Friday, December 18, 2009
these are from the church of the holy sepulchre. it's a fascinating place. first, it's really hard to find, as it hides inside the market in the old city of jerusalem. most people end up having it pointed out "yes, it really is that tiny gate at the end of this little market street, right up there in the corner". you can see the gate up there in the second photo, small and insignificant, but when you enter the church looks enormous as it rises high towards the sky.
the world is a strange place, and where i live it's a little bit stranger than most places. personally i think jerusalem is the epicenter of this strangeness. where the dead cat is buried. this city has created so many wars, so much hatred, so much hostility through centuries. back in the middle ages it was christian and muslims. then over time the crusaders gave up and the christians settled with just being present. today the hostility is, which you all know, mainly between jews and muslims. but that doesn't mean that the christians can't throw a good old fight once in a while.
passion has two sides and so, as in most cases where hate grows and explodes, there is also love. jerusalem is treasured and sacred to millions and millions of people all over the world. the christians because this is where jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, for the jews because this is the site of the temple, where now only the wall of the second temple is left and feeds the dreams of a third temple and the coming of the messiah. and for the muslims it is the al aqsa mosque, the third most important site in islam where the prophet muhammed is said to have held prayers.
the receipt for trouble and worldwide instability: place the most beloved sites of three major religions on the same tiny tiny spot of this big earth of ours . can someone please fire the city planner?
back to the church. this church is really old, it dates back to the 4th century where the first version was built under the supervision of helena, the mother of emperor constantine. her son had put her in charge of building churches on the places that had been of importance in the life of jesus. and this exact spot was believed to be golgatha, the place where jesus got crucified. it is also the place of the stone, where it is believed jesus was placed before his funeral after he was removed from the cross. people today come to pray here and place their belongings on the stone like the book and candles in one of the photos above. the church also contains the place where jesus was said to be buried. which would be that little black building within the church itself in the second photo from the bottom. there's long line to get in, and it's tiny and the air is heavy from inscent and candles.
this church is the final destination on a walk you can do through the old city through the via dolorosa, the road jesus walked while carrying his cross. even for someone like me, not really religious that is, it is quite extraordinary and overwhelming. because you stand there in the middle of it all, all the stories you have heard all your life. and you feel that it really did happen, it's like the bible comes to life before your eyes. and then some people go crazy. like in really, seriously and clinically defined nuts. it's called the jerusalem syndrome.
but that's not all. the crazy can also be found inside the churches, this church in particular. see, the church is shared by many different christian churches and secular entities. there is a very complicated, but also very precise, physical division of the church space, which has led to many a fist fight between the monks and other caretakers.
like back in 2002 on a hot summer day where a coptic monk moved his chair from its agreed placement on the roof into the shade. bad news. see there's always a coptic monk at this place to show the coptic claims to the ethiopian territory. so the move was considered hostile by the ethiopians. and thus by the end of the fight, eleven monks were hospitalized. things like this happens quite often. i kid you not.
the frictions between the groups also make it hard to renovate the church. the individual groups take good care of their own areas, but they cannot agree on the so called common grounds. see that ladder up there? just under the right window on the church front in the top photo? that balcony where it stands is common ground. back in the middle of the 19th century it was decided to renovate the area, but then disagreement broke out and the work was put on hold. till this day, and no one wants to touch the ladder as it could be interpreted in the wrong way. and so it stands. like it does in old paintings of the church, dating back more than 100 years.
so, that's jerusalem to you. it's the twilight zone between passion and insanity. and i didn't even get to the western wall. with the al aqsa on the top. but it is also a beautiful, magnificent and tense experience. you feel the magic in the air, in the buildings..
i have a couple more posts planned with photos from my recent trip. just be patient with me, there are so many photos to sort through. because in jerusalem every place you look is worth a photo.
this was a long one. class dismissed, now go have a lovely weekend.