We climbed on the bus and headed toward the East wall of the old city. We were going to the Northeast corner of the city to enter through a gate near the Church of St. Anne, said to be built over the site where Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born. It is right next to the Pools of Bethesda.
Everywhere you go in Jerusalem you are among olive trees. These were on the outside of the wall near the gate.
We entered the gate and followed the narrow cobblestone street toward the church. We walked past it initially and went first to the Pools of Bethesda. The ruins are fascinating and there is still water in them.
It was here that the Bible says, in John, chapter 5, Jesus healed the lame man on the Sabbath.
5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.
From the pools we walked over to the Church of St. Anne. A very friendly priest was at the door and he encouraged us to come in and sing if we wished.
The church was beautiful in its simplicity.
On the way back out I noticed the incredible, heavy wooden door. It was about 4 inches thick.
In the courtyard next to the church was this cactus that had to have been nearly 30 feet tall.
Upon leaving the church we began our journey down the Via Dolorosa, the "Way of Sorrow." This is said to be the route Jesus followed from the time He was brought to the city after being arrested to Golgotha, where He was crucified. One must realize that even if the path itself is correct, Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuilt and in most places the original road is buried beneath several meters of reconstruction. There are a few places where the original roads have been uncovered and preserved. But for the most part a journey in Christ's footsteps is actually a journey through the area but not exactly on streets He had walked.
We walked the narrow streets in search of the markers that indicated the route.
Our first stop was the Flagellation Church. It is believed this is the very place where Jesus was beaten and whipped by the Roman soldiers.
Lithostrotos, where it is believed Pilate interviewed Jesus and found that He had done nothing wrong. It was underground.
Parts of Lithostrotos have been uncovered. Rocks bearing striations are said to be part of the original Roman road.
This large mosaic mural is on the wall.
It wasn't difficult to imagine Jesus and His disciples walking these narrow streets, seeing the vendors and the eating establishments along the way. Likewise, it wasn't difficult to imagine Him stumbling through the streets carrying the cross or at least its cross piece.
As with all stories of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, the place where He was held is debated. There are three separate places that are called the "Prison of Christ," the first at Lithostrotos. The second is at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Praetorium and the third is under the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu on Mount Zion.
The marker for Station 3 of the cross is said to be at the place where Jesus fell the first time during His walk to Golgotha. And Station 4 is supposedly where He met His mother along the way.
The fifth station is where it is believed Simon of Cyrene was forced by the soldiers to carry the cross for Jesus.
From there the path turned up hill.
I didn't photograph all of the station markers. We didn't stop and talk at each and every one of them. We wanted to get to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, hoping it wouldn't be too crowded. Professor Tolar said on some days, like Sundays, you can spend hours in line waiting to see it.
Station 7 marks the site where Jesus is believed to have fallen the second time. A Franciscan chapel has been built over that site.
One thing Jesus and the crowds would not have seen during His walk to Golgotha was the Muslim minarets that now dot the Holy City.
Finally we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It wasn't terribly crowded, which was a good thing.
As soon as you enter you turn right and ascend a narrow stairway that goes up to where it is believed Jesus was crucified. According to tradition, the church was built on top of Golgotha and houses the place where Jesus' cross was placed in the ground as well as the very tomb in which His body was laid.
There is also a large stone believed to be where Jesus was laid while his body was washed and prepared for burial.
The church is very ornate with crosses, chandeliers and candles, as one would expect.
(Stairway up to Golgotha)
Encased in glass is a part of the rock that made up the top of Calvary/Golgotha. Holes were carved into this rock for the bases of the crosses to be placed in.
Right next to the rock is an alter. Under the alter is a hole that is said to be the very hole that held the cross of Jesus when He was crucified.
As you wind your way back down the stairs you come to the Stone of Anointing, a flat stone where it is believed Jesus was laid and prepared for burial following His death.
A short distance away is the room that contains the tomb itself, inside a large structure. The line formed at the back of the structure and it took us about 15 minutes to get up to it. Only four or five people can enter the area of the tomb at a time.
To get to the actual tomb you must enter the anteroom and pass through this low door. The protective marble slab is over top of what is said to be the actual limestone ledge where Jesus was laid.
I have always believed that Jesus was buried in a garden-type area further away from the site of his crucifixion. According to Professor Tolar, archaeological evidence very strongly indicates that the sites here in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are genuine. (In a few days I will write about the Garden Tomb which, if it is not the actual tomb, the story is certainly believable enough to make one wonder.)
I must say that to be in this place, where our Lord voluntarily died for all of us, was an emotional time. I have read an article written by a medical doctor about what Christ suffered from the time He was arrested and the time He died. It was horrific. The things He endured before He was ever nailed to the cross were more than most men would probably survive. It was very moving to be in the very places where Jesus sacrificed Himself for me.
Under another section of the church, which was first built by Constantine in 325AD, is the Church of St. Helena, named after Constantine's mother.
Down another flight of stairs is a room known as the Chapel of the True Cross. It is said that Helena found the cross of Jesus in this area when it was uncovered but the cross eventually disappeared due to pilgrims to the holy place taking small pieces of it with them. It is also said that if all those pieces, held by so many people and churches around the world, were put back together the cross it created would be huge.
(Alter in the Chapel of the True Cross)
(Original fresco in the Chapel of the True Cross)
On the wall of the stairway are crosses carved into the stone by pilgrims who have visited St. Helena's chapel and the Church of the True Cross. As discussed before, this is the cross of the Crusaders that has been adapted as the cross of Jerusalem.
From the church we walked through old Jerusalem, past shops and street vendors, to a restaurant for lunch. On the way we passed through several archaeological sites that will be discussed in my next post, along with the Wailing Wall.