Tens of thousands of people come to Jerusalem every year to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and walk the path of the Crucafiction known as the Via Dolorosa. The route is comprised of 14 stations of the cross, 9 along the approaching route and the final five inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
I appreciate the powerful symbolism and the visceral real world connection the path is meant to evoke for the faithful. I have to say though that the cerebral ideal versus the actuality of walking it turned out to be a bit disappointing.
The way as it stands now was was established in the 18th century by a committee of competing church denominations. It's hard to imagine Jesus winding his way up and down, sometimes backtracking or descending multiple stairways, to make sure that one important part of his ordeal occurred in front of or near a church representative to each of the faiths. But I guess it's possible.
Part of the Via Dolorosa. Don't wait, get your Hard Rock shirt to prove you walked it.
Posting big numbers along the route didn't help much either. I felt like it encouraged people to treat it like the Holy Scavenger Hunt.
"Hey Martha! I found number 7 right here behind the baklava stall! Grab the kids, take a picture, quick, quick!" Collect them all folks.
Some churches preferred to keep and air of mystery. No explaining!
The final stop is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The building is a fascinating amalgam of bits and pieces of architecture added and removed over the centuries. Supposedly it stands on the Hill of Calvary where Jesus was crucified. It is also said to contain the grave where he rose from the dead.
My favorite story about the church arose over a management spat. The various Christian factions in control couldn't work out who was to be in charge of the main entrance. They finally gave the key to a Muslim family in 1192, and to this day, that same family is responsible for opening and closing the door every day of the week. Talk about a family tradition.
The Stone of Anointing, said to be the spot Jesus' body was prepared for burial. Regardless of the fact that the stone wasn't added until 1810.
The Church also used to house what was thought to be the true cross. Over the years though, faithful pilgrims would pretend to pray over it while surreptitiously taking a bite out for a souvenir. It soon disappeared.
During our visit the place was packed. Crowd control was nonexistent so instead of orderly lines, the various sights of interest were mobbed by shuffling, elbow pushing crowds. Confusion seemed prevalent as well. We often heard conversations like this:
"No, they stabbed him over there by that lamp, this is the hole you stick your hand in to make a wish, and I think the thing you kiss is upstairs."
My favorite part of the church was St. Helena's chapel, named for Emperor Constantine's mom. In the basement and out of the way, it provided a cool and calm respite from the frenetic pilgriming above.
The walls are covered with carved medieval graffiti and the floor houses a lovely and well preserved mosaic. It smelled faintly of incense as priests walked by outside slowly waving smoking censers.
Our final stop in the life of Jesus was the Cenacle, the room they think played host to the last supper. More accurately they think it is the spot that played host as buildings put there have a nasty habit of being burned down or otherwise destroyed.
The current room was probably built in the 1200's and then converted into a small mosque during Ottoman rule. It's changed hands a lot and Israel is currently in talks with the Vatican to trade control of it in return for a synagogue in Toledo Spain. Whatever the outcome, it's a beautiful and evocative space.
Feeling a touch of religious overload, we put our secular pants back on and double timed it to the Israel Museum. To date, this place wins my vote as best museum of the trip. If you visit Jerusalem, you really can't miss checking it out.
The holdings include a mind boggling archeological wing, entire reconstructed synogogues and french salons, a beautifully laid out sculpture garden, micromosaics that'll make your eyes cross, contemporary Israeli artists, furniture and graphic design of the 20th century, and more Impressionists and Grand Masters than you can beat to death with an easel.
Just a small corner of it.
When you first arrive, you're greeted by an insanely detailed 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem from the Second Temple period. Calling it impressive doesn't do it justice.
They also have a wonderful display of Jewish Art and Life. They've collected outfits, torah covers, spice boxes, mezuzahs, and untold other relics from around the globe.
I loved this bridal dress from Yemen.
And comparing the international menorahs gave me a new appreciation of what you can do with a simple candle holder.
Oh. And did I mention that they also happen to have the DEAD SEA SCROLLS? Who has the Dead Sea Scrolls? It's crazy I tell ya.
The exhibit hall that they've set up makes for a classy display and the online interactive database assembled by the Museum is a really groundbreaking piece of work.
Not knowing the scope of the place, we only had about 4 hours. Just enough time to scratch the surface. We could have easily spent all day and part of the next, but I guess I'll put my faith in the old adage and be glad I left wanting more.
That wraps up our time in Israel. Next, we don hats and whips and make for Jordan to live out our crazy Indiana Jones fanatasies.
But for now,
Bye from the Holy Land!