Holy Land 2012 – Day 9

August 31, 2012

Our morning started, after breakfast, with a visit to Yad Vashem – the holocaust memorial museum. It is impossible (for me, at any rate) to visit here and not feel, in some way, ashamed and somehow culpable when I revisit the horrors that were actioned against Jews and others by a supposedly civilised nation – and how little notice, at times, other nations, and the leadership of the Churches, took. I am constantly struck by the bravery of the Resistance fighters, and given hope by the way Denmark stood, four square, behind their Jewish citizens and ensured their escape and freedom. “I do not know what a Jew is, we only know what human brings are” Pastor Andre Trocme, August 1942 – Denmark.

As a youth and children’s worker I am all too conscious of the perceived wisdom that many abusers where themselves abused in childhood. Israel seems to fit this pattern perfectly. Having seen how the ‘separation wall’ has affected Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike, and having heard eye-witness testimony of how Palestinians in West Jerusalem were forced to leave their homes and possessions and have their property confiscated by Israelis it is impossible not to be struck by the irony of these words from the information boards in Yad Vashem relating to the way the Nazis responded to the ‘Jewish problem”:

“The Nazis in Poland took special measures against the Jews intended to isolate them from their surroundings, stealing their property…they forced the Jews to live in severely overcrowded ghettos, behind fences and walls. They cut the Jews off from their surroundings and their sources of livelihood and condemned them to a life of humiliation and poverty”.

It was a quiet group that got back on the coach and headed to the Israel museum.

Having found, eventually, the correct entrance (and asked the potentially embarrassing question of if anybody would own up to being a pensioner in order to get a discount) we headed straight for the Shrine of the Book which, dedicated to the display and study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Essene community who wrote them, linked back to our visit to Qumran. The full length facsimile of the Isaiah scroll forms the centrepiece of the exhibition housed in a contemporary building the roof of which is designed to look like the lid of the pot jars in which many of the scrolls had been stored 2000 years before. The scale model (1:50) of Jerusalem at the time of the second temple helped us to orientate ourselves with much of what we would be seeing tomorrow afternoon when we walk the Via Dolorosa through the old city.

We bought some lunch at the museum to take with us to the Augusta Victoria hospital where we had arranged to meet Margot, the director of the international kindergarten which is based at this hospital compound and is run by the Lutheran World Federation. Margot had also arranged for us to gain access to the church tower so that we could take in the spectacular views of the countryside around Jerusalem. Despite the lift not working all but 2 of the group climbed the steps up the tower. I was one of the ‘sensible 2’ as I knew what was coming next and decided to conserve my energy….

Picking us up at 2, the bus dropped us off again at the Church of the Pater Noster – site of one of the 4 churches in the Holy Land constructed on the orders of the Roman Emperor Constantine at the behest of his mother, Queen Helena, who was instrumental in ensuring the conversion of the Roman empire to Christianity. The church commemorates Jesus teaching the Apostles how to pray giving the example of the words in the Lord’s Prayer. Only the ruins of the crypt remain of the original church and, indeed, the magnificent basilica which was planned to be built on the site in the 1920s has never been completed as money ran out…

Passing the tomb of the prophets we then began the steep walk down the Mount of Olives stopping at Dominus Flevit with its 1st century ossuary store, chalice window, Byzantine and Crusader mosaics and the ‘hen and chicks’ (from Luke’s gospel) altar mosaic.

Carrying on down the mount, passing the Jewish cemetery on our left and the Russian Orthodox Convent of Mary Magdalene on our right we reached Gethsemane and The Church of the Agony – also known as the Church of All Nations – our second Barluzzi church of the day (Dominus Flevit bring our first).

Crossing over the Mt Olive road we went down the steps to the Franciscan Cave of the Olive Press with its altar featuring 2 sleeping disciples) before going through the Crusader doorway and down the 44 steps to the Eastern Orthodox church of Mary’s tomb.

Walking along, down and then back up the Kidron Valley, past Absalom’s tomb (and the tombs of the 2 other people we couldn’t remember!) we entered the Old City by the Dung Gate and made our way to near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for a well earned rest, and refreshment, on the rooftop terrace of Papa Andrea’s restaurant.

We forewent visiting the Church of Peter In Gallicantu, and Dormition Abbey, as the group were clearly drained. So, instead, we chose to take the short walk up to Jaffa Gate and, following the walls of the Old City, back to our hotel at Notre Dame centre for dinner and, we hope, a relaxing evening!