Yesterday was gorgeous. We started early, with mass at the church of the Holy Sepulchre at 5:30 am, and then after returning for breakfeast we set out for the summit of the Mount of Olives, to visit the shrine of the Ascension. From there we descended to get a beautiful view of the old city of Jerusalem — the classic view, with the Dome of the Rock gleaming in the light. We descended further through a Jewish cemetary to the church that commemorates Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse as he lamented over Jerusalem. Then, we crossed the Kedron valley, passing Absalom’s tomb, and climbed up into Jerusalem proper.
It must have been a special day for field trips, because the streets were loaded with kids. Security was tight, especially to where we were going: the Temple Mount, home of the Al-aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Once up there, though, I must confess I was very moved. It was wonderfully peaceful and tranquil. Mothers walked with their children, elderly men sat on prayer mats and studied the Quran, and I even wound up helping an arab family fix their digital camera (the menus were all in English, which they couldn’t read). I’m hoping my pictures will turn out.
Today, however, was another story. It rained. It POURED. So we all got soaked, in part because we had to walk and walk and walk. Israeli security, it turns out, closed off most access points into the old city, to prevent large crowed from getting to (you guessed it) the Temple Mount. Friday, of course, is the Muslim prayer day, and the soldiers (again with very big guns) were worried about possible riots. What might spark such a riot, you might ask? Well, as it turns out, tomorrow 80 Palestinian homes are slated for demolition to make way for a park, just outside the wall of the old city. So things were a little tense.
But nothing can stop the power of tourism! :-) We had mass in the grotto of the Mount of Olives right next to the Garden of Gethsemene, where Jesus would have spent the night while visiting Jerusalem. Then, after some rain-soaked hiking, we saw the Cenacle (the so-called Upper Room) where Jesus held the last supper and where the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples. Of course, the original building has since been long demolished, but tradition holds that this was the place (and there are no competing locations!) Finally, we went to visit a church dedicated to the Dormition of Mary, as well as the church built over the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest when Jesus was arrested and crucified. Was this really his house? Actually, it made sense, thanks to excavations which were recently done which made discoveries corresponding to ancient traditions about the house (e.g. the house being built over grottos, with multiple mikveh purification baths outside, and remnants of an ancient road that led directly to the Temple Mount of the old city).
Tomorrow: the Via Dolorosa.