Tag Archives: Western Wall

Day Six – Pilgrim Footsteps

Nobody wants to be subjected to sitting down and looking at the holiday snaps album. However, if you would like to look at more images then do go to the Jerusalem Gallery to see the rest of the photos

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Looking toward the Old City of Jerusalem over the Kidron Valley

It is Shabbat and so one of the lifts in the hotel is automatically stopping at every floor so that you don’t have to push any buttons, and the coffee machines are covered up at breakfast. The coach easily travels along the road, which are clear of traffic – that is until we begin to climb up to the Mount of Olives. Here, as we enter the Arab neighbourhood of At-Tor the streets are busy as it is a normal working day and at least it stops raining as we get off of the coach.

The view is pretty spectacular up here, looking down over the Kidron Valley, with the whole of the Old Walled City of Jerusalem on the other side. Of course the golden Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as- Sakhrah) immediately stands out, especially when the sun starts to shine. However, looking down over the wall one is struck not by ancient monuments, but by rows and rows of graves.

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A prime, but expensive burial site, many Jews wished (and still do) to be buried on the Mount of Olives based on the Jewish tradition that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin there.

On that day his feet shall stand
on the Mount of Olives,
which lies before Jerusalem on the east;
and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two
from east to west by a very wide valley;
so that half of the Mount shall withdraw
northwards, and the other half southwards.
Zechariah 14:4

The Mount of Olives is mentioned frequently in the New Testament, Jesus often going there to teach and prophesy, with his disciples. The Sanctuary of the Dominus Flevit is a little church half way down the rather steep incline that recalls the occasion that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, prophesying her destruction because they would not recognise the Messiah.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it
Luke 19:41 

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Mature Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane

At the foot of the valley there is a small garden area of approximately 1200m², representative of the cultivated groves that once covered the Mount of Olives. It is within a railed area next to the busy Jericho Road, and any semblance of tranquillity is shattered by the honking of car horns. Here then is the place that constitutes the Sanctuary of Gethsemane.

On this site is also the Church of All Nations, also known as the Church or Basilica of the Agony. It was built in the 1920’s with donations from Christian communities all over the world. It is deliberately kept dark inside, but there is a beautiful piece of artistic fretwork on the entrance representing the tree of life and mosaics and stained glass windows inside.

 

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Two deer stand beside the cross on the tympanum of the Church of All Nations

A small service was being held inside and as the congregation started singing I realised it was Graham Kendrick’s The Servant King and several of us found ourselves joining in. Coming back out into the sunshine though I looked upwards at the tympanum (it’s always good to look up when you go around) and I noticed that there were two bronze deer either side of the cross. I discovered that these allude to the initial verse of Psalm 42.

 

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God
Psalm 42:1

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The Lions’ Gate or St Stephen’s Gate

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Lions or Panthers?

We walk along the Jericho Road to the east in order to enter the city through the Lions’ Gate. The gate is so called because on either side of the entrance there are four lions in bas-relief a reminder that the reason the wall were built was purportedly because of a dream that Suleiman the Magnificent had, in which failure to build the wall around Jerusalem resulted in him being devoured by lions. However, closer inspection reveals that they are probably panthers and not lions!

This is also known as St Stephen’s gate (his church standing nearby) and is the traditional start of the Via Dolorosa, the route believed to have been taken by Christ through Jerusalem to Calvary. For many Christian walking the Via Dolorosa is a significant part of their visit to the Holy Land and I would never deny their sincere devotion in doing so. My logical brain on the other hand tells me that it would be difficult to agree on the ‘exact’ route taken by Jesus as too many different churches and factions have been unable to do just that over the last two thousand years, each one trying to take the route closer to their own particular churches;

However, as in all things historical, there are some sites that can be pinpointed as archaeologically accurate and others that have gained acceptance by the majority of pilgrims. Visiting each of the stations certainly enables you to ‘experience’ the story in an authentic way just knowing that within this city Jesus walked.

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The handprint of Jesus?

There are two stations, however, that sparked my curiosity, both involving hands. The first was at the fifth station, where an unsuspecting bystander, Simon of Cyrene, was roped in to carry the cross. As Jesus stumbled he apparently rested his hand on the wall in order to keep his balance and an imprint was left. The touch of centuries of pilgrims has smoothed out the stone and made the depression deeper.

The second is at the eighth station where Jesus came upon a group of weeping women, and told them not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children. The station is marked by a stone embedded in the wall with the engraving IC-XC NI-KA , which translates as  ‘Jesus Christ conquers’.

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There is a large hole at the bottom of the cross, and as we stood looking and hearing about the station I noticed several women, who appeared to be local, deliberately going over to the stone and placing their fingers into the hole and making the sign of the cross themselves. Perhaps the women of Jerusalem still heed Jesus’ admonition.

The last few stations are actually situated within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; a place where Christ’s crucifixion and burial is said to have taken place. I would think that it should be a place of utter reverence but as always it turns into an ‘unholy scrum’ of people, pushing and shoving, camera’s flashing and fleeting glimpses of these sacred spots. I must admit that this was the place I was most reluctant to visit, for those very same reasons (I had the same feeling about St Peter’s in Rome). However, I cannot be too ‘holier than thou’ as I did take a couple of photographs inside, and a person’s personal response should not be held up against our own reservations. Perhaps I might say that it should not be the commercialism of the sites, and the fact that these things are extravagantly venerated that bother me, but my own expectations of what I want to experience and which I didn’t encounter.

IMG_7496From there we made our way down and through the Jewish Quarter where we found a remnant of the British Mandate of Palestine from the early 20th century on to a remnant of even greater antiquity, the remains of a wall dating from the reign of King Hezekiah (late eighth century BC). It is called the Broad Wall because it is broad and it is a wall… it is a massive defensive structure, measuring some seven metres wide and was approximately eight metres high. No picture because I am sure you can imagine a broad wall.

 

 

Finally, we move down and round to a viewpoint over the Western Wall. The sun is beginning to set and its rays once more hit the Dome of the Rock. They are also reflected off of the wall where prayers continue to ascend and the Jerusalem stone glows as if alive.

The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world;
it is more, it is the history of earth and of heaven.
Benjamin Disraeli

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Day Four – A Little Night Relief

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Twilight over Jerusalem at Yad Vashem

The last couple of blogs have been particularly heavy in content and theology, and there is more to come. However to bring a little bit of relief it was decided that we should venture out into the big, bright city and do a little exploration of our own.

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Kiryat Moshe Station

Over the last few days we have been leaving Yad Vashem as the sun is setting, the skies are still clear and the weather warm. The hotel is near to the Jerusalem Light Railway that stretches from Pisgat Ze’ev in the North to Mount Herzl in the West,. However, the first challenge is to cross the busy road. Yes, there are pedestrian crossing, but the traffic barely stops to pause and the language of the street is the honking of horns.

A ticket cost 5.90 NIS for a single trip (about £1.27) and the trains come along every ten minutes or so.

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We decided to alight at the Jaffa Road stop and spend some time looking around the gift and ‘tat’ shops. For those of you unfamiliar with the latter expression it refers to those tacky souvenirs that are mass-produced usually with words like ‘I love ….’ or ‘I visited… and only got this lousy t-shirt’ for example. However, they are great fun to browse around and I managed to come away with at least one piece to add to our ‘tat’ cabinet at home.

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There are some quirks in the shop signs that remind you that you are in a country that takes the Sabbath seriously, and as we were to find out later on in the week, it is indeed observed by the majority of Jews, whether orthodox, ultra-orthodox, liberal or secular

There is also some amazing street art

‘Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak’
Genesis 32:22-32

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‘God wrestling with Jacob’ – Jerusalem Street Art

This image painted on a door shutter depicts Jacob wrestling with a ‘man’ who appears to be in the guise of an angel but who later turns out to be God. The man is certainly depicted as an incredibly strong, muscular being, but Jacob, though the smaller opponent, seems to be giving as good as he gets and is even resorting to a spot of eye-gouging. There is no clear winner in this contest, although Jacob comes out of it with his hip bone out of joint and a new name – Israel

IMG_7371Like many cities around the world, in Jerusalem there are a lot of ice-cream and frozen yoghurt cafes and it’s certainly nice to sit outside enjoying the local ‘Ben and Jerry’s’ selection of ices,  as well as taking the time to get to know the others. Alex, Angie, Anna,  Fran and I certainly enjoyed doing both.

The following evening we decided that we would perhaps venture a little further and travelled to the Old Walled City of Jerusalem. We knew that when we went later in the week it would be completely different, but it would be a chance to at least orientate ourselves. Back on the train but this time we got off at the Damascus Gate.

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The Damascus Gate – one of the main entrances into the Old City of Jerusalem

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The entrance to the souk by the Damascus gate

The souks or marketplaces were nearly all closed or closing, but it made the narrow paved streets seem like a series of tunnels, twisting and turning one way and then another; dropping down one minute and then climbing the next.

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I can see the frankincense, but where’s the myrrh?

 

Even so there were some interesting shops still open, including a spice and incense shop selling, no doubt the obligatory, frankincense.

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Spices both colourful and pungent

 

 

 

 

Eventually, we found ourselves outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, almost deserted, with the doors locked. The claim to this most holy of places is made by Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic denominations, and to a lesser degree the Coptic Orthodox, Syriacs Orthodox and Ethiopians Tewahedo.

However, none of these groups appear to be able to trust the other as the keys to the church are held by their Muslim neighbours at the Mosque of Omar

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre – closed and deserted

However, there were still plenty of devotees down by the Western Wall.  This remnant of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans around 70AD has become a sacred place where people can offer their prayers. Some people stand, gently rocking, with their faces or hands pressed against the wall, while others sit on chairs, with man and women separated. Whatever position you choose to take it is customary to walk backwards away from the wall, always facing it until you get to the exit – something that is trickier than you think

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The men’s section of the Western Wall

A walk back through the Jewish section of the Old City reveals its Roman history as well

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The Cardo in the Jewish quarter of the Old City

Finally, we caught the train back to the hotel. This time, however, we were packed liked sardines, and I found myself surrounded by young orthodox teenage boys returning from the synagogue, an Israeli solider including his gun, Muslim ladies in headscarves and Jewish families with babies in pushchairs and arms. It was to be remembered that Thursday night in Jerusalem is like our Friday night at home – everyone is out celebrating the weekend.