DAILY JOURNAL OF TRIP TO ISRAEL, 2017
#04, June 9, 2017
Being a Friday during Ramadan, and our hotel being in the Palestinian sector, we were advised to not enter the old city gates at the nearest points which were Herod’s Gate or the Damascus Gate.
We went with the flow of many Muslims toward the old city and Herod’s gate on the same route we’d taken the day before. When I say “the flow”, we walked on the sidewalk single file, but the street was filled 5 or more abreast going the same direction we were.
The centerpiece of the Christian Quarter on the map was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. After many uphill-downhill twists and turns of narrow streets we came to the church with a huge dome and a large plaza in front of it. Crowds and lines were not too big, probably because tour guides were mostly avoiding this site on this holy day of Islam.
We were told that Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, the first Christian to be emperor, toured throughout Palestine around 300 A.D. She chose many sites identified by locals as the important places where Jesus had been. Because it was only 300 years after Jesus was there, the testimony of the locals is considered to be reliable.
And our dig director considered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to be the authentic site of the burial and resurrection.
The church is owned by the Franciscan priestly order. ‘Ron, short for Aaron, who was our PhD-candidate-in-archaeology tour guide in 2010, told us that during many years, all of Palestine was owned by the Ottoman Empire. In the last years of their reign, they were strapped for cash and sold many of the holy sites to the Franciscan Brothers. That was before the British took control in the early 20th century after World War I.
Here was a moving experience of climbing very steep stairs to touch the rock on which Jesus was crucified.
Then returning to ground level to a flat rectangle of hand worn marble, worshippers laid mementos on the stone—a scarf or a written prayer, etc. These items would forever afterward convey them back in their memory to the marble stone where Jesus had lain. Some poured a few drops of oil on the stone and lovingly spread it as if to apply the ointment to our Savior’s body.
Around a corner from there was a line leading to a few moments in a cave-like place purported to be Jesus’ tomb.
On any day other than a Friday of Ramadan the line would have been very long indeed.