To the Holy Mountain

21st November, 2012
Jerusalem (Day One)

For all photos from today, use this link to my dropbox account. To sign up for Dropbox, use this link: http://db.tt/rvgBYop

I awoke this morning at 5:30 (according to my iPhone clock). We had an early start today to reach the Temple Mount (leaving at 7:15am) so I thought I would stay up and do my travel blog and pictures from yesterday. I had to go down to the lobby to do this, as that is the only place where the Internet connection works. I worked away at it for an hour, and then went upstairs, as 6:30 was our “wake up” time. Fr Peter was still in bed asleep, which I thought strange, and then checked my watch – it was in fact only 5:30am – I had not put my iPhone clock onto Jerusalem time! So, another hour of work on the blog and pictures and finished doing all my work including making my Dropbox pictures available to readers. (By the way, I am probably going to fill up my free allowance on Dropbox on this trip, so if you have not yet signed up for Dropbox, please do so using the link above which will give me an extra 500 MB for everyone who signs up using this link!)

I had packed my back pack the night before, so I used the time after showering to wash my clothes. It was 7:00am by this stage, so I rushed down and had a quick breakfast before boarding the bus.

We went directly around the walls of the old city to the south gate to the Temple Mount, and entered via the scaffolding walkway with the view down to the Western Wall, which was already quite full of people praying. We then entered the Temple precinct itself, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is on the site of the old southern part of the “Court of the Gentiles”. “Al-Aqsa”, I learned from our guide Gila means “farther”, ie., the mosque that was farther away than the Mecca mosque. A mosque was built here very early in the Islamic period, but then this larger structure was built in 705BC. It has been destroyed by earthquakes many times, so that the main structure viewed today is actually from the Crusader period. I was a bit disappointed to learn that today, due to tensions with the local Jewish population in the past, only Muslims can enter either this Mosque or the
Dome of the Rock (which was built in 691, and is thus older than the Mosque, even though the site of the Mosque was established as a place of prayer earlier than this).

Our guide showed us around the precinct, and explained the details and history. The Dome of the Rock is the most attractive sight on the site, and many people mistake it for a mosque. It actually houses the rock we know as Moriah, on which Abraham was about to sacrifice his son – Isaac in the biblical tradition, but Ishmael according to the Muslims. It is also the place where Mohammed had his “Night Journey” or “Ascension” vision. The two striking features of the Dome are the Dome itself – recently renewed/restored with pure gold by the previous King of Jordan – and the colourful tiles, including inscriptions from the Koran describing the Night Journey. The Dome is near, but not actually on (I think) the place where the Temple proper – the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies – once stood. From here our guide took us down to the Eastern wall, where there is the “Golden” or “Beautiful” Gate. This area has only recently been opened up to tourists, and has, for many centuries, been closed up. It is very closely associated – in all three Abrahamic traditions – with the return of the Messiah and the Resurrection on the Last Day, and very many Jewish tombs dating back to the time of Christ may be found on both sides of the Kidron Valley below the Gate and up the side of the Mount of Olives. It is traditionally believed that the Golden Gate was the gate through which Jesus entered on Palm Sunday, although it is perhaps more likely that he entered by the pilgrim gates on the south side of the Temple precinct.

Gila also pointed out the location of the Roman Praetorium, at the far North-West end of the Temple Precinct, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just a bit further around to the West. These two points are connected by the Via Dolorosa, as it is the traditional pathway that Jesus is thought to have taken on his way to his crucifixion. I would have liked to have spent more time on the Mount, but Gila then led us out of the Old City through the Lion Gate (which is actually decorated with leopards, not lions). The bus then picked us up and took us back up to the Mount of Olives lookout where we were last night, this time for a day time view. Now I had seen many pictures of this view, but a few things struck me today. First, the Kidron Valley is really very deep between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount. Second, the Temple Mount really covers a vast area, especially in comparison with the “City of David” on the southern slope and the whole Old City itself. And then there is a feature that I knew about, but wasn’t quite prepared for, which is the sheer vastness of the Jewish burial grounds in this region. There are a few areas that are still fairly “gardenish”, and that – the Garden of Gethsemane – would be our final port of call on this wander.

But first, we walked down the hill a short way to the Church “Dominus Flevit”. The name simply means “The Lord Wept” and I had been looking forward to visiting this iconic location. The church was designed by an Italian Franciscan and architect Antonio Barluzzi (d. 1960), who has a prolific record of church building in the Holy Land, including the Church of All nations at the Gethsemane site, the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, and the Church of the Angels in the Shepherds Fields where we are going tomorrow. Most of you will have seen photos of the Temple Mount taken through the main East window of this church. It commemorates the occasion when Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Unfortunately, due to a mix up in bookings, we were not able to celebrate Mass in the Church, but had to make do with the outdoor altar a little up the slope on the side of the Church. I didn’t mind, as I was able to see and contemplate the view of Jerusalem and the location all around us as mass was celebrated.

A little side issue: you may recall the kerfuffle made over the Good Friday prayers back at the time of the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, with regard to its language about the Jews. Well, the collect for the Votive Mass of Dominus Flevit, which we celebrated, has a line in it about the “blindness of the Jews” which makes the traditional Good Friday prayer pale into insignificance. Obviously this has not been widely publicised, and, of course, this mass is restricted to being said on this location (whereas the Good Friday prayer is universal, even if constricted to use on one day each year, and even then by those communities which use the Extraordinary Form for all services). I intend to see what can be done about revising this prayer, as I see little reason why such a reference needs to be included in this collect.

After the mass, we then walked down to the Gethsemane site and the Church of All Nations, so called because many nations around the world contributed to its construction. Even Australia gets a guernsey here. Inside the Church is a large flattish square rock in front of the altar, said to be the rock on which Jesus prayed his prayer to the Father “Not my will, but thine be done”. Of course, this is purely traditional – the rock, though prominent in the traditional iconography, is not mentioned in scripture. There is an iron wrought “crown of thorns” surrounding the whole rock, and according to the documentation outside the Church, this was a donation from the Australian Church. A mass was just finishing in the Church, so I and the other pilgrims took the opportunity to approach this rock and pray touching it. The story of the Jesus’ prayer in the garden has always touched me when I have prayed it as a mystery of the Rosary, because in my own life (as also in yours, I am sure), temptation and resistance to God’s will has been a marked feature. This is one visit that will shape my prayer for the rest of my life.

Outside the church, in a smallish garden, are some of the oldest olive trees in Israel – some as old as 900 years. These trees then were not the same ones that surrounded Jesus in his prayer, but they are certainly very old. What struck me is that Luke says that Jesus withdrew a “stone’s throw” from the disciples in the Garden, and the rock inside the Church is certainly a “stone’s throw” from these old trees. None of that proves the location, of course, but it does put everything to scale, and it is very easy to imagine the disciples sleeping under these trees (or ones like them) while Jesus was nearby praying in earnest.

After this visit, we boarded the bus and were taken to a kibbutz nearby named after Rachel – because the traditional Rachel’s tomb is nearby. Actually it was a very modern and large facility including a shopping area and a buffet dining lounge which is very popular with tour groups. Here we had lunch, a meal of salads and bread washed down with some local lager.

We then reboarded the bus and went to the Israel Museum where there are two attractions we especially visited: a one fiftieth scale model of the old city of Jerusalem as it was in the time of the Roman occupation (ie., Jesus’ time) and the Shrine of the Book (built to house fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls). -The model of Jerusalem is a very helpful tool to imagining the city in the time of Jesus. The scale model of the Temple of King Herod is an especial attraction, and was useful to compare to the actual site that we had visited earlier in the day.

In the Shrine of the Book, there are a number of actual fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including in particular a large section of the Isaiah scroll. The full scroll is not on display, but a copy of it features in the scroll like display in the centre of the Shrine (originally this was designed for the real thing, but that proved too fragile for display and so a copy is in its place). But there were also many other scroll sections relating to the life of the community at Qumran, and other apocryphal writings. I was especially fascinated to see on display the “Aleppo Codex”, which was the oldest manuscript of the Hebrew Scriptures in existence prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This codex (ie. bound book) is dated to the 10th Century AD – and so a time gap of more than 1000 years separates the Scrolls from the Codex. The Codex is also notable in using “pointing”, ie. the vowel system developed in the 6th Century, long after the Scrolls were written.

After this it was back on the bus for the last destination of the day – the Yad Vadshem Holocaust memorial and museum. We had only an hour and a half at this location – no where near enough to give it the attention it deserves. As museums go, this is a very good one, with clear multi-media displays and relics of the Shoah. Central to the displays are the video recordings of Holocaust survivors telling their personal stories – part of the Spielberg project funded by the profits of the film “Schindler’s List”. The Holocaust Museum in Melbourne is very much involved in this project – I have visited the offices were it is being pursued. I found the notorious Pius XII display, which has, thankfully, recently been updated to be a little more balanced in its judgement of the war-time pontiff. I also wanted to spend some time in the surrounding gardens, looking at the various sculptures and memorial to the Holocaust victims. One of the most striking of these is the Children’s Memorial, constructed indoors in a darkened room with many mirrors all around, including above and below. A single candle burns in the centre of the room, but is reflected millions of times resulting in a “milky way” of star points. The names and ages of known child-victims of the Holocaust are read by a recorded voice.

While wandering the gardens, my phone went off and I found a message “We are leaving”. The time had gotten away with me. So I raced back to the entrance to find everyone waiting on the bus. We returned to the Notre Dame Centre, where we had an hour for a group “debrief” on the day’s events and visits. Then we had dinner at 7pm, and a group went off for a night-time walk to the Western Wall. I declined this walk because I wanted to complete this entry and to upload pictures, but also because I am tired and need to have a reasonably early night. I have been sitting outside in the courtyard smoking my pipe while I worked, but it became a little chilly, and am now completing my writing in the foyer. Photo uploading is very slow here, it takes about 30 seconds to upload a 1MB picture, so you may have to be patient on the picture side of things. Not all of them will be in the Dropbox folder yet

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *