Sunday, 20 October 2013

Jerusalem's Western Wall and The Way of The Cross

Thursday 3 October 2013. In the last entry I described the trip to Jerusalem, our descent from the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations.

We now leave the coach at the old city walls and enter the large courtyard before the Western or Wailing Wall. The first thing we do is dash for a toilet, knowing that we have a 2-hour walk before us. I came out the wrong way and had passed through a turnstile before I realised so there was a brief "Oh heck.." moment before I found I could nip quickly through a shop and back to the courtyard. Except it wasn't a shop, it was some sort of security place with a scanning doorway like you find at airports and a couple of armed guards on duty... I strode through trying to look bewildered (it wasn't hard...) and nobody thought me worth stopping.

As you can see by the golden Dome of the Rock behind the wall, we are very close to the Temple Rock.

In fact the lower bits of the wall are the original external wall of the Second Temple, raised by King Herod. It is tradition for Jews to pray at this wall, rocking themselves back and forth and also by placing prayer messages in the cracks between the stones of the wall. They consider this place the very foundation of the world.

This was a public holiday and the place was packed with happy family crowds celebrating Barmitzvahs. The photo was taken by dodging lots of cheering women, who were cheering their son, nephew, grandson, who was taking his place at the wall.

We gathered back as a group and followed our guide through a gateway and into a series of narrows streets. I would almost say passages - some were roofed by slats of wood, some by buildings that were built over the street. As narrow as they were, every now and then we had to press to the side to allow a car through.

We stopped at a small bakery. The shops seemed to be set into the walls, the counter was the sill of a large open window. After some negotiation our guide had the baker take a freshly baked pitta bread from the oven and passed it amongst us.

Miss Franny is waiting for a bit of pitta bread to make its way around to us. To the right of the photo was a vegetable shop. Actually no shop, just vegetables set in baskets on the paving of the street with the owner crouched down beside them.

We joined the Way of the Cross - Via Dolorosa means the Road of Sorrows. When the Romans chose Christianity to be their main religion, Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, sent his mother, Helena to Jerusalem to discover the sites associated with Jesus. This was in the fourth century, 326-328, so around 300 years after the events she sought news of. She presumably had to judge whether she heard tales handed down through generations or whether she heard someone hoping for payment... See Wikipedia for details of the relics she found.

The Fifth Station of the Cross. Jesus, exhausted, rested His hand against the wall for support. Centuries of people placing their hands in the same place has imprinted a deep indentation in the wall. Here Simon of Cyrene (now part of Libya) was ordered to carry the cross for Jesus. There is a sharp right turn here and the Way starts to climb up towards Golgotha via a series of steps.

Climbing up past Station Six, the House of Veronica on the left. Veronica (later St Veronica) had previously been healed by Jesus and came out of her house as He passed and wiped His face free of the sweat and blood with a veil she removed from her person. She bundled the veil and returned to her house and when she looked again at the veil, the image of Jesus' face was left on the cloth.

Her name was really Bernice. "Veronica" comes from the latin vera, (true) and the greek icon, (image) and refers to the veil which bore the true image. Her veil is one of the treasures kept at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

We climb up past Station Seven, which was the extent of the city at the time. Here Jesus' crimes were proclaimed or read out.

Part of the later city. As we walked towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we pass the arches which lead into the area known as the Muristan. The Muristan was the site of a very early hospital catering for Christian pilgrims. A later hospital on the site was built and run by the Knights Templars of St John, who were part of the conquering Crusaders and who became known as the Knights Hospitallers. These are the same as those who built the fortifications we saw earlier in the week at Rhodes and who were evicted themselves by the Ottomans, becoming the Knights of Malta.

We passed under a narrow doorway and came directly to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, covering both the site of the Crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus. We shall see this in the next entry.

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