Monday, January 27, 2014

Day 7, Part 2: Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall, Holocaust Museum, Garden Tomb

With another bitterly cold day outside, I suppose now is as good as any to stay indoors and tell you some more about our Holy Land adventures. The end of my last post left us at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre near the middle of Tour Day 7.  After going into the shrine that marks the place where they believe Jesus was buried, we gathered in the large open sanctuary in the church.  A small group of us returned the next morning and I took a few more pictures then that I'll share later, but here are a few highlights of what we saw on my first visit.  In the middle of the sanctuary was this basin, known as the Omphalos or "navel", marking what Greek Orthodox Christians believe to be the center of the world.  I looked up a little more about this object and on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre website (, they write this: "This notion was already present in the Jewish religion which considers the entire city of Jerusalem to be the center of the world; for Muslims, the center of the world is marked by the rock at the center of the Dome of the Rock. In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the cross of Christ is the center of the world from which the arms of the Savior extend to embrace it in its entirety."   

After a few moments looking in that area, we made our way back toward the entrance of the church so we could go up some stairs to see Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified.  The mount has been enclosed by the church centuries ago, but the exposed rock at the top where they believe the cross was placed is in a shrine that you can touch.  On our way, we passed what's called the Stone of the Anointing, commemorating the anointing of Jesus' body before burial.  There's a beautiful mural behind it that depicts the scene of Jesus being taken down from the cross and being anointed and buried.  The stone itself is revered highly by Orthodox Christians and we saw many of them coming and kneeling before it, many of them kissing it in much the same way many of the figures in the mural were kissing Jesus.  Here's a view of that part of the mural from next to the stone:

From there, we walked up some stairs to the top of Golgotha to view the place of crucifixion.  Here is a portion of the inscription over the doorway we passed through on our way up the stairs.  By now, you are an astute enough Holy Land traveler to notice something odd about this.  We're in a Greek Orthodox church, yet the inscription is in Latin.  This is because this raised portion of the church was originally built by the Crusaders and there is still a Roman Catholic Chapel of the Crucifixion right next to the Chapel of Calvary that we visited:

The top of the stairs opened directly into the Chapel of Calvary.  This picture shows a small part of the numerous decorations that enshrine the hole in the stone it's believed the cross would have been placed into.  They allow you to see and touch that very spot, but the line was pretty long when we were there as an entire group, so we saw it from a distance and moved on.  Again, I'll have more pictures of this from the next day when a few of us returned to this place. 

Underneath that shrine, at the base of Golgotha, is a small space called the Chapel of Adam.  A couple of windows look to the base of the rocky hill that has been enclosed by the church itself.  This shows the crack its believed was formed from the earthquake at Jesus' death.  You can also see a small Orthodox icon in the upper left depicting the crucifixion.

After a brief stop in the Chapel of Adam, we once again took to the streets of the Old City, making our way back to the Dung Gate where we first entered that morning.  Just around the corner from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer:

The sign at the entrance to the church describing what you can see there.  You'll notice the sign is in German and English.  This property was given by the Ottoman Empire to German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm I in the late 19th century.  The infamous Kaiser Wilhelm II personally dedicated the church when it was completed in 1898.  The church and adjoining buildings remain the property of the Evangelical Church in Germany.  However, there are also offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land on the site, as well as an English speaking congregation served by two pastors from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  This is another place I returned to the following day, since all we got to do was walk by it and snap a few pictures.

Here is the main entrance to the church:

A familiar name along the way:

Here we are walking back east toward the Western Wall Plaza at the Dung Gate.  The Mount of Olives is in the distance:

Here is an overview of the area of the Western Wall.  The security checkpoint is in the foreground, although the area we entered as visitors to the Temple Mount in the morning is just out of frame to the right.  You can see the covered wooden ramp we walked up in the center of the picture.  Beyond it is of course the Dome of the Rock and the primary place of prayer along the Western Wall is to the left of the ramp. 

Once we had a bathroom break (the restrooms here were free, so we took advantage...I haven't mentioned before that some of the toilets we used were pay toilets, usually costing 1 or 2 Israeli shekels, about 50 cents), we gathered to hear Pastor Art read a portion of Solomon's prayer of dedication for the Temple, especially emphasizing the place where Solomon prays that God would hear the prayers of foreigners who come from distant lands to pray in this place.  So in a way, Pastor Art told us, Solomon was praying for us; an excellent thought to center ourselves with as we ourselves went to offer our prayers at the Western Wall.

As I mentioned when we first saw the Western Wall when we were going to the Temple Mount, there are two separate sections for men and women to pray in.  Men are expected to wear something to cover their heads.  Some of our group had caps on, but most of us donned kippahs that were available for anyone to borrow.  After spending some time praying and placing prayer notes in the cracks in the wall, Pastor Art and I posed for a picture:

I told you in my last post that I started paying more attention to children after my experience at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and as we gathered together in the plaza to make our way to where the bus would pick us up again, a group of Israeli schoolboys came along.  Not all Israeli boys dress this way, but this is an example of orthodox or "observant" Jewish schoolboys wearing kippahs, having long locks of hair to the sides of their faces, and also wearing tassels. 

After the schoolboys cleared out of the way and had a seat nearby to eat their picnic lunches, a little girl decided to do some twirls and run around in the open space.  Eventually, she found her way over to the fence in the background where she peered through to look at some of the soldiers at the security checkpoint for the Temple Mount, that is until her mother caught up to her and gently pulled her away.

After boarding the bus, we drove through the city to a different hotel that had a large cafeteria where we had lunch.  After that, we went to the Holocaust Museum for a brief tour.  Here is the visitor's center at the Museum, seen from inside the park. 

The first place our guide showed us was a place called The Righteous Among the Nations, honoring those who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust.  A "forest" of trees is part of this memorial, lining both sides of a path called the Avenue of the Righteous.  Here is the one that honors perhaps the most famous such person: Oskar Schindler of "Schindler's List" fame.  It was planted by Schindler himself in 1962.

The main thing that our guide wanted to show us here was The Children's Memorial, dedicated to the memory of the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.  Here is the sign near the entrance to the memorial:

A view down the path leading into the memorial.  The small bars sticking out of the stone symbolize the lives that were cut short. 

Pictures weren't permitted in the memorial itself, but needless to say it was one of the more sobering experiences of our trip.  There is a recording that plays the names, countries of origin, and ages of the children as you walk through.  After seeing some portraits of some of those Jewish children, you enter the main part of the memorial were many mirrors reflect just a few small candles into an infinite number of lights. 

After the Children's Memorial we walked through Janusz Korczak Plaza and viewed this sculpture that commemorates (surprise!) Janusz Korczak.  He was a Polish pediatrician and author who, according to our guide, was sort of like the Dr. Spock (the famous pediatric author, not the Star Trek character) of his day.  He was also the director of an orphanage in Warsaw.  According to one legend, when the 190-some orphans were taken to the Treblinka extermination camp in 1942, Korczak was supposedly recognized by an SS officer who offered to help him escape.  Korczak refused to leave the children and ultimately went to the gas chambers with them.

Walking back to the visitor's center and entrance, we again passed the Avenue of the Righteous.  This man holding a baby caught my eye, an ordinary scene that almost brought me to tears after our experience here.  It reminded me of a song written by Larry Olson, a Lutheran musician and songwriter, originally from Madison, MN.  During an experience in war-torn Bosnia, he asked a man there what he could do to help.  The man replied that he could teach his children not to hate.  So he wrote a song whose chorus goes, "I will not raise my child to hate your child, I will raise my child to love your child...I will not raise my child to hurt your child, I will raise my child to help your child." 

On a lighter note, we saw this on our way to the bus, a name that should be quite familiar to Minnesotans or at least fans of the Minnesota Vikings:

We also had to endure the sight of snow in the parking lot!

Our last stop of the day was at the Garden Tomb.  This is an alternative site for Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. I'm not sure if I've discussed before about the difference between an "authentic" site and a "traditional" site.  Authentic means there's no dispute about what took place there.  Traditional means that it's where many people believe something happened, but it may not be the exact place.  So there are two traditional sites for where Jesus may have been crucified and buried.  One is at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that we already saw and the other is here at the Garden Tomb.  It was interesting to talk with members of our group later and hear who was more convinced by one or the other. 

At the Garden Tomb, the place has been made into a traditional English garden.  It provided a peaceful place for reflection in the midst of the busy city.  It's outside the walls and to the north of the Old City.  This site provided a guide for us, and the first thing he showed us was the place presumed to be Golgotha or Calvary, the mount of crucifixion. You can see why the Englishman who originally set aside and developed this site thought this might be Golgotha or "the place of the skull" because the rocks do sort of form the face of a skull. 

Next we saw the tomb itself, carved out of a rock face.  Here is our guide explaining the site to us.

This is the entrance to the tomb.  The steps take you over the channel where the large stone would have been rolled along.

Another nice thing about the Garden Tomb is there are many places on the site for worship services to be held.  This gave us another opportunity to worship together, sing a few hymns, and have Holy Communion.  Pastor Art offered another brief sermon as well.  Here I am leading the worship service:

And distributing Holy Communion.  The tomb is behind those trees and shrubs in the background.

After our worship service, we had the chance to go inside the tomb itself.  This is what part of it looked like inside, with areas carved out of the rock where a body could be laid.  This is what a typical family tomb of the time would have looked like.  A body would be left here for a time to decompose, then the bones would be gathered into one of the ossuaries or "bone boxes" we saw earlier in our travels so that the space could be used for the next body. 

After a brief stop in the gift shop, it was time to get back on the bus and head for the hotel to have supper and end our day.  Looking back, it's amazing to see how much we experienced in such a short time.  The two full days we spent touring in Jerusalem were incredible, but also really overwhelming.  It will probably be quite some time yet before I can really wrap my mind around everything we saw.  Thanks again for following along.  Since it looks like I'll be home for most of my day off today, maybe I'll get a start on the next post later this afternoon. 


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