On our first full day in Jerusalem, I feel I walked around in pure amazement and awe. Even though I was standing in these places it still felt like a dream. I have seen pictures and have heard stories from pilgrims before me and yet even the best stories and pictures truly fail to express the environment and ambiance of these places. Feeling the stone pavers worn smooth under your feet, the smell of incense hanging in the air, the prayers in countless languages all around you, the competing sounds of organ and chanting, the truly priceless mosaics that were commissioned for the Glory of God, mixed with sculptures, candles, architecture, Eucharistic processions, etc… This day was emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting.
We left the hotel at 6:00am in order to be among the first at the Holy Sepulchre. The best way to think of this site is a collection of the final stations of the Via Delarosa, the stations of the cross. It’s more of a complex with at least 10 (that I saw) chapels spread throughout the Church. Calvary was up in a top corner of the Church. While up there we were able to be part of a Eucharist at Station XI and then able to venerate the cross at Station XII.
Then of course we have the site of the burial tomb inside and then just off to the side is the Chapel of the Apparition. This comes from John 20, when Mary runs into Jesus and thinks he is the gardener. The main photo of this post is a picture of the top of the entrance into the tomb. This space is just unbelievable. I will try to share what I can over the next few days to encompass what its like in here.
Next, we went to the Temple Mount. The whole site is Islamic owned. To get up there almost had the feeling of a border crossing. The two mosques are beautiful themselves but the rest of the mount seemed almost barren. Of course, there were lots of trees that had been planted and wonderful paved walking paths, but compared to the rest of the city with imagery, icons, symbols and all the rest there seemed to be a stark change.
From here we went to the Mount of Olives and walked the first half of the Parade route from Palm Sunday. We walked down from the Mount and ended at the Garden of Gethsemane. Stopping at two churches along the way, Dominus Flevit Church (The site where Christ wept over Israel; it looks like a tear), and then the Basilica of the Agony down in the Garden itself. The Basilica of the Agony is the spot where it is thought Christ prayed, “May this cup pass from me”. Just in front of the altar is a large rock with a crown of thorns around it. This is said to be the site where Jesus prayed. The atmosphere within this church I found to be completely different than every other church. It was dark and quiet. You could hear people shuffling around but there was no talking. This stood in direct opposition to the Church of the Sepulchre for example, a place that is overflowing with sound and voices. The Basilica also has some of the most beautiful mosaics on the domed roofs. Even though the sanitary was in darkness I was able to get a few great pictures.
We ended our day by visiting the Western Wall and the Southern Steps, the main entrance into the Temple mount. Besides the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock I would say the Western Wall is probably the most iconic site in Jerusalem. What struck me most of all, after grabbing the required loaner yarmulke and approaching the wall, I felt it appropriate to pray to the Father. Here more so than ever before. It wasn’t anything I thought about before or planned to do, it just felt appropriate. And lastly the Southern Temple Steps. Out of all the speculation of holy sites, we know beyond a doubt that for sure Jesus walked on these steps, as did every other Jew entering the Temple. To sit there looking out upon the city was quite a site.