We were up and out of our BNB shortly after 7 AM Sunday morning in order to beat the crowds at the Temple Mount in the Old City. This strategy seemed to work because although there was already a lineup at the gate, it moved through quickly. The Temple Mount is within the original Old City walls which was significantly smaller than the current Old City, which is about one km square. The Temple Mount consists of two main structures – the Al-Asqa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The Al-Asqa Mosque is translated as “the furthermost sanctuary” implying its far distance from Mecca. It is also the largest congregational mosque in Jerusalem and the third holiest site in Islam. We were unable to enter the mosque but research tells us that the mosque’s core layout conforms to a Christian church-inspired plan, consisting of seven aisles lined by columns. You may wonder why a mosque would be partially modeled after a Christian church, but you must consider that the Muslim religion was in its infancy stage at this point. They had little cultural architecture to fall back on so some of it was borrowed from the current Christian building in Jerusalem. We wandered around the large stone grounds before entering the area around the Dome of the Rock. Again, we are not allowed to enter but this is the most visually impressive site in Jerusalem and is probably one of the most holy sites for Jews and Muslims. The original Jewish temple was built on this site over what is believed to be the rock on which Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s command. The Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed landed on this rock when he was swept up from Mecca and carried off on his night journey to Jerusalem around 621 CE. The Dome which is a shrine and not a mosque, was built over the temple in 691 CE. Its placement on Abraham’s sacrificial rock as well as the historical Jewish temple, was a clear symbol of dominance and control over the faith’s tradition. The inscriptions above the arches on the inner arcade seem to be directed at Christians (as Jerusalem was an predominantly Christian city at this time) an excerpt of which reads “The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary was but a messenger of Allah…Allah is but one God….To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth”. It stands to reason why this city has been fought over throughout the ages and gives one a bit of understanding as to what the motivations are.
Another item of note that we viewed from this area was the Golden Gate. The gate was built at the time of the Dome but is probably on the site of the original Herodian gate. It is believed by Christians that this is the gate that Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is further believed that Jesus will return through this gate at the time of the Second Coming. The gate functioned as a regular part of Crusader religious rituals but has remained sealed since they were expelled from the city in 1291 AD.
With these new revelations in our heads, we made our way across the Old City to the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre. This is a pilgrimage hotel and conference area, which houses a chapel as well as a couple of restaurants and cafes. We attended an English mass which was sprinkled with some Latin, had an early lunch and headed back into the city to follow the Via Dolorosa.
Richard will be writing our account of the Via Dolorosa so I will continue to write about the rest of our day.
After finishing the Via Dolorosa walk through the city, we head down to the Garden of Gethsemane, where, as you may recall, was where Jesus prayed on his last night before he was seized by the Romans and subsequently crucified. The Garden is fairly unassuming but full of olive trees. In fact, the word gethsemane actually means “olive press”. Olive trees are very resilient and some root systems last as long as 2000 years. So, some of these trees could have been around to hear Jesus’ final prayers. How cool is that?!?!
Beside the garden is the Church of All Nations, also known as the Church of Agony. It is a Roman Catholic Church built in 1924 over ruins of Byzantine and Crusader churches. It enshrines a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest.
From there we made the long climb up to the Mount of Olives and the Church of the Ascension. Though I had my doubts that I would actually make it to the top, I was not disappointed when I finally got there. The Church of Ascension is actually a shrine rather than a church. It is the spot from which Christians believe that Jesus ascended into heaven. Over the last 2000 years this spot has been venerated by Christians, even though it has fallen to ruin many times. After the time of the Crusaders, the Muslims took over this site and built a mosque here. However, due to the number of Christian pilgrims that were still coming to worship here, they built a second mosque near this site and let the pilgrims continue to come to the site of the original chapel.
Across the valley we could see the Old City and down below, the Jewish graveyard lined with thousands of years of crypts and graves. As we started to descend from the Mount we noticed that the clouds were getting darker and we hoped that we would beat the rain home. We did not get so lucky and before we hit the bottom, we were already soaked. There is very little flat land in Jerusalem, so we had to walk back up the hill towards the Old City in order to get home. Near the top, there was a police barricade (we still do not know why) and we were diverted back down the hill, only to have to find another route back up. Thank goodness for Google Maps and after another hour of walking in the pouring rain, we arrived back at our BNB. Total walking distance for the day? 14 miles or 23 kms. Wow! You’d think we’d be skinny by now! 😁😁
We had a hot shower, a glass of wine, a visit with our BNB hosts and an early bedtime. Another busy day tomorrow – Masada and the Dead Sea (and New Year’s EVE).
The Dome of the Rock.
The Golden Gate.
The Pontifical Institute of Nortre Dame du Jerusalem (Our Lady of Jerusalem) Center. Col and I attended Sunday Mass here. As Col mentioned the center also serves as a hotel, educational / conference center along with being a place for pilgrims.
Under the heading again of “You don’t see this every day” the pictures below are from the hotel.
The Garden Tomb.
The Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Chapel of the Ascension.