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, 21 January 2014

Our pilgrimage continues in Jerusalem

This is our third day of pilgrimage - a long day spent on foot in the old city of Jerusalem itself.
On our way to the Via Dolorosa
We begin the day with a visit to the Church of St Anne, built by the Crusaders in the Twelfth century, and where we say Morning Prayer together. The church stands, austere and fortress like, beside some excavated remains of the pool of Bethesda, where it is said that Jesus healed the paralytic. The water there is believed to have some therapeutic qualities. The archaeological digging has also exposed some remains of a very large fifth century Byzantine church, which was destroyed by the Persians in AD 614. One detail really fascinated me, interested as I am in the concept of healing. This Byzantine church was built over a pagan temple to the Greek god of healing, Asklepios.
interior dome in Church of the Holy Sepulchre
We now divide up into small groups of 20-25 people to follow the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows or the Way of the Cross, representing at the 14 Stations the route Jesus took to Calvary. All of us have a chance to carry a wooden cross, fairly large and heavy, between two of the stations, and at each station we have a reading and prayers not unlike the liturgies many of us follow in Holy Week in our own churches. I chose to carry the cross for one stage of the journey and found this to be a very moving experience. Many indeed were moved to tears this morning.
The journey along the Via Dolorosa is not without incident! At one stage a man walks along side us protesting loudly - we have no idea of course what he is saying - we can only guess. And it is only when I look at some of the photos later that I see there are armed soldiers standing nearby sometimes. I never noticed them at the time.

The most amusing incident during the journey with the cross is provided by a very well dressed and groomed tourist caught up in our procession. "Oh my God, what's happening," she shrieks to her companion. "Oh no we must get out of here quickly". And she scuttles into a nearby shop, her face a picture of disgust and horror! I'm sorry we upset you, Madam!
The last five Stations are on the roof above the church of the Holy Sepulchre and it is also quite moving to hear the singing of the groups ahead of us and behind us up here. This Church is at the very heart of our Christian faith, where we not only find the traditional rock of Calvary but also the site of Jesus' Tomb. There is a compulsion for all of us to touch the tomb, but of course He is not there!  
the Rock of Calvary
As with Manger Square and the Grotto of the Nativity it is all too easy to be overwhelmed not only with the emotional significance of these sites, but also in a different way by the hordes of photo snapping tourists. The last time I felt a Holy Place was destroyed by tourist crowds was in the beautiful Cathedral in Palma, Mallorca, so spoilt by the throngs of people treating it simply as a museum, nothing more.
No wonder that the best advice is to sneak out early in the morning to visit these places before the coaches arrive!

Incidentally, for those of us brought up on that lovely hymn -"there is a green hill far away, without a city wall" - there is much evidence to suggest that this site was indeed outside the walls of the city at the time of the crucifixion.

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