Thursday, March 27, 2008


Visiting Jerusalem is an opportunity of a lifetime to many. For me, to visit the Old City of Jerusalem was like a dream coming true. A city so much filled with history, sanctity and emotions that I doubt hardly there would  be any other place in the world that could surpass Jerusalem's special and unique identity. However, as a city, Jerusalem never had any of the natural advantages. She was not situated on any major crossroads, or trade routes. Jerusalem had no natural harbour, no sea coast, nor any river and even had no major water supply. Yet it has been besieged 23 times; attacked an additional 52 times; captured and recaptured 44 times in a time span of 4000 years! Ironically, Jerusalem in Hebrew means “the City of Peace”! The capital city of Israel is spread in an area of 123 km2 with a population numbering 724,000. The Old City of Jerusalem comprising an area of 1 km2 is probably the holiest and the most contested religious site in this planet today. The word “Jerusalem” appears more than 800 times in Bible! Jerusalem with more than 1204 synagogues, 158 churches, and 73 mosques stands as a religious crossroad unlike any place in history. A city where more than 50 religions and denominations worship in 15 different languages with more than 400 holy sites! A city where three days in a week are holidays. The city invokes a lot of energy, expectations and mystery to many. There is even a psychological disorder characterized by religiously themed obsessive ideas and delusions triggered by a visit to the city called the Jerusalem syndrome!

The Abrahamic faith of 3.6 billion Jews, Christians and Muslims (55% of mankind) is derived from the events and personalities associated with this city and its vicinity. I think unlike many other old cities, what make Jerusalem very unique is its unpredictable nature and its extremely rich history blended with sacredness. Traditionally, the Old City has been divided into four quarters, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. The city enshrines one of the holiest sites of the three monotheistic religions. Temple Mount and its Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims. The city is surrounded by walls 4.5 kilometres long, 40 feet high, 10 feet thick and with 8 gates and 34 towers.

Mission Jerusalem began on a Thursday afternoon (20th March) with three Post Doctoral Researchers (originally from India, Italy and Nigeria). We took the egged 446 from Beer Sheva at 1.45 pm and reached Jerusalem central bus sation by 4.15 pm. From Jerusalem Central, we took the City Bus No 66 to the Old City (10 min drive). We entered the Old City through the Damascus gate and walked through the busy markets to the Hebron Youth Hostel, where we had to accommodate ourself for 3 days. The hostel was located at the very heart of the Old City, just near the Church of Holy Sepulcher. In the next 3 nights and 3 days we had an amazing experience through the places visited and the people we interacted.

An Arab who works in UN for Palestine welfare, whose father was a French Jewish Scholar (before converting to Islam) who claims to have saved thousands of Jews during holocaust; A once well placed mathematician who left everything she had just to become the care taker of a church and to proclaim the word of God; An old man with a donkey (he calls him Peter) who has 17 children from 2 wives, struggling to meet his ends meet by begging in street; A Muslim whose family holds the key to the holiest site of Christianity through generations are just some of the few extremes. Among the venues visited, the Good Friday mass attended at the Holy Sepulcher, the Armenian Mass at St. Jame’s Cathedral (One of the most beautiful and melodious I had experienced), the Malayalam mass at St. Marks Syrian Orthodox Church, the visits to the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall were very special for me. Three days were nothing to see the complete Old City, but we were lucky enough to cover the prime destinations. As some one has put it right; every time you visit Jerusalem there is always a temptation to come back.At Sunday evening (23rd March) we took a taxi from the Damascus gate to Central Bus station and took Egged 470 to Beer Sheva at 5.30 pm. Reached Beer Sheva at 7.30 pm and took Metropolin 60 to Sde Boker. Back home by 9 pm.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

The holiest of all sites for Christianity. It stands on a site of Golgotha, or Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and the tomb (sepulchre) where he was buried.

The early Christian community venerated Christ's tomb here from the time of His resurrection until the city was taken by the Romans in 66 AD. In 135 AD, Emperor Hadrian converted the church to a pagan temple of Aphrodite. The site remained beneath this pagan temple until Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in 312 AD. He discovered the Rock of Golgotha and rebuilt the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 326 AD. In the course of the excavations, Constantine's mother St. Helena is believed to have discovered also the True Cross near the tomb.

This Church was severely damaged by fire in 614 AD when the Persians invaded Jerusalem. They also captured the True Cross, but in 630, Emperor Heraclius restored the True Cross to the rebuilt Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In 638, the Christians were forced to surrender Jerusalem to Muslim control under caliph Omar. However, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre continued to function as a Christian church under the protection of Omar and the early Muslim rulers, but this changed on October 18, 1009, when Fatimid Caliph Hakim brutally and systematically destroyed the great church. Crusaders captured Jerusalem on July 15, 1099 and rebuilt the church. The Crusader chief Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the first king of Jerusalem, declared himself "Defender of the Holy Sepulchre." In recent times, a fire (1808) and an earthquake (1927) did extensive damage to the Church.

Today, 6 communities, the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox own the whole Church complex which consists of more than 20 chapels. Ironically, the politics of Holy Sepulcher is so complicated that none of these communities have the control to the main entrance of the Church. The door keeper of the Holy Sepulcher is a Muslim. The responsibility goes for two Muslim families (Joudeh and Nussseibeh) from 1192 AD. Twice each day, a Joudeh family member brings the key to the door, which is locked and unlocked by a Nusseibeh. This arrangement persists till date.

The Church of Holy Sepulcher...

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Good Friday: March 21, 2008 in Church of Holy Sepulcher

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Calvary (or Golgotha):

The place where Jesus was crucified. The first chapel is the Catholic Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross, which is Station 11 on the Via Dolorosa (2P). Just to the left of the altar is a statue of Mary, which is Station 13 (Jesus' body removed from the cross and given to Mary, see 3P).

Adjacent to the Catholic chapel is the Greek Orthodox Calvary, which contains the actual Rock of Calvary (Station 12) around which the church was built. The rock can be seen under glass on either side of the main altar, and beneath the altar there is a hole that allows you to touch the rock itself (1P and 5P).

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Rotunda or Anastasis

It is built on the site of Christ's tomb. The diameter of the huge dome (1P) is about 20.5 meters; the height is 34 meters. Inside, the shrine contains two small rooms. The first is the Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Angel, a stone on which the angel who announced the resurrection of Christ to the holy women is said to have sat. It is probably a remnant of the round stone which closed the mouth of the sepulcher and was rolled away by the angel (3P). A low door then leads to the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre (2P), which contains the tomb of Christ itself. This is the 14th Station of the Cross and the holiest site in Christendom. Here a marble slab (4P)covers the place where the body of Christ was laid and from which he rose from the dead (The Tomb of Jesus is actually below this slab on which the candles are kept). Missed to click the tomb time for sure.

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Stone of Unction

This stone commemorates the preparation of Jesus' body for burial. "Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury" says the scripture [John 19:39-40, Matthew 27: 57-59]. This present limestone slab dates from 1808, when the prior 12th-century slab was destroyed. Pilgrims often rub clothing or bits of fabric on the stone to absorb its sanctity, and take them home as mementos.

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The Coptic chapel

Since the structure of the current Tomb of Christ conceals the original natural rock where he was burried, it can be now seen only in this Coptic Chapel which lies just behind the Rotunda. A part of the rock (where He was burried) is visible beneath the Church's altar. I didnt click the snap as I was not aware that time...It is just below Virgin Mary's Photograph (1P)

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The Catholicon

It is the Greek Orthodox cathedral in Holy Sepulcher. In the middle of the church is the navel/centre of the earth that symbolizes the spiritual centre of the earth (Ezekiel 38:12). Today this is marked by a marble vessel in the west end of the Catholicon (see 2p). It also has, on the left the throne of the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and on the right that of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

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The Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Chapel

The Chapel remains in its original condition, without marble cladding. See the small entrance below the photograph, that leads to a rock-cut tomb cave (2P). It is traditionally ascribed to Joseph of Arimathea, who also provided the tomb for Christ (Matthew 27,60). The caves are indeed very old and date from 1st cent AD.

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Rock of Golgotha

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The Chapel of Adam

Also known as the "Area of the Skull" and the chapel of "Melchizedek". In accordance with tradition, the name of 'skull' and 'Adam' is derived from the fact that this is the spot where they found the skull and relics of Adam. From a crack that was made on the ground when The Cross was erected, rolled the blood of Christ and purified the original sin. The crack in the rock is said to be caused by the earthquake that occurred during the Crucifixion. You can see the rock along with the crack in the enlarged snap, just below the small Christ's crucifixion photograph on the wall...Inside the glass covered by a black frame....
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The Chapel of St. Helena

Dedicated to St. Helena, mother of Constantine who discovered the True Cross, a story first mentioned around 351. In (2P) the altar is dedicated for Dismas (the thief on right side).

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