Part 3 – A Memorable Journey of a Lifetime- the ‘HOLY LAND EXPERIENCE 2019’ in Jerusalem
After breakfast, we proceeded towards Ein Karim or the spring of the Vinyard. Ein Karim is the village where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. Zechariah served as a priest during the reign of Herod in Judea. It also marks the site where John the Baptist was born. Our first stop was to John the Baptist Church. The church which is built over the cave was the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Living in caves was like living in palaces in those days. It is usually nice and warm in the caves during winter, and cool during the summer. The church was built by the Franciscan fathers over the foundations of the Byzantine and Crusader churches.
After visiting the Church of St John the Baptist, we walked down to the spring known as the Virgin Mary Mountain. This name was given to it as it is said that the Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth here. She had come all the way from Nazareth to visit Elizabeth. There is also a church up the hill that is called the Visitation Church. We climbed about 125 steps to visit this. During his rule, Herod had ordered his soldiers to kill all the male children below two years of age in Bethlehem and its vicinity. When Herod had ordered to kill the male children, an angel had appeared to Zechariah and Elizabeth and asked them to hide in the mountains.
We proceeded towards Mount Zion and visited the Dormition Abbey, King David’s Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper. Later, we visited the city wall of Jerusalem built by the Turkish Sultan in 1542. This wall goes around the city for about 5 kilometres. The area within the walls is the old city. There are seven gates leading to the old city and this is one of the gates called David’s gate since it is not too far from King David’s tomb. The other gate is called the Zion Gate as it is located on Mount Zion. In 1967, the area inside the wall was controlled by Jordan while the area outside was controlled by Israel.
We were briefed about the Dormition Abbey by Freddy, who said, “This church was built over the place where the Virgin Mary fell into eternal sleep before her assumption to heaven. This church was built in 1905 over the foundations of the Byzantine and Crusader churches and is about 114 years old. This is a two-floor building. On the first floor, we have the church and one floor down is the place where Mother Mary fell into eternal sleep before the assumption where she was taken, body and soul, to heaven.”
We later proceeded towards St Anna Church (mother of Virgin Mary), that is built over the cave which used to be the house of St Jochim and Anna. The first church was built during the Byzantine period and was destroyed. The present church was built in the 11th century by the crusaders. In the 12th century, Saladin (Salah ad-Din) drove away from the crusaders. In those days many churches were converted into mosques and many mosques converted into churches. The Chruch of St Anna was converted into a Madrasa (Muslim educational institution) by Saladin in the 12th Century. After the Crimean War, the French government helped the Turkish against the Russians; the Turkish won the battle and gave the church to the French Government, who then handed the church to the White Fathers.
In the afternoon after lunch, we proceeded towards the Pool of Bethesda which is also known as the House of mercy. The name Bethesda is derived from the Aramaic language, meaning house of mercy or house of grace. According to the gospels, a man who was paralyzed for 38 years and did not find anyone to help him, came near the Pool of Bethesda while Jesus was passing by. Jesus saw the paralyzed man and said, “Get up and walk” and the man was miraculously healed.
Later we proceeded towards St Stephen’s gate which marks the site named after the first Christian martyr. St Stephen was stoned to death at this spot. This gate has many names such as Tribe’s gate, Lion’s gate, Sheep gate, Flock gate, and Mary’s gate. It is called Mary’s gate because this gate leads to where the Virgin Mary was born.
We later proceeded towards the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu. Gallicantu is a Latin word that means Cock’s-crow, which is a reminder of Peter’s rejection of Jesus thrice. The Church of St Peter used to be a Byzantine shrine which was dedicated to the repentance of Peter in 457AD. The shrine was destroyed in 1010 and subsequently rebuilt and renamed by the Crusaders in 1102. After the fall of Jerusalem, the church was abandoned and rebuilt again in 1931. A golden rooster has been erected on the roof of the Sanctuary to honour the biblical connection. It is believed that the spot was the palace of the High priest Caiaphas. The Upper Church is a chapel that incorporates stone from ancient grotto’s inside the walls. There is a hole in the center of the Sanctuary, which is believed to be the caves of the Byzantine shrine. It is believed that Jesus was imprisoned in these underground caves after he was arrested.
Our journey continued towards the Church of the Flagellation which is near Lion’s gate or Stephen’s gate. The Church of the Flagellation is part of the Franciscan Monastery and is also known as the Church of Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross. In the vicinity of the Antonia Fortress was the site where Jesus was tried for blasphemy and the location of the trial of Jesus. The Church of Flagellation is also the second station of the cross, Via Dolorosa. According to the Catholic version, there are 14 stations of which 9 stations are along the road on which Jesus carried his heavy cross. The other 5 stations are housed within the churches. The Flagellation chapel is where Jesus was crowned with thorns by Pontius Pilot. The second station is where Jesus accepted and carried his cross. A mass was held here before we continued further.
The stations of the cross is a representation of Jesus’ path, his way to the crucifixion. Jesus died on the cross to save mankind from sins. The third station is where Jesus had fallen for the first time. The fourth station is where Jesus met his mother. The fifth station is where Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus to carry his cross. The sixth station is at the place where Veronica wiped the face of Jesus. The seventh station is at the place where Jesus fell for the second time, the eighth station is at the place where Jesus met the women of Jerusalem, and the ninth station is where Jesus fell for the third time. We walked along the road where Jesus had walked through carrying the heavy cross. Throughout the way, we found shops selling holy articles and the stations being marked on the walls. There are no special signs of the stations of the cross as those in our churches. According to our guide Freddy, nearly 30,000 people visit the holy land every day.
In our churches, we have the portraits imitating the passion of Christ with 14 stations but in Jerusalem where Jesus suffered, the stations are marked on the walls where Jesus walked carrying the heavy cross. Later, we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here Jesus was nailed to the cross, died on the cross and placed in the tomb. According to the beliefs and traditions, the Stations of the Cross took place at these 14 places along the Via Dolorosa. These 14 stations formed the route starting from the Church of Flagellation and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Pilgrims have been walking this route from centuries following the footsteps of Jesus.
It was a Sabbath day (Saturday), which the Jews spend in prayer. According to Jewish religious law, Shabbat is observed before a few minutes of the sunset on Friday evening to Saturday night. The Jews observe this day reciting blessings by lighting the candles. They observe this day as a festive day and exercise their freedom from daily work. It is a day of prayer for the Jews and they pray continuously in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They walk in procession holding lit candles. We had to wait for more than three hours to visit the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was an electrifying experience when I touched the place where Jesus was buried. I got two minutes to pray on the tomb of Jesus and felt Jesus blessing me from above.
We later proceeded towards the stone where Jesus was taken down from the cross. It is believed that Jesus was taken down from the cross and laid on this stone and given a bath. The stone is also called the Stone of the Anointing and can be seen in front of the main entrance of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem. From here, we visited the Calvary where Jesus was crucified. It is about 15 to 20ft high inside the church of Holy Sepulchre.
Our next visit was to the Wailing Wall or Western Wall, where Jewish worshipers pray for repentance. The Wailing wall is located at the old city of Jerusalem as the western support wall of the Temple Mount built by King Herod. Thousands of pilgrims visit the Wailing wall and pray for repentance. Some people write their prayers and leave them in between the gaps in the wall. The Wailing Wall has been divided into two sections for men and women. The women and the men are provided separate sections to pray. These sections are a special highlight of the old city of Jerusalem. During the prayers, women need to wear a dress covering their shoulders and legs, and men should cover their heads.
After our visit to the Wailing Wall, we returned to the hotel for an overnight stay.
To be continued in part 4…