It’s Christmas Eve and we were already based in Bethlehem, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ. As usual a long day, but it will also be a heavy and emotional day for Catholics as our itinerary covered the sorrowful journey of Jesus Christ.
This is part 1 of our Day 4, when we set off to the Old City of Jerusalem and followed the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow).
This is Israel and a glimpse of the way of life, as seen from our tourist bus.
Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, is regarded as the holiest city in the world as it plays significant roles in three faiths – Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Old City of Jerusalem
The Old City of Jerusalem is a walled city of about 0.9 square kilometers and can be entered through one of its eight gates. The ninth gate, the Eastern Gate, is blocked and shut, waiting for the arrival of the Messiah. The Old City of Jerusalem is listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
We entered the Old City via the Dung Gate to the southern wall area.
This is the archaeological garden which has the temple gates and a monumental staircase leading to the Temple Mount.
The security to enter the Old City is strict. From here, we had our first glimpse of the Dome of the Rock and towards the left, the Wailing Wall.
The Old City is divided into four quarters: Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Jewish Quarter.
From the Dung Gate, we went to the Muslim Quarter first which is the largest and most populated of the four quarters.
Al-Aqsa Mosque, shown below with the silver dome is the third holiest site in Islam.
The highlight of this quarter is the Dome of the Rock shrine with its large golden dome and octagon structure in the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is the place where the Biblical temples were built from King Solomon’s time.
The Dome of the Rock is revered by the Muslims as the spot where prophet Mohamed ascended to heaven, and by the Jews as the center point of God’s dwelling and the creation of the world.
Below is the Dome of Chain which marks the exact center of the Temple Mount. It is a small mosque and is one of the earliest structures in the Temple Mount.
St. Anna Church and the Pools of Bethesda
The ruins of the Bethesda pools is located adjacent to St. Anna Church. These pools provided water to the temple during the times of the first and second temple. Adjacent to the pools are baths and a healing center. The baths are believed to be the site of the healing miracle of Jesus in the pools of the sheep market called Bethesda.
St. Anna Church is dedicated to Anna and Joachim, the parents of Mary. It is believed that the family lived in this site and Mary was born in a cave located under the church.
Below are photos taken on our way from St. Anna Church to the Via Dolorosa.
Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows)
This road is the path that Jesus took from his condemnation by Pontius Pilate near the Lions’ Gate to his crucifixion site in Golgotha. There are 14 stations, 8 which are marked along the road and 6 are in the church compound.
Station 1 – Jesus is Condemned to Death (Mt. 27:11-24)
Located at Madrasa al-Omariya which is still used as a school, this was the place of the seat of Pontius Pilate and the place of the hall of judgment during that time.
Station 2 – Jesus Receives His Cross (Mt. 27:27-30)
The compound houses a monastery, the Church of Flagellation and the Church of Condemnation, which is Station 2.
Below photos are of the Church of the Flagellation, believed to be the site where Roman soldiers flogged Jesus after he was convicted and sentenced to death (John 19:1-3).
The Church of Condemnation is said to be the site where Jesus took the cross after being sentenced.
Remains of the “Lithostrotos” (pavement) where Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate is housed in the church. The below photo shows markings on the floor made by Roman soldiers for playing games.
Station 3: Jesus Falls For The First Time Under His Cross
The chapel was built by the Armenian Catholic Church and renovated with financial assistance from the Polish Army. Above the door is a relief sculpture depicting Jesus falling on the floor.
Station 4: Jesus Meets His Mother, Mary
This site the place believed to be where Jesus met his mother, Mary.
Station 5: Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross (Lk 23:26)
A small church was built and dedicated to Simon the Cyrenian (Libya) who carried the cross for Jesus.
Framed by the walls of the church is a cavity which is believed to be the imprint of Jesus’ hand.
Station 6: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus (Lk 23:27)
A small Greek Catholic chapel was built and is dedicated to St. Veronica who wiped Jesus’ face. The chapel is named “The Holy Face” since it is believed that Veronica wiped Jesus’ face with a silk veil. The Veil is said to have been imprinted with the image of Jesus after she wiped it and is kept at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Station 7: Jesus Falls the Second Time
This station marks the place believed to be where Jesus passed through the Gate of Judgment. Due to the uphill terrain and the pressure of the city, Jesus fell under his cross here for the second time.
There is a chapel behind this door.
Station 8: Jesus Speaks to the Women of Jerusalem (Lk 23:27)
Station 8 is adjacent to the Monastery of Saint Charalampus, located behind the wall. A carved stone with the letters “IC-XC NI-KA” (meaning Jesus Christ conquers) engraved is located below the station marker.
Station 9: Jesus Falls for the Third Time
Station 9 marks the departure from Via Dolorosa and entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the remaining stations are found.
Church of St. Alexander Nevsky
On our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we dropped by this Russian Orthodox Church. Remains of what is believed to be the Judgment Gate where Jesus passed through on his way to Golgotha.
Station 10: Jesus is Stripped Of His Garments (Mk 15:24)
Station 10 is located at the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Chapel of the Franks.
Below is the location of Station 10, with the staircase leading to the chapel. Underneath the chapel is the Greek Orthodox’s St. Mary of Egypt Chapel, in honor of their patron saint of penitents.
Station 11: Jesus is Nailed on the Cross
We went inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and climbed to the second floor to visit Station 11, believed to be the location of the hill of Golgotha. The mood was dark, somber and quiet.
An altar called “Nails of the Cross” was built to commemorate Jesus’ nailing on the cross.
Station 12: Jesus Dies on the Cross
The site believed to be location of Jesus’ death is marked by a Greek Orthodox crucifixion altar.
Below the altar is the rock of Golgotha encased in glass.
Station 13: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross (Jn 19:40)
After visiting stations 11 and 12 upstairs, we went down to the site of station 13. On the floor near the entrance is the Stone of Anointing. Here visitors like me knelt, prayed, kiss/touched the stone. It is believed that the body of Christ was laid on this stone after he was removed from the cross.
Station 14: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
The heart of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the rotunda (round hall) where the tomb of Jesus is located.
Directly beneath the ceiling is the Chapel of the Angel where a portion of the stone blocking the Sepulchre was stored.
Behind the Chapel of the Angel is another narrow door which leads to the tomb of Jesus.
There are other chapels inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre worth taking a look. It has been an intense and emotional moment while we were inside, reminiscing the passion of the Christ.
We stepped out of the Church and ended the Via Dolorosa reminded of our salvation.
We left the Christian Quarter and set off to the Jewish Quarter.
Below photo shows a portion of the wall that Hezekiah built in preparation for Judah’s rebellion against Assyria.
The highlight of the Jewish Quarter is the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) and is the holiest of Jewish sites. The Western Wall was built by King Herod to enclose and support the Second Temple. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Jews’ temple in 70 AD. It got its monicker, Wailing Wall, as the Jews came here to lament the destruction of the Temple.
There is a separate area for men and women who want to approach the Wailing Wall. Prayers written in bits of paper may be placed in the cracks on the wall.
Though not a Jew, I felt the significance and the solemnity of the place.
Lunch was in a restaurant off the Old City of Jerusalem. We enjoyed it as the food was really good, the ambiance was homey and romantic and we could have been tired and depressed by our itinerary this morning.
Stay tuned for our Day 4 – Afternoon itinerary just off the Old City of Jerusalem!