Every morning we’ve been rising at 6, having breakfast at 6:30, and heading out on the bus by 7:30. Today we were up at 5 and heading out at 6.
That’s because today we did the Via Dolorosa, or the Stations of the Cross. It’s a popular stop for pilgrims, and we wanted to get ahead of the rest of them because the way is though narrow little streets, maybe 15 feet wide, if that, that have to accommodate pedestrians and sometimes vehicles.
There weren’t many vehicles out this early—just those that
were picking up trash and hauling things—and the pedestrians weren’t tourists, they were locals, both Jews and Arabs. I felt conspicuous, something I’m not used to, especially as we sang our Christian songs, softly, so as not to be intrusive.
As we walked, we passed locked metal doors in the old walls. Early sun filtered through the strip of open air above us, and the narrow road had a tunnel-like feel. The “street” had ramps on one side and steps on the other, which explained the narrowness of the utility vehicles that came through now and then—not stopping or even slowing for anyone. It was definitely “pedestrian beware.”
This is the
Palestinian part of the city, so we saw men and a few women with the telltale head wrappings. Jewish folks came through, too, some of the men with yarmulkas and some with the black hats and sideburn curls of the Hassidic Jews. A very few said good morning; most of them ignored us.
Amid this atmosphere, we found our first station, just a plaque on the wall. Hard to imagine this was the place where Jesus was condemned to death. Some of the stations had more prominent markings, some were adjacent to
Christian churches. We sang “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom,” as we walked from station to station, eliciting a few curious glances from the residents. At each station we prayed a meditation together, then moved on.
It took maybe an hour, and by the time we finished and headed back through the streets, the shops were open, creating a bazaar-like atmosphere. Many of the shop owners intercepted us to push their wares. In fact, that happened wherever we went, and we had to learn to say no and just keep moving. The more aggressive ones would lockstep with us.
“Beautiful bag, only 10 dollar. You like bag? Maybe 8 dollar?” I always felt rude to just ignore
them and keep my eyes forward. It wasn’t so bad at these shops, but the ones who accosted us as soon as we alighted from the bus reminded me of seagulls circling for handouts.
The Via Dolorosa was moving, but there was more to come.
We headed for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we first passed by the slab of rock on which Jesus lay after being taken down from the cross. Many went down on their knees to press a gentle kiss on that cold stone. I couldn’t get down that far, but I did touch it. Then we headed to the nearby Blessed Sacrament Chapel for Mass. Near the altar was a statue of St. Joseph, whose feast day was today. He’s the patron for me and George because we were married on this day.
this point, the church had been fairly empty. When we left the chapel, to visit the tomb of Our Lord just a few yards away, we were met with throngs of people. The line stretched forever.
“Well, what can we do?” our guide Raouf said, and we trudged off to the end of the line. I’m not sure who was behind, but the group in front of us was from Romania. The women wore skirts over their slacks and leggings, and colorful scarves as head coverings. We wore neither, and I felt like the typical casual American. As I watched those people of other countries around me, I was reminded that while reverence may be in the heart, respect is shown outwardly. A dress to church on Sundays
isn’t a bad habit to cultivate—as long as my heart has been prepared, too.
We spent over two hours in that line, and my little cane with the seat was never so appreciated. I heard someone behind me say, “She’s lucky she can sit down.” After I finally made it to the Holy Sepulchre and came out to wait for the others, I spotted a whole row of ladies with canes just like mine. We all grinned at each other and proceeded to have a short little gab fest. Fr. Carl took our picture with my camera. Too bad I’ll probably never see them again.
Now, about the Holy Sepulchre. It was a quick visit, maybe 60 seconds total. That sounds rushed, and I suppose it was, but with that many people, there wasn’t much choice.
We’d spent our time inline gazing around at the gorgeous church, with its mosaics and elaborate carvings and the hanging oil lamps, high curving arches, and beautiful stone work. Lots of pictures got snapped.
The closer we got to the Holy Sepulchre, which is located under a small building within the church itself, the lines became two abreast. When we arrived, the priest let us in five at a time. In the anteroom was a glass case with the remains of the stone before Jesus’ tomb. Bits and pieces of it had been carried away by the devout over the years until this last piece was saved.
Then we entered the room that contained the slab on which
Jesus lay in the tomb. We touched it, reverently, and I laid my rosary on it. I’ll never use that rosary again without remembering where it lay, even if for only a few seconds. Being in that sepulchre made Jesus’ incarnation real in a new way. U fortunately, no photos were allowed to be taken in the sepulchre.
I begged off the next part of our tour. Raouf said there would be a lot of walking, and my knees are about trashed despite having a cane, so I decided to stay on the bus and get a head start on this blog. The others went to see the Eastern gate of the wall around old Jerusalem, near the Temple Mount (now controlled by the Muslims), and they also saw the old Muslim cemetery, built centuries ago.
Funny story about that cemetery. When the Muslims heard that the prophecies said the Messiah would enter Jerusalem through the eastern gate, they put their cemetery outside the walls because that would “defile” the land for the Jews, and they were sure the Jewish Messiah would not be able to enter the gate. Didn’t work, of course; at least not as far as Jesus was concerned.
Also included in our afternoon was a visit to the shepherds’ field, upon which a church was built, of course—built by Canada; and a visit to the Church of Lazarus, in Bethany, built over the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Raouf read the story of Lazarus, and told us that his being raised from the dead by Jesus was the turning point for Jesus. From this point on, the Jewish plotted ways to kill him.
The current church was built in 1952. First there was a Byzantine church, destroyed by the Persians, and then a Crusader church, also destroyed by Muslims who built a mosque over it. Finally the Franciscans bought the land that was left and built the current church.
It still amazes me to see the mammoth stone walls from centuries ago, and to see the remains of tiled floors, now protected by special glass; bits and pieces of the men of long ago who are now crumbled to dust. I always wonder , as I touch the beautiful stone, if my hand has fallen in the same spot as one of the builders.
Now—from the sublime to the ridiculous. At the foot of the slope to the church was a small shop where some of our group paused to buy more goodies to take home. There was also a camel named Jimmy.
“You ride the camel? Five dollar,” its handler said. First I said no. Then someone else climbed aboard, and after that I couldn’t resist. With not much grace and with the help of the handler I mounted and hung on for dear life as Jimmy lurched to his feet. The ride was short, but fun. I rode a camel! Definitely a perk I never expected from this trip.
Tonight we pack, tomorrow we tour and then we head to the airport for a 10 pm flight. I’ll finish the last of the Holy Land stories when I get back home, for those of you who are still with me.