). In the entrance courtyard of the place there are many plaques with the Magnificat (a.k.a. Mary’s Song) prayer in different languages. This prayer is made up of the words of Mary when she visited Elizabeth, then barren and old, and Elizabeth realised that she was pregnant (with ‘ol John the B). This is a pretty important prayer said by priests every single day. We had mass in a very light and airy chapel of the church with amazing artwork and a floor of mosaics of fierce and docile animals. This was supposed to represent the coming together of meekness and power at the visitation and, to boot, there was a bunny mosaic which made my morning šŸ˜‰ After Mass we walked back down the hill, where Isabel and I grabbed some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. We walked to a church built over the place where tradition holds that John the B himself was born. The Church was very blue and full of mosaics and remnants of Byzantine and Crusader churches that used to stand at that spot. The church also has some nice traditions around it; apparently it is where pregnant women go with their friends to discuss their coming baby and choose his/her name – kind of a baby shower church if you will!

Church of the Visitation

Church of the Visitation

Mary floats above the music

Mary floats above the music

bunny mosaic!

bunny mosaic!

Next we went to Jerusalem, Frank also tells us that Bethlehem, Ein Kerem and Jerusalem are all 7km’s apart and, therefore, form what’s known as the Holy Triangle. We don’t go into Jerusalem but stop off at the Israel Museum which houses two famous exhibits: the Shrine of the Book which houses the Dead Sea scrolls and a large model of Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple (which was when Jesus was around). That temple was eventually destroyed (by the dastardly Romans) and today that place in occupied by a mosque known as the Dome of the Rock which is the third most holy place in the world for Muslims. All that remains of the Temple is its wall – a.k.a. The Wailing Wall, which is the most holy of all places in the world for Jews. It really was striking to me how all these different religions deem the same place so holy – there’s got to be something to it. Anyway, the model was in this open air amphitheater and it took us about 20 minutes to walk around it while Frank pointed out different significant parts of it. It was incredibly detailed and well made – you can take a virtual tour of this model here. Sadly were was no time to see any other parts of the museum, there was barely time to go to the bathroom and Cynthia got herself in an absolute panic trying to buy a map of the model in the bookstore and get back to the bus on time. I had to help her count out money because it seemed she might faint from the stress of it all.

Ā 

Israel Museum

Israel Museum

Next we drove back to Bethlehem, back through the Palestinian checkpoint and through town to a place called the Shepherd’s Fields. This involved another short uphill walk to a small, beautiful church. The church was built by an Italian master architect who designed a number of important churches in the Holy Land (I can’t remember his name tho!). The Shepherd’s Field church has a tent shape since the shepherds stayed in tents while tending flocks at night. It was one of my favourite churches of the trip, full of blue light and beautiful paintings showing the angels appearing to the shepherds to announced Jesus’ birth and the shepherd’s fear and. later, happiness at the event. We didn’t hang around for very long before going to a nearby cave which seemed to have little significance besides having a genuine Byzantine era mosaic on its floor. At this stage I started wonder what all the Byzantine stuff was about since we kept hearing about it (yep colour me a dumb pilgrim). Basically, the way I understand it, the Byzantine Era refers to the time when the Emperor Constantine started to promote the worship of a Christian monotheistic God and there were Crusades and lots of building of churches, particularly on sites believed to be holy or related to Jesus. Even though many Byzantine churches were destroyed there are still lots of remains of them visible even in places were other churches were built over them. After the Shepherd’s field area we were taken to a mom ‘n pop joint for falafels which were delicious. These were followed by tiny cups of Turkish coffee which we all found to be utterly vile.

Oh Holy Night

Oh Holy Night

Next we drove to a place close to Bethlehem whose name I can’t remember but I think it was pronounced something like Beth-she-ahn. There was no holy site here but we went to a Salesian monastery where a very charming man, who looked like Geri from Pixar’s short film Geri’s Game, told us about the beginnings of the Salesian order and their missions throughout world and, especially, Africa (which Tia found very interesting since she is always keeping her ears open for more funding for her school in Nampula, MZ). The monastery we were visiting has taken to producing wine as a way of sustaining themselves. We a wine tasting (the port was really good) and some people bought stuff. Then off we went to…. mmm hard to remember… ah yes back to Bethlehem. When we thought we couldn’t go to anymore places we were driven back to the centre of town and walked some more, past the Church of the Nativity that we had already visited the milk grotto which was a visual treat of beige stone and red. This place were apparently where Mary had the idea to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Joseph and also… well this bit I don’t know about, but apparently Mary was breastfeeding Jesus there and a drop of her breast milk fell to the ground and turned the while grotto white. I don’t know about that – there is nothing in the Bible remotely mentioning it and that rock looked pretty much just like all the other light coloured rock in Bethlehem.

Milk Grotto

Milk Grotto

We felt finished after this but the last stop was one that lots of people had been looking forward – the big souvenir shop! All day people had been resisting the many peddlers selling rosaries, singing camel teddies, shepherd flutes and embroidered bags. As we drove, Frank told up there Christians are in an extreme minority in Israel (in Jerusalem there are something like 1.8% Christians) and its tough going if you’re Christian. He also told us that the shop we were going to visit supports 16 Christian families and that he feels that if you are going to buy stuff in Israel you should try and buy from Christians. So we arrive at the shop and really, it was hardly the last Christian outpost that Frank had described. It was more like a Christian knick-knack emporium and wow were the shopkeepers slick. We first were herded around a main counter with about 4 shopkeepers behind it, one of whom introduced himself and showed us some of the things the shop had on offer. He pointed out the quality difference between machine-made and hand-carved statues, showed us the three different types of rosaries varying in quality and laid out an astounding variety of religious bling. At one stage he showed us a necklace with a very sparkly diamond Jerusalem cross which is swooshed into the air in one swift motion to reveal that the cross could be unfolded to look a bit like a triangular skyline. People milled around for a long time and they spent a lot of money under the assumption that this was the only tour-approved shop we would be taken to. I bought some wooden jewelery and rosaries. But Cynthia, she went large, she kind of accidentally bought that slick Jerusalem cross/skyline necklace not realising that the price was in dollars and not Rands making for an impulse splurge of over R10 000! This was *the* tragic event of the trip – she only realised what she had done when the credit card had been swiped and she was too shy to go back and undo the transaction even though we urged her to. Finally we went back the hotel where we were told that we would be leaving Bethlehem the next day for Nazareth and would have to get up extra early. Also we would not be staying for breakfast but would have breakfast on the road packed into boxes. Amazingly this caused a fair amount of dissent among some folks, which I thought was just silly. Later I managed to find some Internet and chat to Dave, which was very exciting because I had no idea if he and the bunnies had arrived so I slept very happy.

Tally for the day: 3 churches, 1 museum, 1 monastery, 2 cave/grottos, and 1 tourist trap