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Archive for the ‘Church of the Holy Sepulchre’ Category

I had an operation on my wrist last week, and find that the restricted movement that has been imposed upon me for the next 10 days means I’m looking for things I can do without causing too much pain. I decided video editing was a safe thing to do – use one hand, point and click. Okay there have been a few moments when I’ve forgotten and tried to hold a button down, but the sharp pain up my arm reminds me it’s not the thing to do! Anyway, I’ve put together a short video of my trip to Israel and include it here to give you a flavour not only of the trip, but also of the sights and sounds of land.

 

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It was time to change our base from Jerusalem to the Galilee, and so our day started at 5:00 am because we had things to do and places to see before we set off on our journey.    After a light breakfast a small group of us headed for the Damascus Gate to enter the Old City and made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.   Arriving before 6.00 am we found that services had already begun in front of the Edicule (a “little house,” built over the tomb, to protect and cover it), and so we would have to wait to enter until after the service.  

Diagram of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Diagram of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

It’s kind of hard to describe the layout of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – but here goes – The Church was built originally under the instruction of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome. The church, dedicated in 336 A.D., was said to enclose both the site of Christ’s crucifixion (Golgotha), and the rock-cut tomb in which he was said to have been buried. To enclose the tomb, which had previously been covered by a pagan Roman temple, (much the same had been done at the site of Christ’s birth), Constantine’s engineers had to cut away the hillside into which it had been carved, leaving a freestanding plug of rock jutting out into the landscape.   The Edicule covers the tomb and sits below the dome.   The rock is partially seen (encased in glass), partially hidden (with access to touch it in much the same way as one touched the floor of the cave at the Place of the Nativity).    Believe me a diagram helps.  

Church of the Holy SepulchreThe building was constructed in multiple stages –  the Byzantine and Crusader periods being the main times, with various repairs carried out until the 1800s.   But strangely enough, not since, due to a treaty that forbids modifications not agreed upon by all six Christian denominations there.   A ladder sits against a window and has been there since the 1880s because some things don’t seem to be agreed or resolved very quickly.   Six Christian communities share space within the building:  the three smallest denominations, with the fewest possessions and the least power, are the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox, the Syrian Orthodox, and the poorest of all the communities – the Ethiopian Orthodox.    The three “great” communities, which jointly own the floor of the rotunda (on which the Edicule sits) and the tomb itself, are the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and the Armenian Orthodox.

Crosses carved into the Wall at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Crosses carved into the Wall at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The vast building is a series of twists and turns with dark corners, rooms and altars, stairs going down to chapels on lower levels and stair going up to chapels above. There are first century tombs, paintings, mosaics, lamps, and crosses carved into the walls that date back over 1000 years.   In some areas there is the smell of incense, the sound of silence or the hum of murmuring voices, and occasionally an irate  monk telling people not to take photos of the alter and the star on the floor through which you could touch the top of the rock, smoothed by the touch of millions of pilgrims.       

And so having wandered round the rest of the church, one service finished and we lined up with other visitors to enter the area of the tomb before the next service began.   Only four people can be inside at any one time and as we stood there I thought about where I actually was.   I was standing in a church in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem; Jews and Muslims and Christians were walking around with the rest of the tourists from around the world taking photos outside the church, Christians and other interested parties were inside.   Earlier I had heard the Muezzin’s call to prayer and church bells ring.   I thought of the strange mixture of busyness and respect that people show, and the unexpected melancholy that surrounds this place; because there is no getting away from it – it is a place where the division in the body of Christ is so very obvious.    And suddenly the man in charge of the comings and goings of the pilgrims said “Come!   Hurry!   People are waiting!”  And I thought of the words from Revelation 22: “Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”  

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