Monday, June 20, 2011

Holy Land: The Wailing Wall, Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Seplucher (Day 5: morning, 2 June 2011)

Our fifth day in the Holy Land was one of the most meaningful and unforgettable days of our pilgrimage.  We began our first full day in Jerusalem by visiting the Wailing Wall.  The Wailing Wall, built by King Solomon, is the remnant of the wall that surrounded the Temple Mount and one of the holiest sites in Judaism.  The wall is all that remains of the Temple complex after it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.  Therefore, for Jews, it has been a venerated place of sorrow for hundreds of years--hence "Wailing" Wall.

The wall was divided into two sections, separating the men and the women.  I joined the ladies from our group and Dan took Peter to the other side.  Because the Wailing Wall area is considered a large open-air synagogue, Dan and Peter had to cover their heads to enter the area.  They had free Jewish skull caps called "kippahs" that they put on.  We visited on a Thursday which is one of the holy days of worship.  The area was bustling with devout Jews coming for worship and pilgrims from all over the world.  Peter was a little afraid of all the praying Jewish men with tallits (Jewish prayer shawls) covering their heads.  There were many Bar Mitzfas taking place on the men's side of the wall.  Thirteen-year-old boys were carrying tabernacles (ornate containers that held scrolls of the Torah) to places where they could read the Word of God for the first time.  There was a buzz of excitement, singing, and horns blowing celebrating these events.  The women's side was much more subdued, though several of the women stood on chairs and peeked over the divider to catch a glimpse of the festivities on the men's side.  It was beautiful and interesting to visit a sight of such great significance for so many people.

The men's side of the Wailing Wall

Peter and Dan in their kippahs near the Wailing Wall

Next, we walked up to the top of the Temple Mount.  On top of the Temple Mount were many important places/structures.  On our right was the Al Aqsa Mosque.  This mosque was built soon after Islam began.  It commemorates Mohammed's Ascension to Heaven from the Temple Mount--a belief held by Muslims.  Once the Crusaders took Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099, this mosque became the headquarters of the Templar Knights and the palace of the Crusader Kings of Jerusalem.  After seeing the outside of the Al Aqsa Mosque, we walked up to the Dome of the Rock, an important Islamic mosque built upon the Temple Mount.  Women were asked to cover our arms with scarves or jackets before approaching.  Though we were not permitted to enter the mosque, we spent time admiring the details of its design from outside.  This mosque is built over the rock which Muslim tradition holds is the actual spot Mohammed ascended to Heaven.  It is also thought that this spot might have been where the Holy of Holies was in the Jewish Temple--but no one knows for certain.  Jews are actually prohibited by their religion from setting foot on the Temple Mount for fear of offending God by accidentally stepping through the area that actually was the Holy of Holies.

The Dome of the Rock

It was amazing walking around the Temple Mount.  Jesus was Presented to God here, was found by His parents when he was 12, was tempted by Satan, preached here, and drove out the money changers.

As we left the Dome of the Rock, we stopped by the ruins of the Golden Gate.  This was the site that Mary's parents, Anne and Joachim, met.  It is also the gate (which faces the Mount of Olives) where, tradition holds, the Messiah will enter Jerusalem upon his Second Coming.

We continued walking, quietly singing Old MacDonald to entertain Peter, and soon left the Temple Mount and reached the Lions Gate.  Nearby the Lions Gate is the traditional spot were St. Stephen was stoned.  We then walked west down a road which was north of the Temple Mount.  Along this road we walked by the Crusader Church of St. Anne (where St. Anne and the Blessed Virgin Mary are believed to have been born) and the former Pools of Bethesda (where Jesus healed a paralytic).  As we continued to walk, we approached the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Christ's Cross which beings just north of the Temple Mount.  The Via Dolorosa was one of the most moving and memorable experiences of the pilgrimage.  It was unbelievable to walk the same path as Christ as He carried the cross to Golgotha.  We stopped at a worn spot on a stone wall; believed to be the spot that Christ laid His hand to rest.  Each Station of the Cross, commemorating different parts of His journey to the crucifixion, was marked with a sign and a chapel.  Our group stopped at each station, reflected, offered up petitions to God, and prayed an Our Father. 

The Via Dolorosa was right in the middle of Old City Jerusalem.  The very narrow, old streets were full of pilgrims in prayer.  The streets were also lined with gift shops and aggressive salesmen.  At first, I found the salesmen, pushing their postcards and souvenirs, to be distracting and annoying.  Can't you see that we are here to pray and meditate, not shop!?  But soon I began to imagine Christ's painful Way of the Cross in the busy Jerusalem streets.  I pictured the busy markets, onlookers jeering and spitting, soldiers yelling.  The setting of Christ's Passion was not in a quiet, peaceful sanctuary, rather, it was in the midst of chaos.  Soon, the yelling of the salesmen and the bustling crowds fueled my meditation and helped bring the scriptures to life. 

Each Station of the Cross was beautiful and meaningful.  Personally, the most powerful station was when Jesus Met His Mother.  This Station has always been touching, but has taken on even more meaning since I've become a mother.  I can't imagine the pain that Mary endured as she watched her Son carry His cross.  The heartache must've been unbearable.  We entered a quiet, underground chapel commemorating this spot.  Jesus in the Eucharist was held in a very large gold monstrance at the front of the chapel.  We stopped to pray and rest our souls in the peace of the presence of Christ.  What a beautiful sanctuary. 

Our Way of the Cross led us to Calvary, where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands.  We entered this massively large church and weaved our way through the hundreds of pilgrims filling its walls to the brim. The church was dimly lit and filled with countless candles in ornate gold candle holders hanging from the ceiling.  We moved to our right and began to climb stairs that took us to the top of Golgotha.  We moved through the crowds and approached the stone that the Cross of Christ stood.  The stone sat under an altar.  We waited our turn to encounter this holy spot.  When we came close, Dan and I grabbed each other's arms and dove under the altar with Peter to place our hands where Christ's Cross stood.  It was incredible.  We tried to soak up every precious moment we had in this sacred space before our time was up. 

The Chapel of the Crucifixion.
The Crucifix marks the exact spot where Jesus was crucified.

Next, we moved toward a small chapel/edicule within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that contained Christ's tomb!  A long line of pilgrims waited to enter this very small chapel where Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday.  We spent the 30 minutes in line entertaining Peter with stickers and songs.  We softly sang "Jesus Christ is Risen Today", one of Peter's very favorite songs that he requests often.  Peter even sang "A yah yah" ("Alleluia") as we waited in line.  As we neared the front of the line, Peter and I were spotted by the Greek Orthodox priest who controlled entry into the Sepulcher.  He motioned for us to move to the front of the line because I had a little child.  Dan boldly requested, "Can I come too?"  He responded with a sharp "no".  So, Peter and I moved to the front of the line and prepared to enter Christ's tomb.

Inside of the chapel was a small outer room, and a very small inner room.  The outer room held a piece of the stone that was rolled away by the angel on Easter Sunday.  It also served as a waiting room.  We waited with a Greek Orthodox priest and about five others.  Soon, the priest motioned for Peter and I to enter the small inner room.  I bent low and crawled into the chapel, the doorway was barely 4 feet tall!  The chapel of Christ's tomb was only large enough for about five adults to enter at a time and was dimly lit with candles.  The small chapel was very quiet and serene.  I knelt before the stone on which Christ was laid while Peter quietly stood next to me.  I whispered to him "Jesus was here".  I whispered "I love You, Jesus" with Peter.  I placed my hand on the stone.  Peter watched and then placed his little hand next to mine.  I then bowed my head and kissed the holy spot.  Peter watched, stood up on his tippy toes, and reverently kissed the stone as well.  It was absolutely beautiful.  At that moment, I knew that we had made the right decision to bring our little one on this pilgrimage.  To share a moment like that with my little boy is something I will never forget.  Soon, the Greek Orthodox priest encouraged us to leave to keep the line moving. 

The Beaudoin Family outside Christ's Tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Sarah and Peter entering the edicule which contained Christ's Tomb

Peter and I found a quiet corner in the church to play with one of his cars while we waited for Dan and the rest of the group.  An old Italian woman stopped to play with Peter, saying "toot, toot!" as Peter drove his little red car on the ancient stone floor.

No comments:

Post a Comment