The Christian Bazaar
Damascus Gate, a short walk
from our hotel, is the most heavily used portal into
the Old City. We plunged in at mid-morning.
Although you can break off the
main artery and explore a quiet, unmarked "ascent"
in order to make progress in
your sightseeing, you must rub shoulders with
multitudes and at the same time hold off the
merchants who beseech you from both sides of the
narrow street. This is Christian Quarter Road,
basically an extended souk (market). Almost all of
the Old City is closed to cars and trucks.
Jerusalem has known two
intense periods of Christian hegemony: the Byzantine
period (from the 4th to 7th centuries) and the
Crusader period (in the 12th century).
Here is a model of the Byzantine city, with its
blank and expectant Temple Mount, expectant because
Jesus promised that when he came back, he would
rebuild the (not yet ruined) Temple in just three
days. So the Mount was left empty. Literal-minded
Christians are still with us today.
Be that as it may, our goal
was to see as many of the holy places of
Christianity as possible.
The modest courtyard of the
Holy Sepulchre Church. Some call this the most
important site in Christianity. The Sepulchre Church
is actually a conglomerate of rivals, all of
them the Greek, Armenian, and Syrian Orthodox; the Roman
Catholics, Copts, and Ethiopian Christians seeking to preside over the
burial place of Jesus.
The Rotunda of the Sepulchre
Church, with altars on top of altars. After the
Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity
in the 4th century, his mother, Helena, swooped into
Jerusalem. She "rediscovered" most of the important
sites that are mentioned in the New Testament. Today
both Golgotha and Christ's Tomb are rather
miraculously ensconced within this one grand
The Catholic altar at
A Greek Orthodox priest mans
the entrance to Christ's Tomb. At the top of the
picture you see part of the line of waiting
pilgrims. They are speaking foreign tongues. When
your turn comes, you duck inside (no photos
allowed), touch the cracked slab where his body was
said to be laid, wrestle briefly with your thoughts
and emotions, and are whisked out again.
Another view of the Sepulchre
I haven't mentioned that feral
cats abound in Jerusalem. This one is in the garden
of St. Anne's Church.
The interior of St. Anne's
Church, a Romanesque structure from the Crusader
era, which has been renovated. The acoustics of the
stone vaulting are fabulous, and probably are
world-renowned, because two different pilgrim choirs
gave impromptu performances while we were inside.
Pagan baths and Byzantine
grottos have been unearthed at the site of St.
Anne's. The oldest stuff in Jerusalem is overtopped
everywhere by the less-old. Paradoxically, the
newest structures, being most complete, create the
strongest religious impressions.
The traditional location of
the Garden of Gesthemane is at the base of the Mount
of Olives. Those are olive trees in the foreground.
At upper right is the walled-off Golden Gate,
Now the view is reversed. From
the Old City you look across to the Mount of Olives.
The Basilica of the Agony, a 20th-century church
having a long pedigree, is at lower left. The
artwork both inside and out emphasizes Christ's
painful contemplation of his fate and his betrayal
by Judas. The Church of St. Mary Magdalene, center,
is Russian Orthodox. We missed the visiting hours
Detail at the Basilica of the
The Garden Tomb, just north of
the Old City. In the 19th century a British general
argued that this old quarry was the actual site of
Golgotha, which meant that the Golgotha (a.k.a.
Calvary or the Crucifixion site) that was proclaimed
at the Holy Sepulchre Church was the wrong one.
Golgotha means Place of the Skull, and as anyone can
see, the eyes and nose of a skull are apparent in
the rock. Though experts demur, the Garden Tomb
draws reverent crowds.
The point is who's to say? Is
this really the Apostle Peter's Prison? Who knew
that St. Peter was even in prison? This place isn't
listed in the guidebook. I'm tired of the guidebook
anyway. After a long hot day covering the sites,
your credulity may be strained.
The wrought iron gate at St.
James's Cathedral, in the Armenian Quarter. The
interior of the church high and dark, devoid of
pews, full of Oriental rugs was open only in
snatches. On our last day we came at 3 p.m. and
discovered a service. It featured two dozen young
seminarians chanting classical Armenian and lots of
incense. No pictures were permitted, nor was there
to be any untoward crossing of the legs during the
Courtyard of St. James's
Orthodox Christians in the
St. Mark's Church (Syrian
Orthodox) has the feeling of a boutique church. It
was small and soothing. The icons were pleasingly
arranged. The priest had a long, gray beard and a
wise, kind face.