JERUSALEM, with its history of war and peace, love and hate, destruction and resurrection, is one of the most intriguing cities in the world. Its enthralling story dates back to the time before Jesus but for a non-historian like me, its significance lies in the fact that Jerusalem was where Jesus preached and performed miracles, was condemned and crucified, died and was buried, and then resurrected and ascended into heaven.
The Jerusalem interlude during our eight-day trip to the Holy Land touched me the most. It was an experience I will long remember. We started out at Mount of Olives where Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after his resurrection. From our perch in front of the Chapel of Dominus Flevit (the place where Jesus wept for Jerusalem), we could see a stirring view of the ancient and modern Jerusalem veiled by the light of a setting sun. Then there was the nearby Garden of Gethsemane where age-old olive trees with gnarled trunks (said to be the silent witnesses of Jesus’ agony in the garden) still stand.
There were days during our pilgrimage when we felt melancholic and pensive. This feeling came intensely so as we re-traced the footsteps of Jesus on his way to Calvary from the Ecce Homo where Pontius Pilate washed his hands.
It was at the Flagellation site that we began taking turns carrying the cross, four of us at a time, passing through the different stations of the cross until we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. There was a crowd lining up to go to the altar of the crucifixion.
We couldn’t help but stare intently at the image of the crucified Christ pondering on the happenings on that Black Friday more than 2000 years ago. Then there was the annointing stone where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial which we kissed.
What moved us most was touching, kissing and kneeling before the cold tomb of Jesus inside the dimly-lit chamber of the Holy Sepulcher. It made us teary.
Old Jerusalem with its towering stone walls and seven city gates stirs the imagination. It rests on the original hills of the city of David and is traditionally divided into four uneven quarters - Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish. A Unesco World Heritage Site, the old city houses several sites of religious importance: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for Christians; the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims; and the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews.
We had the chance to pass through the Lion’s Gate, one of the seven gates in the old city. We also took time to go to the Western Wall which is also known as the Wailing Wall, believed to be part of a Temple wall that survived destruction by the Romans in the year 70 AD. It is considered a place of prayer and pilgrimage of the Jewish people.
The Pool of Bethesda in the Muslim quarter is another interesting site in Old Jerusalem. It is surrounded by five covered colonnades and its water is associated with healing. This was where Jesus healed a paralytic according to the gospel of John.
Places to visit outside of Jerusalem...
We spent one afternoon cruising around the Sea of Galilee and remembered the incident when Jesus walked on those waters to the amazement of his disciples. It also brought to mind the time when he stilled the raging waters that almost sank their boat. Part of the activity onboard was the giving out of certificates of recognition for Korean Air’s (KE) top travel agents by KE’s Ann Momongan.
A short visit to Jericho, the oldest city on earth, gave us a glimpse from afar of the Mount of Temptation where Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, after which he was tempted by the devil. It is now the site of an Orthodox Christian Monastery.
The Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, is one place not to be missed. Not only for the “floating experience”...yes, everyone floats (swimming is impossible) because of the high salinity of the water... but also for the mud in the area which is said to do wonders for the skin and other ailments. Of course, we took a dip and covered ourselves with mud.
Nearby is another “must visit” site - the Qumran National Park where the Dead Sea Scrolls (the legacy of the ascetic sect known as the Essenes) were found. The scrolls, hidden in jars for almost 2000 years, include books of the Old Testament, the Apocryphs and manuscripts attributed to the Essenes. The park is a barren field of slopes and caves but now has an access road and other facilities for the convenience of visitors.
Jaffa is a picturesque and quaint city by the sea that we found so charming. It was there where we saw a well-preserved 13th century BC gate (during the rule of Rameses II).
The last leg of our pilgrimage was in the country next door - Jordan. Its most revered religious site is Mount Nebo where Moses is said to be buried. This mountain overlooks the Promised Land which God showed to Moses, telling him that he was not destined to ever go there.
It was a chilly and super windy day when we went up the mountain to get a view of the Promised Land encompassing the Jordan River Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem. Standing majestic on the mountain top was a late 4th century church marking the site of Moses death. And on the cliffside was the towering Serpentine Cross to symbolize the rod of Moses.
The mosaic city of Madaba was another attraction we visited. Our first stop was the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George to get a good look at the 6th century Byzantine mosaic map (using local colored stones) showing Jerusalem and other holy sites. Then it was off to a mosaic factory to observe how the artistic work is done.
The highlight of the Jordan visit was a day in Petra, “a rose-red city half as old as time” with tombs and temples carved into reddish sandstone cliffs. The capital of the Nabataean kingdom (an industrious Arab civilization), Petra is reached via a dry and dusty narrow gorge flanked by massive cliffs with amazing formations. It was a long walk to reach the city’s most famous structure known as The Treasury (Al Khazna) so we opted to ride a horse-drawn carriage manned by a devil-may-care horseman who caused our ride to be quite bumpy.
Petra is a Unesco Heritage Site and now listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the World. It is really something to see.
All too soon our pilgrimage came to an end but our memories of the places touched by Jesus during his life on earth will last a lifetime.