The longest day? West Wall, Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Upper Room, Dormition Abbey, Garden Tomb, and more! – 10 November

Ouch, my aching head!  05h30 wake up call, on the road by about 07h00.  Oh my Lord that’s early, but it paid off.  We were at the West Wall (colloquially known as the Wailing Wall) by 08h00.  On our way out, we got a look at how busy it was getting just a half hour later!  But, I get ahead of myself; first, about our Israeli bus driver.

Bus Driver and Bus
Our Israeli bus driver was Talib, what an amazing driver!  I could not believe how busy the streets of Jerusalem were, it was crazy!  Picture a street the width of a side street (say Lanark for the sake of argument) with sidewalks right to the edge.  Cars and trucks are parked on both sides, and buses pass each other in opposite directions all the time!  Carefully, mind you.  And, in parking lots, it gets even crazier, as the buses park at awkward angles, and parking lots themselves are pretty convoluted (imagine a country with 6,000 years of history, they use every square inch of space).  Then some Mercedes Benz or BMW comes zooming in and parks in a dumb location.  The buses somehow accommodate all this loony-ness, and pretty gracefully too.  I didn’t see any collisions between buses and vehicles or anything, which was pretty amazing.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen – my observation is that the front mirrors on every bus have scrape marks on them.

Well, to top it off, Talib has a Staples “Easy Button” strapped to the front of the bus.  He periodically presses it at the zaniest times and it bellows, “That was easy!”  Often when he does so, it’s after a gruelling drive, or when we finally got through the separation wall check point.  His English was OK but not great, but his sense of humour was wonderful!

I mention this now because this morning was our last time riding with Talib.  He was off late this morning to pick up a new group at the airport and start again at the Sea of Galilee.  We’ll miss him.  In his place, we’ll have different drivers and different buses.

Talib our bus driver, note the “Easy Button” on the far right.  He was amazing!

Davidson Archaeological Park
Our first stop was intended to be the West Wall, as mentioned above.  But on the way, I couldn’t resist the fact that the excavation of the area just inside the new wall, at the south end of the Temple Mount, is called the Davidson Archaeological Park.  George was impressed!

Seriously, though, it’s pretty cool, they are going way back in this excavation – and unearthing some exciting stuff.  Not that I can recall any of the stuff that Lazarus was spouting that was found, but it was cool.

West Wall (Wailing Wall)
The guys (and gals) aren’t wailing!  And, they aren’t hitting their heads against the wall!  They are praying, all of them.  Amazing.  We could learn something about dedication to one’s beliefs, from these folks.

There are small lecterns along the wall, and many of the folk praying were in full orthodox dress, with their holy book, reciting very earnestly and rocking back and forth.

Lazarus advises that the prayers said there are for all kinds of things, including concern for destruction of the temple, world peace (say), and other weighty issues.

There were other folks were quietly contemplating about 10 to 15 feet back from the wall.  Still others were wheeling in with small rollerboard suitcases that carried their holy books and their notes.

Then there were the notes in cracks in the wall.  Apparently all are gathered at some point, and are buried on the Mount of Olives, where Jewish teaching says that the Messiah will return triumphantly and read them.  Again, the notes apparently contain all kinds of weighty issues.  Of course I didn’t look at any, I suspect that you would get thrashed severely if you pulled any out of the wall – plus it would likely be in Hebrew anyway.

I did go right up to the wall, had a close look, and paused to ponder and say a few prayers.  It was quite liberating, actually.  My prayers weren’t that weighty nor wise – although I did pray for world peace, etc., I also prayed for the wisdom to conduct my life in the future – whether to continue as church board chair, how to deal with the Headingley Heritage Museum and the antique auto club, work & career, etc.

The West Wall – ladies are segregated on the right, men on the left

There was a prominent “no cameras” sign so this was as close as I dared get.  Others got closer pictures, but I wanted to honour the requests of the religious persons using the site.

Temple Mount
We had to exit the West Wall area, and get in a new line to get up to the Temple Mount area.  There was no line up there when we arrived, now it’s hundreds of people!  Well no worries, it went quickly, were up there in ten minutes.

Wow, how spectacular is this!  It’s huge up here, just huge.  There are whole temples up here on this platform.  Apparently this platform is built on a mountain, so there are stories of open space underneath, supported by stone.

The Golden Dome
So the biggest and easily identified landmark is the Dome of the Rock, also known as the Golden Dome.  This is built over the foundation rock from which the world was created, and where the Holy of Holies temple was built.  That temple was destroyed and the Muslim domed temple built in its stead.  Today the site is actually guarded and administered by Jordanian special forces, in a great piece of international cooperation.  You can no longer go inside, because of an incident several years ago when some zealot Christian tourists from somewhere (east Asia?) tried to spark Jewish/Christian/Arab conflict and spark World War III, bring about Armageddon and the end of days (including rapture for them of course).  Apparently this is called the “Jerusalem Syndrome”.  So, the dome is all closed up!  Apparently if you are studying theology, you can apply and get a local cleric to get the necessary approval to go inside the dome, but it’s restricted these days.

We had a group photo done on the steps in front of the Dome of the Rock, it turned out very well.  The sun was in our eyes and we used a trick to try to prevent squinting, and it worked… mostly.  Overall, as I said, very nice group photo.

Al-Aqsa Mosque
To the south of the Dome of the Rock is the Al-Aqsa Islamic mosque.  “Al-Aqsa” means “farthest” in Arabic.  This mosque has been dectroyed and rebuilt seven times!  Destruction was not always by people – for instance, it and everything else in the holy land was heavily damaged by a huge earthquake in 749 AD.

Other Features
There are also other things on the mount – like amazing arches and stairs, part of a long gone temple, and ritual washing stations.  Then there is a magnificent lookout over to the Mount of Olives – including a wonderful view of Dominus Flavit.

Lion’s Gate, Mary’s Church, and Pool of Bethesda
From the Dome of the Rock, we proceeded north to the Lion’s Gate, then west to Mary’s Church, where Mary, mother of Jesus, was born.  While waiting to enter the church, the parish priest of the church happened by, noticed the maple leaf on my name tag, and struck up a conversation.  It turns out that he is originally from Timmins, Ontario, having left in 1963 to teach in Kenya, which he did for 30 years.  Now he has been at this church in Jerusalem for 10 years.  He was a really nice fellow, very engaging.  Apparently, the acoustics inside this church are beautiful or terrible, depending on who you talk to.  They say that when you shout or sing, you can hear the echo for 9 seconds, and from what I heard today, I believe it, yikes.  But sing they do, each group seems to want to go up and do a gospel number.  I heard several beautiful songs while down looking at the birth place of Mary, but can’t say it sounded beautiful in that sanctuary.  The priest confided in me that he stays outside and greets the people and chats them up because the echoes give him a headache.

Virgin Mary birthplace beneath the altar of Mary’s Church.

The Pool of Bethesda is just north of the church.  It doesn’t have any water in it now, but it did way back when, and had great healing powers.  It was said that when it spontaneously swirled and eddied, the first person into the pool would be healed from whatever ailed them.  Now, apparently these days we know that it was a natural phenomenon because of water seepage and passages in the rock, but apparently it did work, so many years ago.

The Via Delorosa
We then did the Via Delorosa, the way of the cross.  We stopped at the stations of the cross.  I note again that “Jesus falls” is repeated three times, which by tradition means that it happened repeatedly and/or constantly.  Ow.

The Market
The Via Delorosa takes us through the market, which was quiet given the time of day.  Blocks and blocks and blocks of little shops fronting onto tiny alleyways.  Their wares are out in the street, the shopkeepers hanging out and inviting you in.  Often, you can’t see the sky above – sometimes the market is covered, other times there’s just too much stuff around to see above at all.  There are hundreds of people rushing too and fro, hustling and bustling.  Apparently there are a lot of pickpockets about, so you have to be careful about your wallet etc!

…and the smells!  Well besides the awful cigarette smoke (too many of the guys smoke here too), there are perfumes and spices and food…

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Well this was not all that exciting for me.  As I’ve said, I seek the simple carpenter with the gentle touch, yet with the power of God.  I didn’t see that here.  Perhaps if I were Roman Catholic or Orthodox, I might have got more out of it.  There were just too many people, too much noise, ritual, and incense.

In spite of this, I would have more pictures, but my camera batteries died just as we came upon the church.  By the time I doubled back to buy batteries (had to go some distance to get any kind of a deal with batteries that were decent), it was time to go.  Well, I got a chance to lap the inside of the church without the camera – it’s a large ring area with a separate courtyard in the middle.  Dayna got some good pictures though.

Wonderful Lunch
We ate at Pappa Andreas Restaurant, which was great.  Dayna got some wonderful pictures of the city from the roof!

Through the Zion Gate and to the Upper Room and David’s Tomb
We proceeded to the traditional Upper Room.  This was a disappointment for me.  Of course I was foolish to expect that “the” upper room would still exist and be known to us, but in any case, it was just a room built by the crusaders in the 12th century to remind us of the original.  After the Muslims re-took Jerusalem, they used it as a mosque, so it still carries many of the adornments of a mosque.  I don’t mind the mosque identity!  But, I wasn’t able to identify with the upper-room-aspect of it, unfortunately.

King David’s tomb is underneath the upper room.  Now, it apparently isn’t actually King David’s Tomb, but was put there to commemorate King Solomon (it isn’t actually his tomb either), but somehow is now called King David’s Tomb. Ooh, gave me a headache, cannot figure that one out.

Like the West Wall, the devotion section at King David’s Tomb is split in two – women must go to one side, men to the other.  There is a divider down the centre of the coffin, so the men and women cannot see each other.  Check out Dayna’s view and mine.  Interesting.

A woman’s view.

A man’s view from just outside the tomb area.

A man’s view from inside the tomb area.

Dormition Abbey
We visited this church, tradition says the Virgin Mary died on or near this spot.  This is disputed, as some tradition says she died on mission in a faraway land with Jesus’s disciples.

The interesting feature of this church is the death posed figure on a casket under the altar.  It was rather spooky.  The church itself is nice, like so many other churches.  Can you tell I’m getting a bit icon and painting weary?

Brief Respite at Hotel then the Garden Tomb
We bused it back to the hotel, freshed up a bit, then off to the Garden Tomb, the other possible site for calvary and Jesus’s tomb.

Now, this may or may not be the true site for Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, but it does feel more spiritually in keeping with the modern mood (I am not necessarily criticizing the other churches, just that they do not resonate with me).  Very nice, very green, lots of trees.

Now this version of Golgotha is very interesting.  A bus station and its bus parking/loading area is at the base of this site, in fact obscuring some of the features of the “skull” that makes up the “Golgotha” image.  Kind of neat – crucifixions were performed next to major roads, as a demonstration of Roman power, to entertain and perhaps intimidate the masses.  Now it’s beside the modern equivalent – a bus station!  Hmm.

The tomb is also interesting.  Again, not necessarily *the* place, but it makes sense.

A stone *like* the one used to originally seal the door.  This one is a small example from another tomb.

The sign on the door says it all (sorry but it’s dark) – “He is not here.  He is risen!”

We had a communion service as night was falling, it was very nice.  Very peaceful, very fulfilling.  I took part, was honoured to serve the bread.  We used wine, a first for me, as United Church seems to always use grape juice. 

Conclusion of the Day
We walked back from the Garden Tomb, as we weren’t far away.  We had a glass of wine then dinner, then packed and got ready to head out in the morning.  Our wake up call will be 06h00, bags out by door 07h00, load them on the bus at 07h45, off to airport in Tel Aviv at around 08h00.  Then start the long journey home!  Oh, home will be nice after this long trip.  Even still, there is still so much to learn over here…

What Have I Learned
At some point today, it finally donned on me that I will not be able to touch the holes of the nails, either physically or metaphorically.  That opportunity was only afforded to a very few, and it was 20 centuries ago.  These days, we have to take whatever spiritual echoes still remain from so long ago.  It’s not like all these shrines are false – no, they are a best estimate that people could make at the time.  But the whole icon/shrine thing still leaves me cold.  I think maybe it’s my cold Protestant soul, looking for something simple as I said.

So, certainly come to the Holy Land to experience the culture, and to learn.  But don’t look for a big revelation or a big epiphany.  That comes only with study and prayer and true communion with God.  Remember – the tomb is empty and we are thankful – He is not here, He is risen!

Now, go find that communion!

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