After yet another very full morning, we were eager to relax and dive into lunch! We ate at a very quaint little restaurant near our hotel. The food was so fresh and perfectly seasoned...yum! I can still taste it! We started our meal with a staple in Israel: bread. Unlike Turkish flatbread that is dry and chewy, the flatbread in Israel is very soft and dense; having a pancake-like consistency. It is perfect for dipping! During our trip, we were served hummus at every meal, including breakfast. I enthusiastically heaped it onto my plate three times a day the entire trip. I had heard that Israel's hummus is the best in the world; I heartily agree!
At this restaurant, our bread was also accompanied by pickles, lettuce and tomatoes, and several other delicious dips, including baba ghanoush. Baba ghanoush is a Middle Eastern dish made of mashed eggplant, olive oil, tahina, and various seasonings. This was our first time trying this tasty treat--it was love at first sight! I wish I could've packed some away in my suitcase!
Our main course consisted of chicken and lamb kabobs and rice. Mmmm! Most of our meals during the week consisted of grilled lamb, chicken, or fish and one could always count on an abundance of white, fluffy rice at every meal! We were also often served vegetable soup and lots of fruits and veggies. After our delicious feast, we nibbled on intensely sweet Israeli doughnut holes while our tour guides relaxed and puffed on a hookah with the locals.
We then went back to Mount Zion for our last official stop on our tour: the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu ("the Church of St. Peter where the cock crowed"). This beautiful, somewhat modern church is built over the ruins of Caiaphas's Palace where Jesus stood trial. It was here that Jesus was imprisoned in the "Sacred Pit," where St. Peter denied Christ three times, and where Peter and John were imprisoned after Christ's Resurrection (according to the Book of Acts).
|St. Peter's in Gallicantu|
From the parking lot of the church you could see the City of David below (a southern portion of Jerusalem outside the modern walls where Jerusalem was in King David's time). The Pool of Siloam where Jesus healed the blind man was also below in the City of David.
The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu was extraordinary. It was beautiful, modern, and the ruins inside of it were excellently/reverently preserved. Dan found it very cool that a Christian Church was over a place where such hypocrisy occurred...Caiaphas probably would have torn his hair too if he would have known that his palace would one day have a shrine to the man he condemned built over top of it. God's justice is sooo beautiful and poetic!
|The ceiling of the church...Jesus was likely tried inside the space of this very church!|
|The mosaic over the front altar of Jesus' trial and Caiaphas tearing his garments (on the right).|
After exploring the beautiful upper church, we then went down into the caverns in the lower church. We were able to pray inside the Sacred Pit where Jesus was kept before being brought to Pilate and where Peter and John were kept later. It was very powerful thinking about our Jesus being lowered down into this pit/cell awaiting His death.
|The Sacred Pit where Jesus was kept in Caiaphas' palace before He was taken to Pilate.|
After praying in the Sacred Pit, we went outside to the Church courtyard. I believe that this spot must have been close to where Caiaphas' courtyard was--where Peter denied Jesus. Very powerful to be in the same space. Some sculptures in the courtyard captured the tragic event: "Non novi illum"--"I do not know Him."
Nearby the courtyard were some ancient stairs that dated back to the time of Jesus! The "Holy Steps" led down to the Kidron Valley to the southeast of Jerusalem. It is likely that Christ and His disciples, after the Last Supper in the Upper Room in Mount Zion, descended these stairs into the Kidron Valley on their walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. After arresting Christ, Caiaphas' guards would have brought Him up these stairs to Caiaphas' palace! Very amazing...not many structures/stairs are still intact from Jesus' time--another powerful location!
|The Holy Steps leading down to the Kidron Valley.|
|Jesus being led up the Holy Steps to Caiaphas' Palace|
As we finished exploring the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, Peter (Beaudoin) had a meltdown. He was very tired after seven days of exploring the Holy Land and needed some rest. It came at a good time--our official tour had ended and our tour guide gave each person two options: 1. Take the tour bus back to the hotel OR 2. Go with him back into Jerusalem's Old City to explore the Jewish Quarter which was walking distance away from Mount Zion. Sarah generously volunteered to take Peter and let me (Dan) further explore the Old City...and buy souvenirs. :)
A few other people from our tour group and me headed off with our tour guide back into the Old City. We went through the Zion Gate which was pock-marked with bullet holes from an Arab-Israeli War in the 20th Century. We explored various sections of the Jewish Quarter and saw: some historical synagogues, the remains of the ancient Byzantine "main street" called the "Cardo" which has been built over, an old Crusader marketplace with vaulted ceilings, a section of the city wall called the "Broad Wall" from before Christ's time, and the site where the Knights of St. John (the Hospitaller Knights--a Crusader Order) built their first hospital for pilgrims to Jerusalem.
Our tour guide eventually parted ways with us and we were left to explore the Old City on our own. It was fun to be able to see whatever we wanted. We walked all over the Old City--which is filled with covered bazaars and shops--looking for items on our "to get" lists.
I wanted to see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher again and the rest of the group I was with generously came with me so I could go. I wanted to visit the Church one last time to reflect and say some prayers--this was difficult to do our first time there. I went inside the Church, walked to the Holy Sepulcher, touched my hand to it, and prayed for my family and for all our special intentions. I reflected on how many pilgrims through the ages had so longed to visit Christ's tomb but were unable to due to distance, money, war, sickness, and death. So many pilgrims from Europe throughout history had taken the Cross and journeyed 3,000 miles on foot (the same distance across the Atlantic from England to America). How blest were we to have the same privilege without the dangers and length of that journey--to actually visit the tomb of our Lord and find it EMPTY!
|Dan touching the Holy Sepulcher|
After visiting the Holy Sepulcher for a short time, and almost getting run over by a procession for what appeared to be a Greek Orthodox Patriarch (a high-ranking bishop) either of Jerusalem or of Antioch (both of their thrones are located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher), I journeyed with my friend Anthony to the beginning of the Via Dolorosa to visit the Birthplace of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We had passed by this spot when we walked the Via Dolorosa a couple days before but we did not get to stop and visit it.
We paid the entrance fee and stepped into the area known as "Bethesda." Tradition has it that in Christ's time, Sts. Anne and Joachim lived near the twin pools of Bethesda. The Virgin Mary was born in this spot which is right across the street (to the north) of the Temple Mount.
The church that is standing over the grotto where Mary was born is called the Church of St. Anne (after Mary's mother). The church is a beautiful Crusader Church from the 1100's--one of the few surviving structures from that time. The church was built over the remains of a Byzantine Church from the 400's. After the Muslims took Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, the Muslim leader Saladin made this church into a Muslim law school--in fact, a five line Arabic inscription (from 1192)which is still above the front door to the church, tells about how Saladin, the conqueror of Jerusalem, converted the church to a school.
At the end of the Crimean War between the Ottoman Turkish Empire and Russia, the Sultan of Istanbul in 1856 offered the site to the French government in gratitude for its help during the war. France undertook an extensive restoration, returning St. Anne’s as closely as possible to the original basilica. A second restoration was necessary after the church was damaged during the Six Day War in 1967. The flag of France still flies over the church.
We entered the church and noticed that the stone church had EXCELLENT acoustics (I ran into a pew as I was looking around). We then walked down into the crypt and into the caves where tradition has it the Blessed Mother was born...very incredible!
After exiting the church we went to explore the ruins of a Byzantine/Crusader Church built in between the former pools of Bethesda. It was in this place where Jesus healed a paralytic man:
"After this, there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep [Gate] a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, 'Do you want to be well?' The sick man answered him, 'Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.' Jesus said to him, 'Rise, take up your mat, and walk.' Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked."
-John 5: 1-9
It was very cool to see the spot where Jesus conducted this miracle of healing...a sign marked the spot: "Jesus healed the sick man near these medicinal baths." It's neat for me to think about a sign marking an event where God Incarnate (Jesus) conducted a miracle 2,000 years ago. Coming from Nebraska, I'm used to signs at state parks saying: "This is where a Native American graveyard was." or "This printing press was brought to Bellevue, NE in 1886 and has been here ever since." Places back home that I'm used to were no comparison to the place before my eyes (as with so many other places we had seen in the Holy Land).
Bethesda (which in English means "House of Mercy") was a very holy and amazing place--Christ's miracle and mercy here affected me 2,000 years after He stood next to these baths...
|St. Anne's Church in the background and the ruins of the Byzantine/Crusader church straddling the two Pools of Bethesda|
|A statue of St. Anne and her daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, inside the Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem.|
|The spot where Jesus healed the paralytic at Bethesda |
(the small sign indicating the approximate spot of the miracle is in the lower-middle of the picture slightly above the railing).
After exploring Bethesda, we walked 30 minutes through the crowded Jerusalem streets back to our hotel, The Olive Tree. Sarah and Peter had had a relaxing afternoon and we were all excited to end our day looking at the souvenirs I had bought from Jerusalem. We relaxed the rest of the night and savored the rest of our time in the Holy City.
The next morning, we departed our hotel and flew out of Tel Aviv for Turkey.
Our trip had been an amazing, holy, and busy journey! It wasn't easy the whole time, but it was an experience we wouldn't trade for the world.
During our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, our tour guide told us that many people identify the Holy Land as the "Fifth Gospel." I can definitely say that's true--reading the Bible and hearing the scriptures at Mass has gone from black and white to color for us. I highly recommend to every Christian to "take the Cross" and celebrate the Mystery of Christ's life, death, resurrection, and ascension on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
We pray that any graces the Lord may have granted us on our pilgrimage may rest with you, our family and friends. God bless you all and thanks be to God for all He has done for us!