Saturday, 17 June 2017

Day 6 - the Easter bit.

The itinerary describes this as the easter journey – a day, mainly on foot, in the steps of Jesus.

I’m writing this and the next day retrospectively, and right now I remember odd details from the time, but Bethphage is missing from my consciousness – I’ll go look up the pictures in a moment. Most memorable part initially was the incredible slipperiness of the path down from the Mount of Olives to the Kidron valley, but there’s quite a bit swimming around in the back of my head too.

So we went into a pleasant enough church at Bethphage (apparently the name means house of figs) with a viewpoint that looks out over the wall that Israel built to separate the Palestinians and prevents someone from walking directly from Jerusalem to Bethphage now. There’s other views as well, that are typical of the area, with concrete houses plus towers sticking up above for religious reasons. The wall looks tall, ugly in a harsh landscape, and from stories we’ve heard has only worked to deepen resentments and division.

The coach took us back to Olivet again, in time for a group photo ($10 each - the togger knows his stuff and the shot is good, with Jerusalem as a backdrop). From there we walked north along the ridge on the top of the mount & down that slippery slope I mentioned to the top of the Kidron valley, passing the Jewish cemetery, pausing to look at 1st century ossiaries.

Passing by Dominus Flevit, a chapel that is supposed to be shaped like a teardrop (perhaps if you squint a bit?) we arrive at the chapel of All Nations where a service is going on. We pass below an orthodox basilica with shining golden onion domes modelled on one in Moscow. Then cross the road and descend the Kidron/cedron/chadron valley, passing Absalom’s tomb on our left, then stopping just before the tomb of the sons of Hezir under a shady overhang beneath the cemetery. Here we get a bit more ‘easter story’ that makes it all seem much less, rather than more real.

I spot a largish lizard, all spiky bits & claws, clinging to the rocky wall next to a formation that looks very anatomical. The valley bottom here has attractive pink flowers that Chris could probably identify and one of our group has a butterfly land on his hand.

After that we moved across to the other side of the valley, where the path went downwards behind and below Palestinian housing. Here rubbish has accumulated, apparently from being thrown from windows over many years in heaps and piles, with plastic materials failing to break down and disappear. The houses above seem to have been built on older dwellings in time-honoured fashion, and it seems amazing that with the height, they don’t all come crashing down into the valley. Some of the housing looks good, but quite a lot does not. There are video cameras on lamp posts at strategic points.

We have gone down below the ‘city of David’ as ancient Jerusalem is now called, and turn uphill to find the newly discovered pool of Siloam (apparently it isn’t *that* pool of Siloam, but never mind) which is closed for the day but the gate isn’t shut. We don’t go in, but do photograph from the open doorway.

From there it’s a long, hot climb back up into the city to walk along bits of the via Dolorosa.

Somewhere in there we ate lunch, but I have no memory remaining of that. We may have also caught the coach at some stage.

We pick up at a possible site for the house of Caiaphus including a pit where Jesus may have been held awaiting trial. From there we head into the city through the Lion gate, passing piles of rubbish (the guide says it’s not normally like that, blaming Ramadan, but those who’ve been before say it’s always like that).

We arrive at St. Anne’s church (St. Anne was by tradition Mary’s mother, and by some traditions that was also a virgin birth). Built by the crusaders, this building has an 11 second reverb time - virtually useless for speaking, and requiring songs to be sung very slowly. Which of course we do. How Great Thou Art sounds pretty good - I made a video of one verse with the phone. The group that follow us in have someone sing the same song as a solo, and she does it very well indeed.

We seem to have visited some more ruins outside the church that show how much lower ground level was once, and also a cistern that’s still full of water.

From there it’s into the city on the Via D, next visting an underground room/chapel that’s full of nuns when we arrive - this may be the judgement hall ‘Gabatha’ - and we do the singing/reading thing again. There are ancient pavements etc here too that would apparently have been in the outside air at one time, shown by grooves cut in the stones to offer grip for horses.

Back to the Via D, we pass a shop sign naming prop. Jelly Ibrahim, which Chris finds funny. There were vendors selling tee shirts with anti-UN slogans, as well as signs telling us that our guides would lie, cheat and brain wash us about prices, and if we wanted the best bargains then we should come in alone.
We turn down some side streets to arrive at the house of Raja, our coach driver. He had invited us to visit him at home, and we meet his mum and aunt there. Raja is a Coptic Christian, the copts having suffered badly in Egypt at the hands of Isis, and we are made warmly welcome. Before we leave we are able to pray blessing on the family there and for Raja’s up-coming wedding.

Back on Via D to visit the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre, and we pass through an Ethiopian Christian area before getting to the COTHS.

The interior of the building is mixed and a little muddly, architecture appearing to have been progressive rather than intentional. The interior is slightly misty with incense smoke, there are people everywhere doing religious things like kneeling, kissing artifacts, plus more general tourists just peering at stuff and taking pictures.

We take pictures and peer at stuff.

The ceiling is spectacular, there are huge marble pillars, painted walls and religious art everywhere. Incongruously, there is a tatty old aluminium step ladder in the hall containing the stone on which Jesus was supposed to have had his body prepared for burial. My understanding is that this ladder is a source of disagreement between the various church traditions responsible for the building, and no-one can move it because to do so would alter the balance of power between the groups.

After we escape the melee to the courtyard outside, a ‘parade’ of chaps in clerical gear, led by a man in a dark suit & red fez, thumping a wooden staff on the ground at each step, proceed past. A beggar with a pram full of stuff, hump on his back, walks through the now crowded courtyard, up a ramp and disappears. We head back through the narrow streets to the coach for a shower and dinner at the hotel.

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