Posts Tagged ‘Mary’

pilgrimage day 9.0 – destination, Jerusalem

January 15, 2009

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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pilgrimage day 7 – a change does us good

December 22, 2008

Everyone was really on their toes today almost literally falling over themselves to not upset V or Frank and not lag behind. We were all on the bus before Frank even got there, walking from home since he lives in Jerusalem and had gotten to spend some time at home after being away with us in Nazareth. We started off, as usual, with prayer on the bus while driving to Mount Zion on the outskirts of Jerusalem. We visited St. Peter in Gallicantu which roughly to translates to have something to do with St. Peter and chickens singing. The church commemorates Peter denying Jesus “three times before the cock crowed” and is built over Caiaphas’ house (proven by a rock found with his name on it). This was the first stop for Jesus after being arrested and here he was held in a dungeon and questioned before being handed to Pontius Pilate. We had the very creepy priviledge of walking down into one of the dungeons and reading a passage about what happened there. As we left H, one of the older, slower and most adorable members of the group, fell trying to be the first out. The effects of V’s Faster Faster decree was taking effect already, later he tells me that he got the impression that he one of the laggers in the group and was trying to step faster. We also get to see the steps that Jesus would have walked up from the house – this is one of those sites that has been proven and is not held by tradition only.

the view up from the sacred pit where Jesus was held

the view up from the sacred pit where Jesus was held

After a short break, we are all loaded onto the bus and driven ONE WHOLE meter to the next church and told to get out – this was very weird and confusing. We waited around for a while for a monk to open the doors to a Franciscan church dedicated to the Last Supper. During this time Frank tells us that we will be having the second half to the day free which was a very welcome surprise! At the church we have a Mass during which we remember the Last Supper. After this we, fittingly, visit the traditional site of the Last Supper – The Cenacle or Upper Room, it is also the place where the disciples are believed to have received the Holy Spirit for the first time so it’s kind of big deal place (see a picture of last Pope John Paul in prayer there here). This place was also a mosque at some stage and bears some mosaic evidence of this. Currently it is in the hands of the Jewish since they believe that David’s tomb is somewhere under it, but Christian pilgrims are allowed to visit it and also celebrate Pentecost there (which is awfully nice of them). The ceilings were really high and there was a lot of echo so people didn’t notice when Frank started talking. This led to Frank getting visibly annoyed that people weren’t listening and people prodding each other to get everyone to listen. It was kind of uncomfortable, especially with the Portuguese ladies pretending to listen very attentively to the explanations they couldn’t understand properly.

remembering the Last Supper

remembering the Last Supper

the ceiling from which the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of flame

the ceiling from which the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of flame

The last place on our list to visit for the day (only four sites in a day – woo hoo!) was Dormition Abbey, dedicated to the Assupmtion of Mary alive into the Heaven. As you enter, there is a large grand church, with many huge stained glass windows. Down some stairs there is a cavernous cyprt were you will find a statue of a sleeping Mary in, what looks like, a big well hole. Above the statue is a stunning gold-coloured mosaic  of Jesus surrounded with depictions of women from the Old Testament such as Rachel and Delilah. Another notable piece in the crypt is a big fresco showing Jesus holding Mary as a baby wrapped in white cloths in Heaven. This is the only place in the world where Jesus and Mary are depicted like this. Here we are given a decent amount of time to explore and visit the souvenir shop. Most of us sat around outside resting while Frank had an animated discussion with another guide. At one stage I walked past him right as he was flinging his arms out wildly and he accidentally punched me in the eye (honestly I wasn’t surprised,  this kind thing tends to happen to me). He spun round and grabbed me apologised up a storm, it was amusing.

a shout out to the OT ladies

a shout out to the OT ladies

the only place in the world where Jesus and Mary are portrayed like this

the only place in the world where Jesus and Mary are portrayed like this

After being driven back the hotel, a group of eight of us decided to spend the rest of our free day exploring the Old City together. Walking there we got rained on unexpectedly and we discovered that if Luisa, Isabel and I had just pushed past the construction that blocked our path the day before we would have found our way to the Old City. We walked through a labyrinth of alleys bloated with shops and people. There was touristy clothing, scarves, jewelry (ranging from wooden to pure gold), bags, fruits vegetables, butcheries with whole hanging pigs, colourful spice and incense shops.

spices, colours, freedom!

spices, colours, freedom!

Eventually we reached the centre of the Old City – the Holy Sepulcher. Of all the places we visited I’m chuffed that we got to see this one twice and explore it at our leisure – it is breathtaking and fascinating. I got to find quiet corners to pray and take photos to my heart’s content. Sepulcher is basically a fancy name for ‘tomb’, so it is believed that this Greek Orthodox church is built over the place where Jesus was crucified and laid to rest. The church is kind of contentius as a number of different Christian churches share it with the Greek Orthodox’s having the lion’s share. It so happened that on this day the Greek Orthodox’ were celebrating their Feast of the Cross and there was a long procession out of the church. Once inside we discovered that there were masses of tourists wondering around, it was a bit sad to see the priests trying to maintain an air of quiet and meditation in the midst of tourists clogging up the place with loud talking and cheesy photo ops (but then we were adding to the distracting mass I guess). As you enter the church there is a large stone slab under an amazing painting of Jesus being taken off the cross and carried to the tomb. This stone is believed to be where Jesus was embalmed and people kneel at it and place objects on it for blessing. Walking further you enter a large space with the biggest dome I had seen yet above a big round structure surrounded with many candles and multiple entrances. Inside this are the rocks believed to be from Jesus’ tomb so this is actually the Sepulcher itself, later in the tour we would have Mass right inside it. Up a flight of stairs is another significant rock – where Jesus’ cross is believed to have stood. Here there is a very intricate altar and a Greek Orthodox priest controls a queue of people who kneel under the altar to touch the rock. It was very crowded up there and, at one stage, the priest got flustered and hushed everyone reminding them that this was a holy place and they should be silent and meditative. But that didn’t help much.The rest of the church was filled with more upstairs parts, downstairs parts and a number of altars, caves and passages.

Feast of the Cross procession at the Holy Sepulchre

Feast of the Cross procession at the Holy Sepulchre

Holy Sepulchre dome

Holy Sepulchre dome

praying around the Holy Sepulchre

praying around the Holy Sepulchre

cavernous

cavernous

inside the Holy Sepulchre

inside the Holy Sepulchre

After leaving the church we explored the markets again in search of food and found to sweet yummy pancakes prepared by these young boys and their father. We also entered an alley that had only butcheries and the smell eek’ed out some people.  Luisa found hand stitched pillow covers she loved; she and I managed to haggle the seller down from $80 for two to $50. Though I must admit I didn’t really realise we were haggling, Luisa is the one with the 1ee7 haggling skillz. We also tracked down a Franciscan bookstore in search of Jerusalem Bibles, but sadly they were out of stock and suggested a different store near the Jaffa Gate. I did manage to find a great book about the Holy Sites and their accompanying Gospels for only $4. We rounded off our exploration in a charming coffee shop were we drank local beers and coffee and chatted to the owner about the hardships of living in multi-religious Jerusalem. The independent exploring was totally fun and soul restoring. Back at the hotel we reunited with Mae and Tia for a fun dinner at which V was mysteriously M.I.A.

sweet pancake stall

sweet pancake stall

coffee is good

coffee is good

Tally for the day: 4 churches, 1 upper room, 1 soul restoring exploration with new friends

pilgrimage day 4 – the way to Nazareth

December 2, 2008

Early wakeup call, today we changed hotels and cities which meant luggage had to be packed by 6am and then grabbing our breakfast boxes and getting on the bus for the long drive to Nazareth… eh except there was problem with that plan. At the hotel front desk I discovered there was some debacle with our breakfast boxes. V was telling someone from the hotel that they were unacceptable. Something about them being in bags and not boxes, I really couldn’t see what the fuss was about. The word spreading among the group who were milling around before deciding to nab the chance to have breakfast at the hotel. There was a lot of confusion and, in a sort of panic that there would be no breakfast, people began wolfing down big hunks of the hotel’s breakfast buffet. I hiccuped a lot, which led to lots of people giggling at me. We were rushed along with crumbs practically falling out of our mouths to catch the bus and breakfast boxes were cancelled completely.

This odd morning changed the program for the whole day – we missed our Mass slot at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and V spent lots of time on the phone rearranging everything. Unfortunately this meant that no one knew what was coming up next and V wouldn’t tell us (presumably because she didn’t know herself). I thought it was rather peculiar that we were constantly being hurried along so as not to miss slots but sub-par breakfast boxes were good enough reason to miss them. We drove for hours with Frank talking a lot about the countryside and the highway that we were driving on which was gashed through the countryside. Our first stop was a petrol station where Isabel and I bought some unidentifiable Hebrew/Arabic water and chocolates and then we drove for more hours. Eventually we reached Cessaria where many of Jesus’ followers lived and preached and where Herod lived for a while and which was very hot and desert like (though there was a very lush golf course there). It was visually spectacular: old amphitheatre, a garden with broken pillars and then walking through a gate which revealed the breathtaking city ruins complete with a hippodrome. Sadly we did not have get to walk through the ruins but were loaded onto the bus and driven to another beach were we saw an old aqueduct and people dipped their feet in the Mediterranean, I would have preferred to walk through the ruins more.

many steps

many steps

aqueduct

aqueduct

We finally reached Nazareth; my first impression of it was that it was rundown but quaint. We started at a Greek Orthodox Church built over a well where Mary used to fetch water a few times a day. We were not allowed to take photos in the church and that was kind of blessing since it allowed us to enjoy it – it was beautiful and intricate with many golden lamps a big heavy chandelier. The well itself was surrounded by a fence but there was a small tap you could drink from, although after we drank we discovered the water was not quite safe (lucky we have tough tummies). We walked the route Mary would have walked carrying water from the well to the Church of Joseph (built over Josephs’ carpentry) and then onto the main event: the Church of the Annunciation. Here is it believed that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was going to have a very special child. The church is amazing, outside there is a courtyard with many mosaics from different countries portraying Mary. It was interesting to see the different cultural portrayals of her. There was even one from South Africa would our tour organiser, V had brought all the way and placed on its spot. When we entered the church we were greeted with high ceilings and a wide open space, no pulpit no pews. This was a bit confusing but then we saw that there was a sunken level with an altar in front of a big black iron gate which fenced off the grotto in which Mary’s house was believed to be located. There was an Italian Mass taking place and later on we got our turn to have Mass – quite a touching one. It was the first time we were able to spend a while at it since we were the last group of the day to do Mass (in this sense the morning-gone-awry worked out quite well). Father Chico’s main message was that we should remember that, in all the madness of the tour, we should remember that we would find God in silences. Our group offered many personal prayers which gave me an insight into the struggles, illnesses and concerns the other pilgrims had.

downtown Nazareth

downtown Nazareth

the Church of the Annunciation in in the background

the Church of the Annunciation in in the background

cultural aesthetics

cultural aesthetics

After Mass we went walking back through downtown Nazareth and were led to – bleh – another souvenir shop. This upset some folks because they thought the shop in Bethlehem was the only shop we would be going to and this shop had some better deals. Isabel and I bought fridge magnets, that girl has a rather adorable obsession with them 😉 A couple on the tour – A (pregnant) and E were not digging the fact that we had been rushed through town only to linger at another touristy place so they went off to explore on their own, wish I had thought of that at the time since there were no other chances to explore downtown Nazareth.

That evening we met our new hotel, which V had told us would not be as nice as the one in Bethlehem. We definitely thought different – there was an amazing view, a huge pool and nice food. Us sisters when for a night swim before dinner. Over lots of hummus and aubergines we had a good chat with A and E. So not the super conservative people I thought they were, we discovered lots of common ground from uncompleted postgrad theses all the way to misgivings about the running of the tour and the bossiness of V. Ah it was nice to not feel like the only grumpy troopers – grumpiness decreased and camaraderie increased 🙂

Tally for the day: 3 churches, 1 ruined city, 2 beaches, 1 tourist trap