The second station of the cross was far less exciting than the first. On the site stood the Chapel of the Flagellation (where Jesus took up his cross) and in I went. Tour groups were starting up now and I was jealous for the peace and quiet that I had enjoyed earlier that morning. I saw a few things, snapped a few photos and left. My own private Jerusalem was fading now as streets swelled.
Ecce Homo Arch
I located the Ecce Homo Arch – a gate from Roman times reputed (and disputed) to be where Pontius Pilate identified Jesus to the crowd stating ‘Behold the man.’ I am uncertain to why this arch got its name as it dates from the time of Hadrian. That’s about 100 years post Jesus. If nothing else, the arch is about as old as Christianity and I have tremendous respect for anyone who built something that lasted 2 millenia in a war zone.
Next I followed the street to the intersection. Armed Israeli guards stood here monitoring the floods of people passing by. The sun had begun baking the streets below so that you could feel the difference between shade and sun. The ever-present cobble stones ran up and down hills. Water and other fluids made the rocks slippy but no one seemed to mind.
At this intersection was a Swiss hospice with a Palestinian man grilling kabobs outside. They smelled delicious. An Arabic pizza parlor of all things was across the street and another church was across from that. Palestinian women sat on blankets with groupings of plants and vegetables for sale. They had sad, defeated looks in their eyes and I felt poorly for them. I had no idea on how to make their plight better (and still don’t). I made it a point to remember them if I ever do.
My jet lagged stomach told me it was time for lunch (or dinner, or breakfast, or whatever) and I purchased a kabob on a pita from the man in front of the Hospice. I remember thinking how few of my friends back home would chance eating anything from a street vendor. It smelled sooooo good! My rationalization was that at least here I could see the food being cooked on real flames and charcoal whereas back in the states your local McDonald’s employee can and would do anything to that beef patty behind closed doors.
That pita was the tastiest thing ever. The flavors were excellent and it hit the spot. I took my purchase through the increasingly congested pedestrian streets that comprise the Jerusalem old city and found a stoop to eat on.
I remember the smells of the pita to this day. I remember looking up and down the street marvelling at the fact that I was actually in Israel. Life was really, really good.
More Via Dolorosa
The rest of the day was spent following the rest of the Via Dolorosa. Station 3 passed at the al-Wad road junction. Station 4 was an Armenian church with a mosaic featuring the image of a pair of sandlas rumored to be those of Mary. Station 5 brought me to where Symon of Cyrenne was recruited to help Jesus carry his cross. It was at this point the road wet uphill and the markets became really busy!
The side streets were filled with markets, and the smells and flavors were some mix of east and west that I had never considered. You could really sense the cross roads of Asia, Africa, and Europe that these markets must have provided other travellers for centuries.
Along the way I discovered many different alleys. This was mostly by accident. I think it would be impossible for any cartographer to actually map the old city in Jerusalem accurately. It’s a warren of densly packed streets. Even if you had a map, there are too many people crammed in to actually read one. You just have to go with the flow.
The Italian Connection
Station 6 linked to my trip to Rome in 2003. The Church of the Holy face sits here and marks where Veronica wiped Jesus’ face as he went by. That cloth was reputed to have been imprinted with His image and may now be stored as a at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I visited that statue when I was in Rome. Sadly, the relic was not on display. You have to love the naming convention though. Vera (true) + Icon (image) =(kinda, sorta)= Veronica.
Stations 7, 8, and 9 are all kind of a blur. The route intersected with a souk – roughly translated, a market place. Now, all of the other streets and by ways were market places in their own way. The souks are larger but feel smaller, and are where the real traffic is. My photos of the soucks are all mostly blurred due to the jostling and shoving you find there. They tend to be covered from the sun as well. Later I’d figure out how to get above this claustraphobic mess. For now, I dove down a side street and to another and then to another until I ran out of side streets (and, thankfully, people!)
Escaping the crowds, I found the Greeks. It was amazing. I still have no good idea which chapels I went to. This may have been Station 8, the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Charalambos. Or it may have been Station 9 at the Coptic Patriarchate. It might not have been either. All I know is that I love the architecture and everyone was friendly.
The first portion was a trip down into the dark recesses of an ancient (2,000+ years old) cistern. After a brief conversation with the father who had been manning his post in the cool, dark portions of the cave for the past 12 years, I found my way down by the light of a candle. Sadly, I cannot remember the rest of the details of our conversation. A candle purchased by a donation to his cause lit my way.
Climbing down into the dark was a surreal experience. Knowing that this passage way was hewn millenia ago was like I was delving into the heart of Jerusalem. At least 20 degrees cooler, it was a dark, slippery, ancient heart at that. How many people I wonder out of the droves of pilgrims to this city ever made it this far?
Christ the Redeemer
Next on my list, and not quite one of the stations of the cross, was an iconic tower that shoots above the landscape. Not surprisingly, another Church called Christ the Redeemer. I have some amazing photos from here.
Eithiopians are SERIOUS about their religious ties to this region. Luckily for me, most travellers to the Holy Land skip their monastary. Not me. I was able to visit with them in a near-private audience while they explained their history and faith. Amazing experience.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher – The Final Stations
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the main attraction for Christians pilgrimaging to the Jerusalem. As such, the last 4 stations of the cross are inside this building. With this reason it is incredibly crowded. Not only do all Christians flock to this place, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is actually administered by 4 different Christian Sects.
The Remaining Stations
Station 10 – Jesus is stripped – top of the stairs to the right outside the entrance
Station 11 – Jesus is nailed to the cross – upstairs just inside the entrance, at the Latin Calvary
Station 12 – Jesus dies on the cross – Rock of Golgotha in the Greek Orthodox Calvary
Station 13 – Jesus is taken down from the cross – statue of Our Lady of Sorrows next to the Latin Calvary
Station 14 – Jesus is laid in the tomb – in the edicule on the main floor, inside the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre
I wish I could say that this was a wonderful, transforming experience. It sounds great on paper. ‘Come see where Jesus’s cross was! Come see Jesus’s tomb.’ It was less than spectacular in person. The church is overly develoepd in a gaudy, opulent fashion. People jostle and jockey for position in a decidedly un-Christian behaviour. The actual stations have chipped away so much of the surrounding former structure that it is all but impossible to envision in your mind’s eye what the crucifixion scene may have been like.
Luckily, despite the press, that’s not where Christ was crucfied, nor is it where he was buried. I would eventually find both places with a very reasonable expectation of accuracy. But that’s one of the next stories to come.