Jerusalem. The name itself invokes holiness. Home to the holiest sights of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
We started our tour with The Citadel with its high stone walls and archaeological excavations showing where once the temples stood. From the walkway past security, we could see the Golden Dome and Al Aqsa. From there we proceeded to the Wailing Wall.
Otherwise known as the Wailing Wall, this most holy of sights was crowded with Jews of all denominations as it was the Shabbat. Sure, no pics were allowed as well as no smoking and cell phone use in observance of the Shabbat but it was a small price to pay for the religious experience of sharing space with Jewish worshipers.
The women in the group took the right side while the men the left. We took one of the kippat being given away by the Western Wall Heritage to cover our head as mandated by Jewish custom. As we entered the chant-like prayers became more audible. Some gathered around tables where a tora was but most were near the wall praying while bobbing their torsos up and down or swaying or twisting to the side. Ronan explained that the gestures depended on the denomination. Some were seated on chairs while others had pedestals on which prayer books were laid out. The men wore prayer shawls and their custom clothes such as the Haredists with their characteristic black suits.
With the crowd at the outside wall, I opted to go inside where there were less people. I got an empty spot where I prayed and slipped my letter in a deep crevice on the wall. I had the most moving experience. I tried to control my tears as I was being overwhelmed with too much emotion, the source of which didn’t know. I stepped back knowing I had to rush to the agreed meeting place but I just couldn’t tear myself away. They had all assembled by the time I walked out and up. Ronan was joking that maybe I had wanted to convert.
The large Crusader-era structure was in an atmospheric area with narrow cobbled streets between imposing stone buildings. It was like being back in time.
The Last Supper supposedly took place at the empty room on the second floor of the building whose posts date back to that period. From there we walked down a flight of stairs, passed a courtyard, and emerged on what once was Caiapha’s house underneath which were cave-like prison cells. Remnants from the Byzantine church that used to stand on the site were on display.
Mama Mary’s Final Day
The spot where the Virgin Mary was said to have ascended to heaven is marked by a beautiful underground chamber decorated with beautiful wall mosaics. At the center was a statue of the Virgin Mary in sweet repose. In spite of the crowds the place managed to retain its solemnity.
Church of St. Peter Gallicanto
We had mass at this beautiful church with a view of the Kidron Valley surrounded by Mt. Scopus and Mt. Olives. We had the whole church to ourselves so it was very quiet and peaceful.
We then proceded to Bethlehem for lunch at Tent Restaurant which was made out to look like what else… a tent.
I know my baklava from my makluva. The former was very tasty and tender chicken mixed with rice. It came in a really large pot which was turned over and is contents dumped with a little flair on a table covered with paper. The waiter then scooped the chicken and rice on individual papers and served it to us. It was very very very delicious. We were quite full already from the vegetable soup and appetizers so we just had a serving each with a little extra rice for me. Desert was very good Arabic coffee and baklava. The cost? 17 USD.
After lunch we headed to the Church of the Pater Noster which marks the spot where Christ taught the prayer to the crowd. The church was very beautiful with its graceful arches and cypress trees. On the walls were the prayer in different languages. The Philippines was represented with versions in Ilongo, Tagalog, Cebuano, and Kapampangan.
Where Jesus Wept
From the top of the Mt. of Olives, we took the steep and winding trail down to the Kidron Valley where the Gardens of Gethsemane lay. We passed a vast cemeteries that hugged the gentle slips of the mountain. These were the preferred resting places of the Jews who believed that at the Second Coming, those buried facing the Holy City will be resurrected first.
We stopped at the tear-shaped church said to mark the spot where Jesus wept for the coming destruction of Jerusalem. From its gardens we had vast views of the Temple Mount with the gleaming dome of the Dome of the Rock. I would have wanted to visit even just to see its facade as it is one of architecture’s greatest wonders.
We continued our way down the steep cemented path passing Jewish cemeteries with their white limestone tombstones. On the slopes of the Mt. Of Olives and facing the Old City, the Jewish believe that, as said in the Scriptures, those buried there will be resurrected in the Second Coming.
Garden of Gethsemane
Only a few olive trees and a small patch of land remains of this garden where Jesus agonized over his fate. Inside the Church of All Nations is said to be the exact spot where Jesus knelt and prayed. The slab of limestone is directly on front of the altar where a private mass was ongoing so we couldn’t get near it. The church was beautiful though beautiful by this time is already a cliché. Arches and mosaics adorn the interior.