Continuing on with our tour from the Church of All Nations, we entered Old Jerusalem through the Dung Gate. Entering the area of the Western Wall there was a security gate. The security gate has an entrance for men and a separate entrance for women. The men and I went through the men’s side, Kris, Kim and Robbie went through the women’s side. This took us into a large plaza. The Western Wall is on the far side of the plaza. The wall was built all the way around a hill known as the Temple Mount by King Herod. He built the second Jewish temple on the top of the mount in the place where God stood. In the Jewish faith, it’s known as the Holy of Holies. To this day, the Jewish people believe that in this spot you are in the presence of God. This is why the Western Wall and the Temple Mount are so important in the Jewish faith. The Western Wall is the largest remaining section of the wall. After the destruction of the third Jewish temple, the Dome of the Rock mosque was built on top of the Temple Mount. Muslims believe that the Temple Mount is the place where God created Adam. The scull of Adam was said to be found at the base of the cross of Jesus. The rock at the top of the Temple Mount is also the place where the Prophet Muhammad began his journey to heaven making the Temple Mount a most holy place for Muslims. The Western Wall is part of the border between Jewish and Muslim Jerusalem. This is why today the Western Wall is the closest that the Jewish people can get to the Holy of Holies. The wall is also known by some non-Jews as the Wailing Wall. The Jewish people would go to the wall to mourn the destruction of the temple and could be seen weeping. I don’t think the Jewish people like that name. When I was a kid, that’s how most people referred to it.
When visiting the wall there are a few things that you need to know. Like the security gate, there is a men’s side and a women’s side. Robbie was quite fascinated/disgusted with the gender separation thing. Men need to cover their heads with a hat or a yarmulke skull cap. This is to remind you that God is always above you. If you don’t have one, no worries, they have them there for you. I had my trusty fedora, so I was covered. Women need to cover their shoulders and their knees. It is customary to wash your hands before praying. There are several places to wash beforehand. I didn’t know about this at the time, but you should not turn your back on the Holy of Holies. So the devout back away from the wall. People write prayers and wishes on paper and place them in the cracks of the wall. You may only photograph the wall from the plaza, no photography at the wall. On the Sabbath or Jewish holidays there is no writing and no photography, even from the plaza. Visiting the wall was quite an experience. It’s one of those places that I heard about most of my life. I wasn’t sure that I would ever actually get to see it. There I was in front of it, touching it.
After visiting the wall we were all sort of standing around. It turned out our tour group was supposed to be using the restroom. A few of the people, including myself, didn’t realize that. By the time I was done in the restroom, the group had started to exit the plaza through security. I was able to catch up, since the line was moving slowly. I started to take a few photos. I could still see the last person in our group, but I was about ten or so people behind. Just as I was going through the security gate, they stopped letting people through. Apparently a group of VIPs needed to get to the wall before sundown to pray. I needed to wait for them to go through. Our group was behind schedule, so our guide was in high gear, walking really fast. When I finally got through the security gate, there was a “T” in the path. I could go left or right. There was no sign of our group in either direction. After starting to go left, I chose to turn right. That was the correct choice. I caught up to the group down the street a bit. Unfortunately one woman from our group was not so lucky, she was lost. Our guide went back to look for her, but no luck. We continued on our way without her. We were walking through narrow walkways, going up ancient stone steps. There was a bazaar, with lots of shops selling all sorts of things, very colorful and full of people.
When I do any tour, I usually try to get as much photography in as possible. As a result, I tend to miss out on some of what the guide is talking about. Things like it’s time to use the restroom. The fact that we were on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would have been good info, so when I got lost I would know what direction to go. Oh, and most importantly, what we should see when we get there. Aside from walking really fast, our guide, I found out later, was not quite a fountain of information. I thought it was me not paying close enough attention. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a fairly complicated building. It contains the locations of events before, during, and after the crucifixion of Jesus. It pays to know what and where the events are inside of the church. Some of the key events are, the Latin Chapel, where Jesus was nailed to the cross. Calvary Rock, where the cross was erected. The rock is exposed for viewing. Adams Chapel, under Calvary, where the skull of Adam had been found under the cross. The Stone of Anointing, just inside of the entrance, where Jesus was wrapped in the shroud. And finally, the Tomb of Jesus, the Holy Sepulcher, in the main rotunda. I was always under the impression that these places were a little farther apart, guess I was wrong. The whole area was an abandoned quarry that had been turned into tombs before the time of Jesus.
When we arrived at the church, our guide told us what time to meetup back in the courtyard. Guides are not permitted to talk inside of churches. That’s pretty universal all over. While we were supposedly touring the church, he set off to search for our lost woman. Remember her?! The courtyard was filled with people. The doors of the church seemed to be only open a tiny bit. Nobody was able to enter. We were all waiting and waiting, still no movement. A group of pilgrims carrying a cross entered the courtyard. We pretty much had resigned to the fact that we were not going to get inside of the church, so we relaxed for a while. I noticed the doors had opened and a few people were going inside. I guessed there was some sort of service going on, not sure though. We were running out of time. I went inside for a quick look around. Robbie, Kris and Kim stayed outside. I was able to see the Stone of Anointing and the Chapel of Adam. In the photo of the chapel, behind the alter is what looks like a picture frame. That is a window to view part of the Stone of Calvary in the area where Adam’s skull was found. In the photo of the Stone of Anointing, people are rubbing clothing on the marble slab to get the essence of Jesus. This slab of marble is on top of the actual Stone of Anointing to protect it. If I would have had more information, I could have seen the tomb as well. I was running out of time and I didn’t know exactly where it was. Our group had reassembled in the courtyard waiting for the guide to return. A short time later, he did return, with the lost woman, yeah! I’m not sure how he found her in the sea of people, but he did. We headed toward the bus at a pretty fast pace. Some people started asking the guide to slow down! As we exited the walls of Old Jerusalem we could see the Tower of David in the far corner of the wall. It was a long day and we had a two hour drive back to the ship. Despite a few issues, it was really great getting to see Old Jerusalem.
After visiting Bethlehem our tour continued on to Jerusalem. We stopped at the Mount of Olives, a mountain overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. The mountain at one time had been covered with olive groves. It’s now covered with Jewish graves. It has been a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years. There are tens of thousands of graves. The mount has been the location throughout history for Jewish events as well as for Jesus and his disciples. The last supper was held somewhere on the mount, as were several other notable events. From the top of the mount you get a great view of old Jerusalem. The gold dome of the Dome of the Rock stands out prominently in old Jerusalem. The Dome stands on the Temple Mount; the sight where God stood before the Jewish people. The holiest place in Judaism. After the Jewish temple was destroyed, the Dome of the Rock was built over the rock where the Prophet Muhammad stood and ascended into Heaven, a very holy place for Muslims.
We moved to the base of the Mount of Olives to the Church of all Nations. The church is built next to the Garden of Gethsemane. After the last supper, Jesus went to the garden to pray about his death, known as the agony. There is an exposed rock near the church alter, said to be the rock Jesus prayed on. Jesus was betrayed and arrested in the garden. There are olive trees in the garden that were carbon dated to be 2,000 years old. There was a gardener working in the garden. He had a pile of olive branches he had raked up. I wish I would have thought to asked him for one of them. We returned to the bus to continue on to Old Jerusalem.
Robbie and I had a great day in Crete! Afterwords we had a day at sea to enjoy the ship and get a little rest before sailing into Haifa, Israel. We were in port for two days, so we were able to see several places in Israel. We like to explore on our own whenever possible to save money. Jerusalem and the other places we wanted to visit were several hours drive from Haifa, so the cruise line shore excursions were the best option for this port. MSC told us we would save 20% on shore excursions if we booked before we sailed. So we booked all of the shore excursions that we wanted to do before the cruise. That was not true. On the ship they were offering package deals that were less expensive than what we paid. What’s up with that MSC! Our whole group planned to do the Jerusalem tour on the first day. Once onboard the ship, we noticed there was a tour that went to Bethlehem and Jerusalem that was not available online. Robbie and I thought it would be really nice to see Bethlehem as well, so we switched our tour. Kris, and her sister Kim, switch too. The rest of the group stayed with the Jerusalem only tour. The people at the tour desk were very helpful and switched the tours for us. Although we did have a small issue with the tickets for the excursions we booked online. The first person we talked to didn’t seem to know what the problem was. The second person fixed it easily. Anyway, we got the shore excursions all sorted and ready to go.
I mentioned in an earlier post that there were 11 of us traveling together on this cruise. It was great traveling with this group. Even thought we were traveling together, there were lots of things to do, so we were not always all doing the same thing together. Sometimes we were on our own or with some or all of the group. It was great. So no one had a problem when we switched to the Bethlehem tour.
Kim, Kris, Robbie and I boarded our bus for the two hour ride to Bethlehem. Disembarking the ship went pretty smoothly this time. We had a fairly long wait in one of the lounges. When it was our turn, we were off the ship in no time. We were on highways most of the way. We drove through Tel Aviv on the way. It was nice that we got to see a little of that city passing by our window. Bethlehem is in Palestine in the West Bank. We needed to go through the wall that separates Israel and Palestine. I’m sure this changes, probably on a daily basis, but today we just drove right through. There was no checkpoint, show us your papers, thing. Our first stop was a gift shop full of nativities carved from olive wood, among other things. After our shopping adventure we went to the restaurant next door for lunch. It was a pretty good lunch with Middle Eastern style veggies, pita, hummus, chicken, and fish. Everyone got back on the bus for the short ride into Bethlehem.
The bus parked in a huge parking garage for buses. From the parking garage it was probably about a half mile walk through the streets of Bethlehem to the Church of The Nativity. We were following our guide. It was a fairly steep up hill climb the whole way. I am no spring chicken, but I was probably one of the younger people on the tour. Our guide was keeping a blistering pace up this hill. I was falling behind because I was taking photos; that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. But really, I am usually the last person because I’m taking photos, but I was having trouble keeping up the pace. Other people were falling behind too, and they were not taking photos. That was the beginning of people not being very happy with our guide.
Once we were at the church our guide gave a brief explanation. Guides are not allowed to talk inside of churches. We were to meet back outside at a certain time. To enter the church you need to go through the entrance of humility. There is a very small opening that you need to bend over to go through. There was originally a huge entrance. Over the years they kept making it smaller, to restrict access and to prevent looters from taking things out in wagons. You can make out the different entrances in the stone work. The inside of the church is beautiful. There are rows of roman style columns. There are openings in the floor so you can see the remains of the original mosaic tile floor. The birth place of Jesus is in a grotto below the church. There was a very long wait, in a very long line, to see it. Unfortunately, there was not enough time for us to see it. We heard there was a “guy.” If you talked to him, and greased his palm accordingly; he would take you in the out door (in other words, to the front of the line). We never saw the “guy.”
When we were finished inside the church, we took a look around Manger Square. There was a music festival of some sort going on, lots of music and dancing. On the way back to the bus we passed a food vendor in an American Eagle Outfitter tee-shirt, selling something yummy. Then we passed a Squarebucks coffee shop, not Starbucks, but Squarebucks. There were guys every 75 yards or so selling rosaries. Oh, there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the bus parking garage. Everyone got back on the bus for our next stop, Jerusalem.
After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he underwent a series of trials. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to death by crucifixion. He was humiliated and taunted as he carried his cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary. On Calvary hill he was nailed to the cross, he hung on the cross until he died. After his death he was removed from the cross and anointed with spices and oils and wrapped in linen cloth. After his body was prepared for burial, he was placed in the tomb. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven; he is seated at the right hand of God the Father.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built over the sites of Calvary and the tomb. On the lower level is the Stone of Unction, where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. Upstairs is the Rock of Calvary. The tomb of Jesus is in the main rotunda.
After celebrating the Passover feast, that would come to be known as the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus moved to a rock to pray and agonize over what was to come. Jesus wanted his disciples to share his sadness and agony, but they fell asleep. Jesus was disheartened that they could not watch over him for only one hour. Jesus was betrayed and then arrested in the garden.
The Church of all Nations known as the Basilica of the Agony was built next to the Garden of Gethsemane over the rock that Jesus prayed on. The rock is visible by the alter.
I visited the Church of The Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine last month. It was an interesting place to visit. I thought it would be nice to make a Christmas post with some of the photos. Merry Christmas!