The journey around the world continues #oneyearlater. Welcome to the city of Jerusalem!
The first thing that our tour guide told us to keep in mind as we discover Jerusalem is a very important word: TRADITION.
Here’s the thing: believe it or not, many of the most holiest and most famous places in Jerusalem do not have a lot of strong evidence that it is the actual site. Scriptures and stories told through generations try to describe a certain place, and what they do is they find the place that best describes it. There is not much solid and concrete proof that this was the exact place that this happened in; it may be possible that the real place is somewhere else. This approach on tradition has become the accepted norm for people of Jerusalem and those that visit it. Keep that in mind as we explore Jerusalem!
Having said that, one of our first stops is the actual room where the Last Supper was done!
(or at least what tradition says so).
This room is actually called the Cenacle (bet you didn’t know that, and that’s where the Filipino term “Senakulo” comes from). According to tradition, it is in this room where Jesus Christ broke bread, washed the feet of His apostles, and where the Holy Spirit descended to His disciples.
And if you thought that was amazing, what was even fascinating is seeing a lot of Jerusalem’s embattled history in this room! Although revered across the Christian culture, you can see some elements of Muslim and Indian architecture. Some say it was renovated during the time when Saladin conquered Jerusalem, and it was renovated again when Jerusalem was recaptured in the Crusades. You’ll notice even some pedestals look different from each other.
Speaking of religion, we also noticed a group of Pentecostal Americans who were in the room. They took the opportunity to pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to come to them, and they started to speak in tongues. This again reminds us that even though we are in the Christian tradition, different Christian groups practice they faith differently! I can’t imagine Pinoy Catholics will do the same thing.
Near the Cenacle was a place commemorating another important religious figure: the tomb of King David. King David is actually a bigger personality than Jesus in the Jewish religion, who believe Jesus was just another prophet, not the Messiah nor the Son of God as most Christians believe (they are still waiting for the Messiah to arrive). I also imagine a traditional Christian tour may skip this location for this reason, which is why I invite you to take a secular tour when you visit Jerusalem.
In respect for his tomb, we were not allowed to take photos. What you see when you come in is a small room with a stone tomb, with some Jewish elders silently praying.
Near the tomb, we pass by some pillars. These pillars were rumored to be part of King Solomon’s temple, which tradition says was part of the “bottom” layer of Jerusalem, as the city continued to be built on top of another. King Solomon’s temple also was once the location of the legendary Ark of the Covenant (tan tanan tan!) which held the original tablets of the Ten Commandments (I bet a lot of Indy fans didn’t know that’s what the Ark was). In case you didn’t know, the Ark of the Covenant is sacred in all three of the major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) since Moses is a revered figure in all three. A lot of people don’t know these three actually have the same roots, from Abraham, which is why they are called the Abrahamic religions (more on this later).
Oh and on top of the Abrahamic religions, King’s Solomon’s temple is a holy place for the Freemasons, pointed out by two Masons who joined us in the tour group,
Next up is something that will give Christians both excited and filled with reverence: the site where Jesus Christ was crucified.
Called Golgotha, this is where tradition says Jesus was put on the cross of his last days. Located at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, this is probably one of the most holiest places in all of Christianity. The actual place commemorated is filled with gold and brass, and you see people line up as they pay respects, and try to make contact to where tradition says is the actual spot of the where the cross stood.
What was interesting to me is seeing another spot, where a lot of people were converged. To me, it looked like a marble slab that people were revering. I found out from my guide that this was the Stone of Anointing, the spot where Jesus’s body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea. This was an important spot for Greek Orthodox Christians something I would think most Filipino Catholics have little awareness of.
A few steps down in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the Aedicule, a large structure that houses Jesus’ tomb, found empty after three days before he reappeared again to His disciples. There were too many people surrouding it with a long line that I was not able to go inside.
Although a Christian tomb, most of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre seemed to follow the Armenian and Greek Christian tradition. The placed looked more Gothic than a typical Roman Catholic Church.
We are going to explore the Christian quarter further, but our tour guide advised us that there was a place (an important place, a major major location) he wanted to bring us to that was about to close so we changed tracks. We will come back to this area again later.
Which brings us now to one of the most important places in Judaism: The Wailing Wall.
I’m sure a lot of Pinoys have seen it or heard of it (perhaps they’ve seen US presidents come here and pay their respects) but have no idea what it is. What is the Wailing Wall?
The Wailing Wall is part of the Temple Mount, the most important site in all of Judaism. The Temple Mount is the Jewish version of Mecca, where Jews turn to face as they pray and many Jews visit the wall as part of their pilgrimage. So why a wall than the actual Temple?
The Temple Mount is currently under Islamic control. In fact, according to Jewish tradition, no Jews are allowed to set foot in the current Temple Mount. The Wailing Wall is where Jews come to mourn the destruction of their temple, and to pray that the Temple Mount will go back to Jewish hands!!! (wow, i did not know that till then!)
The Temple Mount is one of the most contested religious sites in the world. Believe it or not, this place may be the whole point of why there is conflict in the Middle East!
The tour guide then proceeds to bring us to the entrance of the Temple Mount, where we had to go through a MAJOR security checkpoint (obviously, I could not take pictures here).
As we were going through security,I asked my tour guide: “wait, aren’t you Jewish? I thought you were not allowed to set foot on the temple?”.
He said, “That’s ok. I’m a non practicing Jew”.
Haha. Oh well. It seems it’s a Jewish restriction, not a Muslim restriction. The same way I guess some Catholics eat meat on Fridays during Lent I guess.
Speaking of restrictions, there was a interesting rule when you enter the Temple Mount. You are not allowed to bring any sacred relic from another religion to the Temple. This includes a Bible, a sepulchre, a rosary or some pages of scripture. I wonder if this extends to crosses that most Pinoy Catholics where. Then I think about it and realize that this is yet another place most Christian pilgrimages skip (again, take the secular tour),
And lo and behold. Finally, we were at the Temple Mount.
So what was so special about it?
On the Temple Mount is The Dome of the Rock, which houses the rock where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham went up, was about to slay his son, until an angel appeared and stopped him, with God satisfied that Abraham’s faith in the Lord has been proven.
ALL THREE Abrahamic Religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam started at this moment. At this location, all three sprung to life and the virtue of faith began.
The first was Judaism, who believed in one God named Yahweh who will one day send them a Messiah. The second was Christianity, which spun off from Judaism, who believed the Messiah has come and his name was Jesus Christ (the Jews said he was just an prophet; an important one though). The third was Islam, which spun off Judaism after Christ, and believed that Mohammed was the last and most important prophet. But it was in this rock, known as the Foundation Stone, where all three started.
Due to the focus on Jesus rather than Abraham, this place became less important for Christians, but was still important to Jews and Muslims. Catholicism focused more on The Vatican in Rome rather than Jerusalem, so this place may not be on the radar for most Filipinos.
Due to the sensitive nature of this place, we were not allowed to enter the Temple. Here’s an image from Wikipedia for the Foundation Stone.
Oh and to go back, the center of King Solomon’s Temple was also said to be under the Dome of the Rock. This was where the Ark of the Covenant used to be.
Our deadline was approaching soon (there was a strict time when non Muslims were allowed near the Dome of the Rock) so we took a few photos and left.
We went back to the Christian area of Jerusalem and followed Via Dolorosa. Via Dolorosa (latin for the “Way of Grief) was the path Jesus walked as he carried his cross. Here is where you will find what tradition says were the actual Stations of the Cross. Via Dolorosa goes through two streets in Jerusalem, where you will find chapels for nine of the 14 stations (the other 5 were all inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).
Here’s some video of people doing the stations at Via Dolorosa:
And so as we followed the pilgrimage our tour of Jerusalem was done! There is actually much more to see but it was a long day and we saw a lot of fascinating things.
Overall, Jerusalem is such a rich rich place which so much to discover. You can feel the history and majesty of what this place means, used to mean, and what it will mean in the future. It’s such a great window in understanding how the world is what it is today. There is so much texture to this place that I’d love to visit it again.
Anyway, that’s the city of Jerusalem. I had one more full day in Israel to follow and it’s a big one. Stay tuned for the next article!