My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Bus called Hope explores Old Jerusalem - on foot!

I feel we have been rushed through the Dormition Abbey. With its wonderful mosaics and reclining Virgin Mary, (see previous post and link to photos) it is for me a very beautiful place where I long to linger and reflect. But we have to move on yet again, there being so many places to visit in Old Jerusalem.
praying at the Tomb of David
Still on Mount Zion, we find ourselves in the Upper Room, commemorating the place where Jesus had his Last Supper with his disciples. Actually this room we are in was built more than a thousand years after the event it recalls, but we are told that the room actually used by Jesus would have been similar and tradition says that this would have been on Mount Zion. The room has fine carved capitals on its central pillars, with arches of a later date, and signifying the direction of Mecca there is a mihrab, added to the room when the Christians were evicted from the building by the Turks in 1524 and the room was adapted for use as a mosque. It continued thus until 1947 when the Israelis took over the complex and it was opened for all to visit.
Whilst in this room we recall two other events which tradition tells us took place on Mount Zion: the Resurrection visit by Jesus on Easter evening, to his frightened disciples, locked in an upper room for fear of the Jews, and the visitation of the Holy Spirit remembered by us at Pentecost.
Ladies side of the Western Wall
Directly below the Upper Room is the Tomb of David, a significant place of pilgrimage for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Here for the first time on this pilgrimage, the ladies and the gents among us have to separate - the gents to the left, ladies to the right. We all have to cover our heads before entering, even our men folk, for whom prayer caps (Kippahs) are provided. In front of us on entering is the right hand side of this huge tomb, covered in velvet cloth with Torah scroll boxes on top. There is a lady kneeling at the foot of the altar, wailing softly and nodding her head vigorously over her Torah. The whole experience is a little incongruous, separated as we are by a flimsy screen from the men of our party, and disturbed by (male) workmen who are doing something to the fabric of the building behind the altar. Our guide even hands them some of their tools across the railings separating us from the altar and the wailing lady! It is quite hard to find much spirituality and awe in here with so many people around.
The Western Wall
There is some controversy as to the validity of the tomb. For the Jews this is a Holy Place second only in importance to that of the Western Wall in the Temple area which we are to go to next. In the New Testament Bethlehem is described as the "City of David", whilst the Old Testament says that David was buried in the city of David, now known as Mount Ophel, directly south of the Temple platform in Jerusalem. Archaeologists have failed to find a royal necropolis in either location.
At the Western Wall
Our final visit of the day is to the Western Wall and this is really some experience. Again we are separated by gender - ladies to the right, men to the left, with a see through fence between the two areas. This is the focal point of Jewish religious life and they pray here five times a day if they can. I was struck by the devotions of the young Jewish ladies, mildly amused by the sight of them at the Wall itself, some talking on their mobile phones! This whole area is controlled by the Muslims and any groups prayers, hymns or readings are forbidden so we are left to wonder around on our own and make whatever we want to of this area.
The Damascus Gate
We finally regroup and make our way back to the Damascus gate and our hotel through the crowded narrow streets of the Old Town. The whole place has come alive in the late afternoon. When we passed through here early this morning all the shops were shuttered up, quite unlike the vibrant scene which now greets us, with all the shops open, their various wares spilling out on the pavement, and the locals jostling each other to do their shopping. I clutch my bag tighter to me and we hurry by, anxious to get back to our hotel for some rest! It has been a day full of so many different experiences, at times colourful, spiritual, disturbing, worrying, and certainly both physically and emotionally exhausting. Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem on our way North, to follow Jesus' ministry around the shores of the Sea of Galilee…

shops and trading in Old Jerusalem

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