Day 6 found us touring the first of two days in Jerusalem. Our guide told us this would be the most physically grueling day of our tour.
Our bus took us into the Old City, the old walled section of Jerusalem and we entered through the Lions’ Gate.
First place we visited was the Church of Saint Anne.
Built between 1131 and 1138, it is built over a grotto thought to be the childhood home of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. It is dedicated to Anne and Joachim, parents of Mary. The church is especially known for its excellent acoustics, bringing many groups here to sing.
Nearby is the Pool of Bethesda, known as the place where Jesus miraculously healed a paralyzed man as written in the Gospel of John. The area was discovered during excavations beginning in the 19th century. (John 5:13)
We then went to the Convent of the Sisters of Zion.
During excavation while constructing the church, they discovered the remains of the Antonia Fortress and Temple. This citadel, or fortress, was built by Herod the Great to protect the Second Temple. Herod named it after his patron, Mark Antony. This is thought to be the beginning point of Jesus’ Via Dolorosa walk and the place where Jesus appeared before Pilate, was tried and condemned to death by crucifixion. In one area there are the Lithostrotos, or large flagstones, specially etched to prevent horses from slipping. The Lithostrotos is where Pilate brought Jesus. They placed on him a crown of thorns and purple robe, stood him before the people and Pilate announced “Behold the Man!”. (John 19:5)
According to Christian tradition this hollow was an imprint made when Jesus stumbled and rested his hand upon the wall to keep his balance, and the touch of centuries of pilgrims has smoothed out the stone and made the depression deeper.
We continued down the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Station ten: Jesus is stripped of his garments.
Station eleven: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
There are many who believe this is the holiest place in Jerusalem and is the site of both the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus. The church was built over this site and has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The Rock of Calvary, where the crucifixion is believed to have occurred, is encased in glass, at the Altar of the Crucifixion.
Whether this is the exact location has been hotly debated over the years. We did not visit the Tomb of Jesus inside the church because the line was too long. Wars, destruction and general confusion have altered the preservation of information. Tomorrow we will go to another possible location of the crucifixion and tomb.
Next we went to the Israel Museum, both an art and an archeological museum. It was built in 1965 and is Israel’s largest museum. Our time here was too short but we saw the original Dead Sea Scrolls (no photos allowed), artifacts of Masada and a huge outdoor model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period, 66 A.D. At that time war broke out with the Romans and in 70 A.D., after five years of fighting, the city was destroyed. There was so much more to see here, a full day is needed.
As we headed to lunch we saw groups of people protesting a change in government involving their Supreme Court.
Later in the day, back at our hotel, we saw scenes on TV of the protests escalating into violence in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We were alarmed to find out that the Tel Aviv airport had closed. Our flight home was in two days!! A few hours later we saw that an agreement had been reached to delay the Court decision. This calmed the protesters and the airport reopened. Whew, that was close!!
After lunch we went back to the southwest corner of the Old City of Jerusalem.
We came to the Southern Steps, also called The Teaching Steps. The steps lead to the southern retaining wall of the Temple Mount. The massive staircase was excavated in 1967 and it is believed that Jesus, as a boy, would have ascended these steps to the Temple with his parents for Passover and other Jewish holidays. The steps are only 7 to 10 inches high and each step is 12 to 35 inches deep, forcing those climbing the steps to move in a slow, respectful manner. Millions of pilgrims would have climbed these steps on major festivals and holidays. The rabbis and teachers used these steps for teaching. Jesus used these temple steps for teaching as well. (Luke 21: 37-38)
The Romans destroyed Herod’s Temple, fulfilling Jesus’s prophecy (Matthew 24:2). However the western bottom of Herod’s retaining wall that surrounded the Temple survived as one of the holiest places in Jerusalem and is known as the Western Wall.
We were divided into men on one side and women on the other, we had to pass through tighter security here, emptying our pockets and placing our purses and backpacks to be x rayed. We had to walk through a metal detector similar to the airport.
It is often called “The Wailing Wall”, the most religious site in the world for Jewish people. It is the last remaining outer wall of the ancient Jewish temple. Traditionally Jewish people come to the wall to grieve the destruction of the Temple and city they consider holy. Christians and those of any faith may also pray at the Wailing Wall. Many people bring slips of paper with their prayers and slip them in the cracks of the wall. Over time these slips of paper may fall out of the cracks. Cleaners gather these slips of paper and they are buried on the Mount of Olives. Men had to have their heads covered and men went to the left side and women the right. We noticed the men’s side of the wall was longer. The wall is usually crowded with people. You wait for an opening to go up, touch the wall, and pray.
Next up: We continue our day in Jerusalem