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!

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Holy Land 2012 – Day 8

August 30, 2012

No such luxury of a lie-in this morning as we had a full day of travelling, with a few stops, ahead of us.

So, we said goodbye to the Mount of the Beatitudes Pilgrim Guest House and its nice breakfasts and dodgy dinners and headed towards Tiberias before taking a sharp right (well, it felt like a sharp right!) and took the Nazareth road.

On the way we passed through Cana. Had there been any weddings we might have stopped for a drink but all was quiet so we pressed on to our first stop of the day – the largest Arab town in Israel: Nazareth.

Loay dropped us off by the Orthodox church of the Annunciation. The church is built over the only fresh water spring in Nazareth and, as such, would certainly have been a place visited daily by Mary. There was a service being conducted in the church and Brian invited us to reflect how we would react if, on a Sunday morning, coach loads of tourists wandered around our church, whispering and taking photographs…. Probably not with the equanimity and good grace of the churches we have visited so far.

Walking through the market we next came to the Latin Catholic Basilica of Annunciation, consecrated in 1969 and the biggest church built in the Holy Land for 800 years. Built over 3 tiers, the first being the cave level, contemporaneous with the level of the town in the first century. Ground level is a huge, open basilica whilst, above it is the local ‘parish’ church used by the Latin Catholic congregation of Nazareth today.

Picking up the bus again (once we’d found it – parking isn’t easy in Nazareth!) it was on to Qesaryya (also known as Caeseria Maritima) passing Mt Tabor in the distance on our left, along the plains of Jezreel with Megiddo (or Armageddon) on our right to the Mediterranean coast along the Via Maris.

Despite everything I’ve done for them the group would not let me slope off for a game of golf so it was more amphitheatres, bath houses, amphorae and a hippodrome …. still, after a walk along the promenade and a lovely lunch overlooking the harbour, Brian made up for my disappointment by letting me buy him a double scoop ice cream from Bella’s on the harbour before taking the bus a short trip up the coast to see the remains of the double aqueduct which Herod had constructed to bring fresh water to Caesarea from Haifa.

And from there to our final hotel: 4 nights in the beautiful Notre Dame hotel opposite New Gate in the Jerusalem city walls. Waiting for us there were Khalil, Eliane and their eldest son, Fayez. It was good to see them again and they, well, Eliane (she works here) gave us a potted history of the building. After an evening meal of wonderful tasty, well cooked food (Beatitudes Pilgrim House take note) we walked down to the Damascus Gate and up to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or Church of the Resurrection, if you prefer – which I do). There were no queues for the ‘tomb’ so we all took the opportunity to see inside the ugly structure which commemorates the spot at which Jesus was laid to rest.

The evening being pleasantly cool we walked over to the Western Wall expecting it to be quiet. We were wrong. It wasn’t. Well, the wall was obviously, walls may have ears but mouths are significantly lacking but there was a huge celebration going on as those conscripts who had started their military service in 2010 were being demobbed at the Western Wall. The place was heaving with soldiers happy to be reunited with their loved ones.

A short walk back up through the Muslim and Christian quarters brought us back to the New Gate and our hotel.

Please note: WiFi is no longer free at Notre Dame unless, apparently, you’re a Reverend. The remaining instalments if this blog have cost me $10.

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