Tombs and Resurrections

23rd November, 2012
Jerusalem and Bethany

For all photos for 23rd November, click here to view them on my dropbox site. If you don’t have Dropbox, use this link to sign up and you and I will both get a bonus amount of free storage space.

Like the women going to the tomb before daybreak, we rose long before the sun came up (4:30am) to walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Mass at 5:15am. It was exciting to walk through the deserted streets of the Old City at that hour, and when we entered the tomb we were some of the only ones there. The Coptic monks were chanting morning prayer on the other side of the Tomb, but their chanting filled the whole building. The Holy Sepulchre is a dark and gloomy place at the best of times, but before dawn with the candles burning and the chanting – well, it was easy to meditate on the resurrection. While we were waiting, Rosemary showed us a nearby excavated Jewish tomb off the wall of one of the chapels. It was quite an experience to looking inside this dark, small empty tomb, and to see the places where the dead were once laid. It was very easy to imagine how the women and Peter and John would have felt looking into the tomb of Jesus on the first Easter Sunday. It is the existence of such tombs in the area that corroborated the location archeologically as a very possible place of Jesus’ own burial, as the site was indeed outside the city walls in Jesus’ day.

We were assigned the “Latin Calvary Chapel”, which also doubles as the 11th station of the cross on the Via Dolorosa. A large mosaic of the nails being driven into Jesus hands on the cross was above the altar. Fr Thin celebrated mass – which was a little ironic, because he is by far the shortest priest, and the altar in this chapel is a good couple of inches taller than the normal altar height. It is also against the wall, so Fr Thin celebrated ad orientam. We were joined by a number of people not part of our party, but it seems the thing you do when you are at the Holy Sepulchre is join in on any mass going. Both before and after the mass, we spent a bit of time walking around the building, but I found myself quite bewildered by the layout. At the doorway, there is a flat stone, about the size of an altar stone. Other visitors were venerating it, and so I figured I would too, on the principle that if it is being venerated, it must be venerable, and I could find out why later on. Actually, the answer was staring me in the face on the wall behind the stone, which sports a huge mosaic of the anointing of Jesus after his death. This stone is the traditional “Stone of the Anointing” and this spot is the 13th Station in the Via Dolorosa before the Tomb itself (which is the 14th station). When I bowed my head down to it, I could smell that it was perfumed. I believe that talc powder is smeared on it. Later in the day, when we returned to the Sepulchre at the end of the Via Dolorosa, I saw many pilgrims wiping cloths and handkerchiefs on the stone to take home with them.

Walking back at about 6:30am, the only other people in the streets were the garbage collectors. I was walking with Fr Ian and chatting on the way, when I noticed that my head was cold and then realised that I wasn’t wearing my tweed hat. I must have left it in the Holy Sepulchre. I didn’t want to lose this hat, as it had become one of my favourites and I had bought it especially for this trip. Not knowing whether to expect to find it still after all this time, I turned and dashed back down the alleyways to the Church (taking only one wrong turn – I found that the way to remember the streets was to look for little landmarks). I found my hat on the very first seat on which I had sat when we arrived.

I called home when we got back to the Hotel, with the intention of skyping, but the family was going out to the St Bernadette’s Primary School car boot sale, and Mia was going to try to sell all her old toys. Instead, we had an extended phone call to catch up on all the news. I feel very far from home during these conversations. During the call, a thunderstorm came over Jerusalem, and it began to rain very solidly. I had bought a sturdy rain poncho from the Salvos before leaving home and I saw that this would come in handy today.

After breakfast, we boarded the bus for the day’s tour of Jerusalem. Our first point of call was the “Pater Noster Cloister” in the Kidron Valley. This is a strange site historically (the Wikipedia entry for the “Church of the Pater Noster” gives the background. Originally the site of a Constantinian basilica commemorating the Ascension, in the 19th Century a cloister was built over the site and a cave discovered. It has become associated with the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer – which in Luke 11 is recorded after the story of Mary and Martha (which takes place in Bethany the other side of the Mount of Olives). The idea is that perhaps this cave was a place where Jesus stopped to pray along the way back to Jerusalem – for shelter from the sun or rain. In our case, it was raining, and had been since we left Notre Dame. We sang the Lord’s Prayer in the cave, before going up to look at the rest of the cloister. This is the real attraction of the place: on the walls of the cloister, made of painted tiles, are copies of the Our Father in all the languages of the world – well, almost – there are 135 different languages currently represented and still growing. We walked around the cloister, looking for the Prayer in languages known by members of the group, and praying in these languages. I prayed the prayer in German. It is a beautiful place, and a pity that it was raining, because it was a place conducive to sitting in prayer.

From there the bus took us around to the Lion Gate on the North East corner of the Temple Mount. Here, just inside the entrance, is the Church of St Anne, on the traditional site of the birth of the Blessed Virgin (St Anne was Mary’s mother). This church is one of the only completely preserved Crusader churches in Jerusalem, and has perfect acoustics for Gregorian chant. I had the Parish Book of Chant on my iPhone, and flicked through it till I came to something I knew – the Rorate Coeli (traditional Advent chant, a lament for Jerusalem including the verses from Isaiah 40 “Comfort, comfort my people”). It sounded absolutely perfect – and my voice isn’t usually that great. The echo in the building is supposed to be 11 seconds, and gives a deep resonance to the song. There is a beautiful statue of St Anne and her daughter in the back of the church, and I was reminded of my wife and her love and care for our daughters, so I lighted my customary three candles again and prayed for them.

Right next to the Church of St Anne is the Pool of Bethesda (cf. John 5). This site was only rediscovered in the 19th Century, and further excavations in the 1960’s proved that this was beyond doubt the very pool referred to in the Gospel. It still resonates very strongly today as a place of healing, and so our prayers at this site focused on those who we knew in our own families who were in need of healing. There was a very voluble and excitable group of Nigerian Christians singing and dancing and praying in amongst the ruins.

From here, Gila led us along the Via Dolorosa. It was made clear that we would not be doing this as a group devotional exercise, but rather looking at the historical and archeological aspects of the route. Nevertheless several of us took the opportunity to do the walk (in the pouring rain) as a Stations of the Cross walk. There is a particular person for whom I wanted to pray, who is suffering at the moment, so I dedicated the do whole walk to her. At times we had to move fairly quickly to keep up with our guide (and take photos at the same time). The walk ends up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, coming in from the roof (where there is the 9th station, Jesus falls a third time). Stations 10-14 are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (including the place where we had mass this morning – Station 11 – and the anointing stone – Station 13 – and the tomb itself – Station 14), and things got a little complicated inside, so we didn’t finish the walk in proper order. We didn’t go inside the tomb, as the lines were too long (Denis and Lyn went in the next day, waited an hour and had their 20 seconds inside).

But I did get to have a second look at the Church, and compare it to a map of the building that I had downloaded earlier in the day on my iPhone. Now I could clearly see the see the layout of the Church, and I realised that the main nave and sanctuary of the Church is actually opposite the “rotunda” tomb shrine. Interestingly, most tours – including ours – fail to take people into this section, yet it is from here that the whole building takes its shape and purpose. All the other chapels, including the Tomb rotunda, are “add ons”. Also from here, the beautiful and awe-inspiring mosaic of Christ on the dome of the Church can be plainly seen and appreciated. Around the outside of the apse of this central nave are a number of side altars, similar to the layout of St Patrick’s Cathedral back home. Gila also took us down into an underground series of chapels, dedicated to St Helena, Constantine’s mum, who found the pieces of three crosses in a lower cave (which is now a part of the complex). The story goes that they did not know which pieces were the “true cross”, so they “tested” them by touching them to a dying man. The pieces which miraculously revived the man were then hailed as “the true Cross”. It was these pieces of wood that I had venerated at the Church of Sante Croce in Rome on Good Friday in 2009! All good stuff!

From the Holy Sepulchre, we walked into the shopping area nearby to a cafe where we had a chicken kebab for lunch for 45 shekels (about $12). We were walking now along the streets that we covered this morning, and as we were nearing the New Gate and Notre Dame, I noticed an Armenian ceramic arts shop which with the artists inside working. In the windows, among other things, were the most simple but striking little pots in the shape of pomegranates, with a glaze that perfectly reproduced the colour and shade of the fruit. I turned back and went inside to ask about them, and was told that the small ones were 58 shekels, about $15. Even though I am concerned about the luggage allowance on Turkish airlines, I determined to buy one as a gift for Cathy. Since she reads this blog, this means that it will be no secret, but she can look forward to seeing it. It is something that is authentically Jerusalem, bought in the Old City from Armenian Christians. While I was in the shop, the was a young woman with a recorder and a microphone who came up to me and explained that she was a journalist doing a story on the shop, and wanted to know why I had come in. I explained who I was and where we had come from, and praised the work of the artists. She then approached another person in the shop, who was also buying one of these pots, and conducted the same interview again, but in French.

I was a little late back to the Hotel (I received another one of Rosemary’s texts: “David we are leaving at 1:10 for Bethany”), and went up to my room to change my socks (my shoes and socks were sodden from the rain), before going back down again to hop on the bus.

This time we drove out to the other side of the Mount of Olives to the town of Bethany. The drive took about half an hour, but along the way, the valley road which Jesus and his disciples would have taken to reach Bethany was pointed out to us. We were told that this is in fact quite an easy walk, much more direct than the route by road today, and would have taken only about an hour to walk.

Today, Bethany is called (in Arabic) Al-Eizariya or al-Izzariya, which means “the place of Lazarus. Gila took us up to the traditional tomb of Lazarus. This is almost certainly not the real tomb of the Gospel story, but it nevertheless dates from the same period and gives one a very good sense of how the Gospel story would have taken place. The tomb itself is deep underground, and there is a “vestibule” – a room about 2 metres cubed – just above the tomb proper, but still underground. It is said that Jesus would have stood in this inner vestibule when he called Lazarus out the tomb. The steps were quite slippery (one or two the older members had a slip, and I even slid down a step or two as I was descending), and the opening to the tomb itself is quite small. One surmises that the real miracle was that the resurrected man was able to climb out of this small hole while still wrapped in his burial cloths!

The modern Church of St Lazarus is another Barluzzi church, and is just below the place where the tomb is on the stairs above. Above the tomb, next to the Church, is a mosque, known as the al-Uzair Mosque (or Al-Ozair on the sign outside the door) – the name seems to be a reference to Lazarus, but I am not sure of the Arabic (on list of things to do: learn Arabic). While we were waiting to go into the Church, I took the opportunity to go into the mosque and spend a few moments there – it was just on the moment of the mid afternoon prayers. Down in the Church, which is entered through a very nice garden, there was a mass taking place, and we joined in for a short while (it was in Polish). Outside , Gila showed us the remains of the Crusader church on the spot, and the evidence within these remains of the earlier Byzantine church – mainly seen in the form of the mosaic floor tiles still remaining. So, she pointed out, we have three periods in one view: the modern, the Crusader, and the Byzantine. This “layer upon layer” aspect is so common in many of the places we have visited.

From there we returned to Jerusalem to visit the Western Wall of the Temple, where the Jews today pray. They believe that “the presence of God has never left” this part of the Second Temple, all that remains of the temple mount complex in Jesus’ day. There are separate areas for men and women to pray, and I entered the men’s section and approached the Wall to pray. I didn’t have a little piece of paper on which to write my prayer (the usual practice of pilgrims) so I just laid my hand and head against the Wall. It was an intense experience of connection to the history of this place, and I prayed especially for the Jewish Christian Muslim Association and for the relationship of the three religions in this land.

We returned to Notre Dame and gathered together for a time of sharing and discussion on our experiences of the day before dinner. After this, I packed for the morning and did some more writing and uploading of pictures – fast becoming the usual way I end the day. Keeping up with the writing has become difficult, but I hope to keep this travelogue going as long as I can so I do not forget what we are experiencing in these days.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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