September 29, 2016 (Day 13)
Our trip is coming to a close. What had seemed almost impossible is becoming understandable. We have visited not all but enough of Israel and the Biblical sites to stitch together a mental picture of where the key events of the last 4,000 years occurred. This is somewhat mind boggling. It will take some time to digest the experience and express it with some degree of intelligence. In the mean time…..
Today we started our day at the Garden Tomb where we enjoyed the beautiful and tranquil setting. The location of the tomb is popular with Protestants who have difficulty with the cacaphony of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Our enthusiastic Irish guide Edgar was a delight. He was pretty convincing about the accuracy of the location unfortunately archeology places the dating of the Garden Tomb some 700 years before Jesus. The highlight of the visit was the Communium service performed by our Pastor in a quiet location of this wonderful place.
The Catholic Church of Gallicantu that is by tradition the location of the house of the High Priest Caiaphas where Jesus was scourged and thrown into a dungeon before being sent to Herod and Pontius Pilate for judgement it is also the place where Peter denied his knowledge of Jessus three times before the Cock crowed thus the Gallicantu. The location of these events occurred here by tradition. Where the this is accurate or not or close by was or is not that important. What was significant was the oppressive feeling of the dungeon and the setting. The view from the church allowed us to review and test our knowlege of locations that we have visited. The city walls and gates and various archeological levels actually make sense.
We proceeded to the traditional location of the Last Supper in the Upper Room. Again the location is traditional and the physical room today was constructed by Crusaders and preserved by its use as a mosque during much of the last thousand years. Again whether the meal was here or close by is not the important fact. It certainly happened nearby.
More thoughts on all of this later.
The Via Dolorosa itself seems to be more tradition than factual but that doesn’t lessen its importance or emotional impact. From the Chapel of the Flagellation to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are the 14 stations of the cross. Over the centuries, millions of Pilgrims and tourists have tried this narrow, confusing pathway. We should start with the study of Matthew 27:26-61; Mark 15:15-27; Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:1:10. Through their inspired eyes we can try to see the reality of what Jesus faced in light of the confusing and bewildering scenes of today.
There are three main candidates for the trial of Jesus and thus where the Via Dolorosa should begin. 1) Herod’s Palace inside the Jaffa Gate; 2) Antonia Fortress; or the Palace of the Hasmoneans. The Via Dolorosa today starts here near the Ecce Homo Arch (that was built by Hadrian a century after Jesus). The Pavement stones under the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion are worth examining even though they date from after the time of Jesus as they illustrate characteristics of the Roman occupation with the soldier’s carvings.
Before we begin our journey, we may visit The Chapel of the Flagellation and the Chapel of Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross contains some of same pavement stones found in the adjoining convent.
The stations of the cross outline.
300 meters west of St. Stephen’s or the Lion’s Gate is the courtyard of the Umariyya School (probably closed when we arrive in the morning) where Jesus is condemned to death.
Jesus carries his cross is noted near a Franciscan Friary.
Jesus falls for the first time under the Ecce Homo Arch. The location is marked by a stone relief over the doorway to the Armenian Catholic Patriarch.
Jesus meets his Mother 0ver the door to the courtyard of the Armenian Catholic Church that contain a mosaic showing where Mary was standing.
Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross is at the first Franciscan Chapel built in 1229.
Veronica wipes the face of Jesus at the Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church of St. Veronica. The cloth with which she wiped Jesus’ face is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Jesus falls for a second time ate another Franciscan chapel. Importantly, in ancient times this was the Garden Gate that left the city on the way to Calvary.
Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem near the present Greek Orthodox monastery with the carved IC XC NI KA (“Jesus Christ conquers).
Jesus falls a third time at the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate with a Roman pillar marking the fall. There are steps that lead to a terrace of the roof of the Chapel of St. Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher inhabited by Ethiopian Orthodox monks.
Jesus is stripped of his garments in side the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as are the remaining stations. Things get tricky here with short cuts and mysterious paths and stairs. We will enjoy having a guide. The stations inside the Church are not specifically marked. Station X is in the Chapel of the Franks (a name traditionally given to the Franciscans).
Jesus is nailed to the cross in the Catholic Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross. The ceiling contains the only surviving Crusader ere mosaic showing Jesus ascending to heaven.
Jesus dies on the cross and the cross location is marked on the floor in the Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Crucifixion.
Jesus is taken down from the cross at the Catholic altar of Our Lady of the Sorrows.
Jesus is laid in the tomb that is located in the center of the church and from where he rose from the dead.
The Garden Tomb is a more tranquil place to digest the meaning of the morning walk on the Via Dolorosa. It is a much more tranquil place to visit that the Church of the holy Sepulcher. Unfortunately, for Protestants who favor the Garden Tomb, there is no historical or archeological evidence to support it as the place for the burial place of Jesus. The British General Gordon who later dies in Khartoum saw Golgotha in a dream. The tombs in the Garden date from the time of Jeremiah and Isaiah. The tombs in the Church of the Sepulcher date from the time of Jesus. Nonetheless, the Garden tomb is a much easier place to pray and contemplate.
The Southern Wall excavations outside the Temple Mount began in 1968. A street from Biblical times was uncovered in the 1990’s. It had been covered by stones pushed down by the Romans in 70 AD. The western flight of stairs lead to the main entrance with long and short steps. It is suggested that the long steps were for Jewish pilgrims to pause and recite the Fifteen Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-34) as the entered the Temple. The Mikveh purification pools have been unearthed. These were used for ritual purification before entering the Temple. The steps are the like location for the infamous money changers. It is also the place where Peter stood on the Day of Pentecost and Baptized thousands.
Bethlehem is our final destination. Like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it is a crowded and noisy place. Nonetheless, the place of Christ’s birth can be visited underneath the Church of Nativity. The church itself dates from early 3rd Century is probably the oldest complete church in the world. Bethlehem is outside of Isreali control and we will need to enter the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The many vendors are eager fro Christian Pilgrims and will welcome our visit.