The Western Wall

While the first and second temples of Jerusalem are now nothing more than rubble and ashes, the masses of pilgrims still have reason to pass through the Dung gate to the Western Wall. This 50 foot stone block retaining wall which supported the platform, on which the temple once stood, was once a part of the actual Temple complex and is one of four surviving walls today. Some of its stones actually date back to the time of Herod the great who rebuilt the temple.

The Jewish people prefer to call this site the ‘Western Wall’ as opposed to the ‘Wailing Wall’ as one travel writer once called it. On this holy ground the Jewish people come to mourn the loss of their empire. They mourn the cities of David and Solomon and the destruction of the temple on the Mount just above this wall. The prayers often take on the form of chanting and singing,

Here the Jews contemplate the many hardships endured throughout their history as they pray for the return of the glory of the ancient past. The western wall is treated as the synagogue and so men must cover their heads. The Torah is read aloud on Thursday mornings and Bar Mitzvahs are a common sight on Saturdays.

On looking at the plaza one realises that there are no trees planted in the courtyard. This is a sign of mourning until the third and final temple remains unbuilt. The whole area is divided into two sections one for women and one for men. There is ancient custom of leaving petitions in the cracks of the walls. It is now even possible to fax your prayers to the western wall from any part of the world. It is believed that requests left between these huge stones of the wall will get special attention from God as this is the only part of the temple complex that survived the Roman destruction.

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Tomb of Lazarus and the house of Mary and Martha in Bethany

Bethany (its medieval name) is today called El Azaria (or the place of Lazarus) and is situated in the West Bank. It nestles on the south eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives about two miles from Jerusalem on the road to Jericho. Bethany was the home of Lazarus and his two sisters Mary and Martha. It is here that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John11:1-44). It was here that Jesus would often stop over (Luke 10:38-42). It was also in Bethany that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus in the house of Simon the leper (Matthew 26:1-13, Luke 7:36-50, John 11:1-44, Mark 14:3-9)

Several Christian churches have existed on this site dating back to the first one in the fourth century called the ‘Lazarian’ which was destroyed by an earthquake in the sixth century. The present yard contains a remnant of the mosaic floor of that Church. This was then followed by a larger Church which stood till the age of the Crusades.

In 1143 a Benedictine convent dedicated to Martha and Mary was built near the tomb of Lazarus. Today’s Church is dedicated to St Lazarus and was built in 1995. Also in 1965 a Greek Orthodox Church was built west of the tomb of Lazarus. The entrance to the tomb today is via a flight of 24 steps cut from the rock leading from the street level to the tomb.

One descends in to a small chamber which also serves as a place of prayer. One can see the entrance to Lazarus tomb which connected to his house. When the Ottomans took over Jerusalem they built the Al Ozaih Mosque and in the 16th century they blocked the entrance. It was the Franciscans who opened the entrance to the tomb that is used today. On the floor, covering the tomb was a rock that would have been placed over. A plaque from the first letter of St Paul’s to the Corinthians, Chapters 15: 54 and 55 remind the pilgrim that death has lost its sting.

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Jerusalem – the gateway to God.

The city of Jerusalem which is smaller than a square mile has been conquered on 40 occasions and been overrun and destroyed 18 separate times. This controversial holy land and ‘city of peace’ (meaning of Jerusalem) has had walls surrounding it to keep off invaders and with its walls comes its gates. The walls of Jerusalem are two and a half miles long and can be walked around briskly in two hour.

Most of the walls of Jerusalem as we see them today go back to the early 1500 when Suleiman the great undertook the urban renewal of Jerusalem. When the Turks took control of it, the city was in poor condition and so Suleiman began to renew the walls. He maintained the holy places and improved the water system

However the work was done quickly and often carelessly. It is obvious that many of the large stones displaced when the Roman destroyed the city of Jerusalem in the first century, were hap hazardly set in place by Suleiman’s workers. Sometimes old Roman engravings can be found upside down or out of place.

The first ones to build a wall around Jerusalem were the Jebusites and they did these 4500 years ago. However they inadvertently left the Gihon springs outside the walls. They then cut an underground secret tunnel to the spring in order to be not cut off from water supply should they be attacked by an enemy. It was near the spring that they also cut the first gate of Jerusalem so that in times of peace the water could be easily carried into the city.

The map indicating the gates of Jerusalem

Over a period of time Jerusalem had more than 50 gates each named for the everyday commerce they allowed, such as the sheep gate or horse gate and even the water gate. There were gates named for prophets and tribes of Israel and there were gates named to the places to which they lived. Over the centuries new gates were cut which later disappeared. The ruins of new entrances are constantly being located in excavations in the city.

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the holiest sites in Christendom. It is located in the Christian quarter (there are four quarters) of the old city of Jerusalem. While the Church is famous for the site of the crucifixion, the spot where Jesus was taken down from the cross and embalmed and also the burial spot, it is also famous for several events that took place at the time of the crucifixion and several days after the death of Jesus.

Most visitors to Jerusalem are unaware that the city was razed and rebuilt as a Roman city named Aelia Capitolina by the Emperor Hadrian (after his family name Aelias and the Roman triune gods Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva) sometime after 117 A.D. According to Eusebius, the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Venus in order to bury the cave in which Jesus had been buried and thus prevent Christians from venerating this holy site. Ironically, in doing so he inadvertently preserved the holiest shrine in Christendom.

The Hadrianic temple was completely destroyed by the Emperor Constantine 180 years later. He ordered that the temple be replaced by a Church.  While demolishing the structure, a tomb was discovered that was thought to be the tomb of Jesus. Constantine’s architects designed an imposing series of structures over the site. Covering the tomb itself he built an edicule, meaning a little house. This edicule has been rebuilt each one over the other like four nested Russian dolls, one outside the other, since the first edicule of Constantine in the fourth century till the last one of the 19th century which is seen today; the second and third edicule being built in the eleventh and sixteenth century.

The tomb of Jesus

In 614 the Persians pillaged the city of Jerusalem and sacked it for three days. The true cross of Christ was stolen only to be returned several years later. However the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was torched and Christians who took refuge in it were murdered.

In the year 1009, the fanatic Al-Hakim, the Caliph of Egypt, ordered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem destroyed.  The demolition of this site, so holy to Christians, began with the empty tomb where Jesus had been buried, and continued with the dome. All of the furnishings were either stolen or destroyed. Destruction however, was not total, because as the high parts fell, rubble blocked the workmen from getting to the lower parts. For close to forty years, Christians were forbidden to visit the site.

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Dominus Flevit

The very name of the Church means ‘the Lord wept’. On the 10th day of Nissan on a Sunday Jesus got on to a donkey and began his triumphant entry in Jerusalem. When he reached the point where he saw the breath-taking view of Temple Mount, which at that time had the Temple of Jerusalem standing across the Kidron valley, he prophecies the destruction of Jerusalem and weeps over the city.

At this point stands today the tear drop Church which was designed by the Italian architect   Antonio Barluzzi (26 September 1884 – 14 December 1960). He was an Italian architect who became known as the “Architect of the Holy Land”. Barluzzi designed the Church in the shape of a Greek cross, where all four arms are of the same length, but shaped its dome to look like a tear.

The four corners of the dome run into four vials similar to those carried by women of antiquity who carried their tears in small vials. These vials are a reminder of the tears of Christ who at this particular spot wept over Jerusalem.

What is unique about this Church is that the apse is facing the west instead of the East as most Churches are built. It overlooks the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock making for a beautifully captured picture within a frame. When the priest is celebrating the mass he stands in the same direction as Jesus when he mourned the fate of the city.

The present Church stands on the ruins of a seventh century Church with mosaic flooring from that era. Beneath the altar is a mosaic image of hen gathering her chicks in commemoration of the words of Jesus in Luke 13:34

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