On our last day, some of us had a leisurely morning to pack and get ready for the late morning and afternoon tours. Others headed back to Bethlehem to see the place where the manger was; however, the Armenians were having a ceremony and they couldn't get in after all. Although we had been there earlier in our tour, the shouting match with the Russian tour guide had left a bad impression, so our guide and director offered to take those who wanted back. I felt bad they didn't get what they were seeking.
Mom and I enjoyed a cappuccino in the downstairs cafe, which Father Bob said had the best coffee he has ever had, and then packed our bags and did a last charge of our devices.
Then it was off to Abu Gosh for lunch and to a mass and to see the defaced Frescos on an ancient church. The Muslims had come through and rubbed out all of the faces, thinking it was unholy to have depictions of God and prophets.
After we went to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex, the oldest and most complete version of the Hebrew Bible that had been housed in Aleppo, Syria, but now has been brought to Israel. The museum also had an outdoor model of Old Jerusalem, with the old wall and surroundings. Shafiq, our guide, put everything in perspective as he pointed out all of the places we visited using the model.
We stayed at the museum until it closed, marvelling at the pottery jars that held the scrolls, the scrolls themselves, the Aleppo Codex and how closely it follows the Bibles we have today, and other ancient artifacts. On the bus as we traveled to our dining place, we saw that the streets in the Jewish section were bustling. We especially saw many men pushing baby carriages and strollers. Shafiq explained that it was Thursday, the last time to shop before the eve of the Sabbath (Friday) and the Sabbath (Saturday) itself. During this time, everyone has to prepare meals and do household chores as they are not allowed to do so on Friday and Saturday. And he said Thursday night is like Friday and Saturday night in America: time to eat out, go to the bar, date, etc. Since beer is considered a leavened food (grain with yeast), it cannot be drunk during this time; only wine.
Then we had to have an early supper as some were headed directly to the airport, my mom and myself included, while others would return to the hotel for an overnight before a morning flight. It was very hard to eat so early after a filling lunch, but we tried. And it was hard to say goodbye to all of our fellow pilgrims, turned friends.
The airport had a few bumps but we all got through and home safely. Wow! What a trip. It will take a while to process everything we saw and learned.
When I arrived home, it was hard to get back into daily life as it seemed such a strange lifestyle compared to what I had just experienced. It was as if I were looking at Great Falls, Montana, and the United States culture with all new eyes. I'm still adjusting.
Chrissie's Last Petition is Placed in the Wall
Today we had a day of intensity, probably the most from our journey as we would be visiting the place of Jesus' death, but also his resurrection. We started the day at 5:25 a.m. walking through the Damascus Gate, later called the St. Stephen Gate, to follow Christ's footsteps at he carried the cross. We carried a much smaller cross and we took turns carrying it, four by four at a time, stopping at each station to recite it and sing "Were you There."
After our procession along the streets of Jerusalem, we ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where Jesus was crucified and buried. We ascended the steps to Golgotha, the skull. (From Wikipedia "also called the Church of the Resurrection or Church of the Anastasis by Orthodox Christians) is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, a few steps away from the Muristan. The church contains, according to traditions dating back to at least the fourth century, the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus of Nazareth was circumcised, presented in the temple, where he drove out the money changers, and was crucified, at a place known as "Calvary" or "Golgotha", and Jesus's empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. The tomb is enclosed by the 18th-century shrine, called the Aedicule (Edicule)." Read more about how National Geographic researchers discovered that the site is the original from the first century.
As a side note, a ladder is propped on an upper story window. Supposedly, none of the six Christian orders who control the church (Syriac, Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Catholic) will not let it be removed. It is said it can be removed only when the Christians come together as one. Read more about the "immovable" ladder.
As we walked these ancient streets, cats were everywhere, sniffing garbage and hoping for a handout from the local shopkeepers who weren't quite open yet. Cocks were also crowing, making it a bit eerie, and reminiscent of Bible stories. And our guide, Shafiq, mentioned that we should be glad we could not hear the Muslim's mocking us, saying "stupid heretics" or calling us "vampires" because we "drink the blood of our God" as we walked with the cross. This surprised me as they did not seem to show it in their outward appearance as we passed them.
Shafiq later mentioned that most of the shops in the Christian quarter were now run by Muslims calling themselves Mary and Joseph. He showed us the Christian shops. The whole experience put a different perspective on the holy wars. The tensions were very palpable here unlike Great Falls, Montana, where multi-faith is more accepted. Shafiq explained about tensions between Protestants and Catholics too.
The we walked back to the hotel to have breakfast, this time exiting through the New Gate. Shafiq said the St. Stephen's gate used to be the animal market, selling sheep and goats, even from when he was a child, but now it is the garbage collection, with dumpsters all over. He also explained about the bricks from the Herodian period in the wall around Jerusalem, which have frames, or borders around them and the slit windows in the wall to protect from flying arrows.
The St. Stephen's gate, also called the Gate of Lions, since four of them flank the sides, had a place to pour boiling oil on any enemy that might attempt to come through the gate.
Then we went to St. Anne's church, possibly Mary's birthplace, with contained the baths of Bethesda. The cisterns were still there and were still collecting water.
Then we visited the place were Ponius Pilate would stay, the Antonia Fortress, named for Marc Antony.
Our final stop on the walking tour was the Western (or Wailing) Wall. It was here that I delivered 14 petitions from friends into the cracks. Among them was Chrissie Jacksons last(?) prayer request, that only God knows. The wall is a holy place. It is the only section of the Second Temple that the Romans did not destroy in 70 CE.
At the Wall, women and men are separated into different sections, partitioned by a barrier. Christians pray alongside Jews, reflecting their shared spiritual heritage. United States presidents as well as popes have left prayers.
But what becomes of these handwritten prayers? Jewish law dictates that holy texts may not be destroyed, and these notes fall into that category. So, twice annually—before Passover in the springtime and before the Jewish New Year in the fall—the notes are removed and buried on the Mount of Olives.
To Read More
After, we had a traditional "sandwich" lunch of falafel or chicken swarma with salad wrapped in bread and pound cake for dessert. Our meal gave us energy to head back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, this time to visit the tomb, which had a long line. The Orthodox priests did not give us time to do anything except take a quick look at the tomb, which is covered by marble to protect is as people were taking pieces of it as souvenirs. However, the renovators did remove one actual piece and displayed it under glass, so we could see what the actual wall of the cave looked like. The line stopped once for an incense ceremony, which was interesting.
The it was back to the hotel or a chance for shopping. Mom and I along with Mary and Yvette to visit the gate of Damascus in daylight, since it is the gate that leads from Syria to Nazareth. We were able to enjoy the market, watching the many women selling grape leaves, collard greens, beans, green almonds and other produce. I purchased some strawberries, which were very delicious.
We purchased a bracelet of the local stone: malachite and headed back to the hotel. Then after dinner, we were taken on a tour of the history of the shroud in a museum attached to our Notre Dame hotel.
It was with such sorrow that I started this day, having learned the night before that our dear friend Chrissie Jackson had been in a horse-back riding accident and was now brain dead and awaiting the arrival of her family and the harvesting of her organs. The prayers on the prayer chain turned from praying for Chrissie to praying for her organ recipients at the request of her children. So Father Bob graciously agree to mention her name at mass at the Garden of Gethsemane. All day, at every holy site, I kept Chrissie and her family in my prayers and foremost in my mind.
I kept thinking about how just the Sunday before I left how I had enjoyed a nice visit with her after church, how she handed me a petition to take to the Western Wall, how she volunteered to lead some hikes this summer, how she was so excited to be traveling to Germany this summer and more.
|The day started with a visit to the Church of the Pater Noster, where the entrance had the Lord's Prayer written in many languages. This was a common theme in many of the churches we visited: a prayer in the courtyard, repeated in as many languages as you could think of. There was a cave, said to be the place where Jesus taught the disciples the prayer.
There were also some burial columbariums from the 1st century discovered there. We saw the many ossuaries with decorations that would have contained the skeletons of the dead, place in them by the family after a year of mourning. Our guide reminded us that chiseling is done more easily right to left so that is why Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic are written that way. Shafiq recited the Lord's Prayer for us in Aramaic.
Then we went to the Mount of Olives to a Jewish cemetary with a beautiful view of Jerusalem. the bodies are buried facing east and people are still buried there to day for the price of $25,000-$30,000. In fact, the police came and made us leave as a funeral was about to start.
We then followed the Palm Sunday road into the old town of Jerusalem. Then we stopped at the Church of the Lord's weeping, where Jesus cried before his last hour. The church is in the shape of a tear.
From the road, we can see the Golden Gates into Jerusalem. Saladin, a Muslim, sealed up the gates in the 800s so that no second coming of the Messiah can happen.
We then visited the Rock of Agony, where Jesus' Disciples fell asleep instead of staying up with him.
For lunch we had Makluba, an upside down lunch, a meal of rice and vegetables baked in a large pot and then turned over onto a plate. Shafiq explained a bit more about food for Easter, including mamoul, a cookie made with course semolina flour and stuffed with dates or pistachios. He also said they pick yellow flowers and boil them with eggs to turn them yellow.
We then visited the Dormition Abbey, the place it is believed that Mary died in her sleep and then was taken to heaven body and soul. This place is right next to where the last supper was held.
We also visited the Church of King David, a revered place for the Jewish people.
On Mount Zion, the last supper was held. The church was turned into a mosque and then taken back during the crusades. now it is owned by the state of Israel.
Then we visited the house of Caiaphas, the high priest. we saw the dungeon where Jesus was held and questioned. "In November 1990, workers found an ornate limestone ossuary while paving a road in the Peace Forest south of the Abu Tor neighborhood of Jerusalem. This ossuary appeared authentic and contained human remains. An Aramaic inscription on the side was thought to read "Joseph son of Caiaphas" and on the basis of this the bones of an elderly man were considered to belong to the High Priest Caiaphas." (wikipedia)
Then we headed back to the hotel but a few of us went with Father Bob to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, wandering down the streets of shops in old Jerusalem.
After our breakfast in the hotel, we headed to the tomb of Lazarus in the town of Bethany. Our guide Shafiq explained that the burial cave probably wasn't his tomb because it would have been one for a wealthy man, which Lazarus was not. Instead, he is probably in the cemetary area. However, we ventured down the steep stone stairs to a tiny enclosure that could fit about 10 people. The passageway was also very narrow and fit for short-people only. Even though it probably wasn't the correct grave site, it was still fascinating to see a first-century burial space with niches carved for offerings and incense.
Then we headed into the Jordan Valley to the 2,000-year-old ancient ruins of Qumran. On the way, we observed many Bedouin communities, nestled in the desert valleys with a few donkeys, camels and goats grazing the few shoots brave enough to grow on such dry desolate land. The town of Qumran housed
the Second Temple and is also the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written and later discovered.
The hills are littered with caves among the hills.
We had a traditional meal, this time shish kebob, along with the same salads or corn, lebne, hummus, olives, slaw, etc. and pita bread. It was citrus season so we had the sweetest oranges for desert along with mint-muddled lemonade. We went shopping at a place that makes traditional blown Hebron glass. Some rode a camel that was conveniently located outside the restaurant. However, I feel the camel was mistreated as it was muzzled, kept trying to bite its masters and wasn't treated with love. I felt sorry for it.
From here, we traveled to the River Jordan, where many were getting baptized. Father Bob blessed us and had us renew our baptismal vows on the shore. The water is very muddy; however, most of us collected a bit of it in water bottles. We were on the Israeli side and had to stay there. But we were able to wave across the river to those in Jordan on the other bank; in fact, Father Bob led us in singing alleluia and they echoed our song from across the river.
We then toured the ruins of Jericho and saw parts of the wall around it. The desert has many hills around it, including the hill of "hell," and a monastery high up on the mountainside. A tram was taking people to this place, but we did not go. Instead, we walked among the unearthed ruins of the town.
Finally, we had the chance to float in the Dead Sea, the lowest and saltiest spot on Earth. People were smearing the black mud from the bottom on themselves and then washing off in the algaed water. Again, a man with a camel awaited riders or those who wanted to take pictures. However, this man was very loving to his camel, petting and kissing him. I had a chance to talk to him. He said he was a Bedouin and that it took a two-hour camel ride to reach the tourist destination. He said that his family of 17 lived together, with the "Sities" (grandmothers), etc. The children rode to school on donkeys, which took one hour to get into the town of Jericho. The were educated at home until age 10 and then sent to school for a few years, if I understood his broken English well.
Then it was back to the hotel for dinner. I had to have knaffe for dessert. It was delicious.
into Jerusalem: The Visitation, shopping, The nativity, st. jerome's cave, the shepherd's field, milk grotto
This day had the most ups and down, figuratively and literally. Our first stop was the site of the first church, the Church of the Visitation, the oldest remaining, since it was left untouched by the Persians during the year 614, when all of the Christian churches were destroyed. Why? Because the church had pictures of the three Magi painted on it, so the invaders thought it was a church of their own people. It is located in Ein Karem on the west side of Jerusalem. This church had a very steep, 25-flights-of-stairs climb.
From there, we traveled to Bethlehem, having to travel though the gates, but we didn't get stopped coming or going. However, our guide told us to put all of our cameras away and not to try to take any pictures as we crossed through.
Then we went shopping in the Christian district of Palestine. The shops help support the few Christians who remain. Shafiq, our guide, says fewer and fewer choose to stay. The shops are famous for olive wood carvings, malachite jewelry, diamonds, Jerusalem crosses and Russian icons, dating from the 17th-19th century, These icons run anywhere from 1,500-50,000 U.S. dollars. Two of the gals on the tour bought one each. Shafiq says his favorite are the icons and he has several at his house. His preference is for depictions of St. George slaying the dragon. Mother purchased a Jerusalem cross for me with a Bethlehem star in the middle of it. I got some olive wood carvings of Mary holding the baby Jesus.
Then we had Shepherd's lunch at the Shepherd's Grotto. The lunch included many traditional salads of corn, carrots, lebne with cucumber, hummus, pasta, slaw and a Shepherd's lamb stew along with pita bread and baklawa for dessert.
After we headed to the Church of the Nativity and the spot where Jesus lay in the manger. This site has two churches, one Catholic and one Orthodox and it was here that we had the downer of the day. A group of Russians got split up and tried to push in front of us. Our guide instructed us to stick together and not let them around. Their guide started shouting at us while we were in the holy site, marked by a 14-point star, representing the 14 generations before Jesus's birth. Our guide kept his cool, but the orthodox priest did not step in to quiet, probably since she too was orthodox and the orthodox control that portion of the site.
So our visit wasn't the quiet contemplation site we envisioned after all since she kept yelling until we left.
Then we visited the grotto/cave where St. Gerome, spent 30 years translating the bible. It was here that father said mass today.
Shepherd's field with another church and finally the grotto/cave where the shepherds kept watch over their flocks when they heard about Jesus's birth. And finally, we visited the Milk Grotto, supposedly where Mary and Joseph lived before fleeing to Egypt. Here it was said she was feeding the baby when a drop of her milk fell to the ground. Then the cave turned to white powder inside. Some purchased a packet of white chalk from the grotto for $2. Surprisingly, most prices are in U.S. dollars, no need for shekels.
This grotto is also of significance because it shows what a house would have been like, with a place for the parents in the back and the children below hollowed out spots where the food would have been stored to keep the critters away from it. And an "inn," our guide explained, was probably a house that was being rented out during a busy time. He said his own grandmother would make the whole family move to the in-laws house during Easter so they could rent out their modest one-room home for $20. They were very poor and needed the money.
Again, it was a very full day, with the most ups and downs (46 flights of stairs) yet.
First thing, we headed to Mount Tabor to celebrate mass. We had to park the bus and then take taxis to the top, which required a wait. While waiting, I noticed a trail and asked the guide if I could walk instead; alas, he said no as it was an all-day hike, but I could see it was about as far as Mount Helena, probably a 45-minute walk. Even so, I walked up the trail about a quarter mile while we waited in line for taxis. I discovered the trail to be most rocky, some parts solid rock. There isn't much top soil at all.
I also picked a red poppy and pressed it into the Magnificat. Shafiq had suggested we press it in a Bible as well as some dirt on pages that associate with the various places we visited. Unfortunately, I only had a digital version of the Bible on my Kindle Fire, so that wasn't happening. As it turned out, we had to wait a half hour for the taxi and then another hour on top for a mass time, so I would have had time to climb--oh well. Instead, we wandered around the Fourth- and Eleventh-Century ruins of the old churches and living quarters. The Inquisition had built a church after the fourth-century building had been destroyed. Mount Tabor is the traditional spot of the Transfiguration, and Father Bob read the appropriate scripture at mass.
We then headed to the town of Nazareth, the home of Mary. We saw where she lived, and visited her well (actually, it is a well that is three blocks away from her home, so it is assumed that is where she went three times a day for water, but the location isn't certain).
We had lunch at a convent. They said it would be a simple lunch of pasta and soup, in keeping with a lenten Friday; however, after the pasta, they brought out plates of salad, delicious fried fish, green beans and fresh bread with hummus. We were stuffed from the pasta, thinking no more food was coming, but we really overate to be polite. On a side note, the nuns had many turtles in their garden and they were out feeding them lettuce. One turtle was attacking the others and running them into stone corners. He lifted the offending turtle and places in another spot in the garden beds.
As a special treat, Shafiq had arranged for us to see a newly discovered first-century house that would have been very similar to the one where Mary lived. They had discovered a cellar with earthen jars.m Also, the house had been added onto during the fourth century.
Along the streets of Nazareth, we came across Muslims handing out Korans in English, trying to convert us. Luckily, our guide had warned us to not accept what they were handing out and keep walking. The Muslims had built a mosque right across from the Church of St. Joseph, which our guide said they blared the call to prayer; for a long time they had tried to raze the Catholic church to replace it with a mosque. He said Rome had to step in to talk to the Israeli government to stop it.
We ended the day at Nain, where Jesus raised the widow's son from the dead. After dinner, I went down to the Sea of Galilee and put my feet in just to do it.
I finally have good wi-fi access, so I hope to fix up this blog and I hope I can remember everything and can keep it all straight.
Today we started with a boat ride on the sea of Galilee. The captain and crew raised the American flag and played the Star Spangled Banner for us as we left the dock. We toured for about an hour with our guide pointing out several things, including the coast of Lebanon and the Valley of the Dove, the traditional home of Mary Magdalene. He said the valley is also known as the salt highway as it leads between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, with salt was needed to dry the fish caught in the sea. He also explained how the word salary was developed from the practice of the fisherman being paid in salt, or "sal" ary. For those who wanted, the crew sold t-shirts with "I sailed on the Sea of Galilee" on them as well as polished rocks from the sea. At the end, we went to a museum that housed a first-century boat, one like what Jesus and his disciples would have used.
Then we went to the Mount of the Beattitudes, where Father Bob said the daily mass. From there we headed to Peter's Primacy, where I waded into the Sea and stood on a rock. The "beach" is very rocky, so I was glad for my Keen sandals.
Lunch was with some Lebanese and Palestinian Christians, who served Peter's fish from the Sea of Galilee (they said it was Tilapia and traditionally served with head and tail on with all of the bones, but I opted for filleted).
Then we traveled to Capernaum, a coastal city of fisherman, well preserved from the 1st century with 4th century additions. We saw St. Peter's home, now under a modern church that has a glass floor. This town is located at the end of the Valley of the Doves. The town has one of the oldest synagogues ever found with evidence from 300 bc. We were very surprised at how large this town in ruins was. We saw decorations with menorahs and Stars of David, so wondrous to see such ancient evidence before our eyes.
As we left the Sea of Galilee area and headed inland to Jerusalem, we saw the greenery turn to desert with many shacks and lean-tos in the valleys of dusty hills. These hills were grazed by goats and the people looked very poor.
As we entered the town proper, we saw high-rises and Greek Orthodox churches, the Domes and minarets, evidence of a mixing of cultures. Our hotel is actual a papal principality. Since it is really a part of the Vatican, even the Israeli guards must leave their weapons at the door. And they said the food would not be Kosher or have Halal meat, since were as if in a separate country. We are in the Notre Dame hotel, which has a special room with elaborate mosaics for the pope when he visits. It looks like a castle on the outside.
One side note, Shafiq warned us that people know him in Jerusalem, his home town and try to feed off him. They will approach us to say that Shafiq sent us, his cousins, to take you on a tour or to sell you these souvenirs, etc. He said he sends no one and not to fall for it.
The tour on our first full day was a whirlwind with a wonderful Mediterranean breakfast and an 8a.m. get-on-the-bus call. Our guide Shafiq led us on a historical and biblical tour with Father Bob providing spiritual input.
The day started at Cana, on one of two mount Karmiels (Carmel) that we saw today. Our guide explained the entire mountain range it called "Carmel," so there are multiple mountains with that name. Our first stop was were Jesus turned water to wine at a wedding feast at his mother's urging. We celebrated mass in the Franciscan chapel there, with the two couples on the tour renewing their wedding vows.
Then it was on to the next Carmel in the town of Haifa. Here was a Carmelite monastery located over the cave where Elijah lived. We also had a gorgeous view from the gardens of the Shrine of Bab, the founder of the Baha'i faith. Read more
After, we headed to Caesarea, visiting the site of Herod's town that he dedicated to Caesar Octavius, his friend. One part is a national park, right along the beach of the Mediterranean. We saw the remains of Herod's private quarters, an aqueduct, along with a coliseum and hippodrome, where the Jews and Christians fought wild beasts, including lions. A pillar bore an inscription with Pontius Pilate's name.
In Caesarea, Jesus baptized a Roman centurian, indicating that the Good News was not exclusive to the Jews. Also in this place, Paul set sail for Rome, further bringing the gospel to a wider audience outside the Jewish world.
Finally, a few of us picked up a handful of shells before boarding the bus to return to Tiberias and the Ron Beach hotel, with our beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee out the window.
I have had lots of waiting today: three hours for the rest of the group and then two-hour drive to our Tiberias hotel. But this gave me time to meet our three guides: Mike, the tour director; a priest, our spiritual guide; and Shafiq, our local and historical guide. Shafiq speaks four languages (French, English, Hebrew and Arabic) and grew up near the Temple Mount. He lives with his family in Jerusalem.
An interesting tidbit: a man on the tour is one of the artists designing artifacts for the new chapel at Carroll college. The opening will be All Saints Day, November 1. We plan to go.
And we found out one lady lost her luggage (took four days to get it, but her daughter was with her and lent her some clothing). And two other gals were detained in Madrid for questioning and separated. The security guards put them in separate rooms and questioned them about where they got the carry-on bags with Holy Land written on them, if they had been to Syria and why were they going to Tel Aviv. They were asked how long they had known each other (had just met on the plane as part of the tour). They were escorted onto the plane, separately, and placed in different sections, not being told that the other was even on the plane, so one thought the other was left back in Madrid. So my long travel days didn't seem so bad after hearing that.
Long layover, so I checked out every shop. All of the restaurants, bars and takeout places had ordering via iPads. However, the first thing you had to do is scan your boarding pass. Nope, you can't get out of it without a manager's approval.
Once scanned, you can order, use miles to pay your bill and keep up on flight status. Plus you get 1,000 points to play games. Nope. I didn't.
was here so late, the stores closed shop.
Then more weirdness at the gate. We weren't allowed to enter the seating area until half hour before boarding. Security guards all around. Must be our destination.