Day 2 - 6th September 2014
Morning: Mount of Olives, Chapel of Ascension, Pater Noster church, Dominus Flevit church, Garden of Gethsemane, church of Agony / All Nations, Mount Zion, Hagia Zion, Upper Room, Dormition Church, church of St.Peter in Gallicantu, house of Caiaphas and dungeons
Wake-up call rang at 6.30am. Breakfast was at 7.30 and we were all in the bus by 8.10. Our Guide John, a Palestinian Christian, joined us while we were having breakfast. By the way, John, we found, was a very pleasing character with a vast knowledge and experience in his career. He spoke English, Hebrew and Arabic. His explanations were lively, full of history, back-ground, traditions and meanings of words. I believe he is one of the best in the trade in Israel.
Our driver Haleem and the Guide John
Our first visit was to the Mt. of Olives, Chapel of Ascension (now a mosque), which is of crusader origins and was taken by Saladin in 1187 and converted into a mosque and remains such today. It contains what is traditionally known as the last Footprint of Jesus on earth before he ascended into heaven.
Entrance to the Mount of Olives
Church of Ascension
Foot print on the stone
Next we visited the Eleona/Pater Noster church. A grotto where the tradition says that Jesus taught his disciples the Pater Noster (Our Father...). The prayer is written here in many (some 100 odd) languages including Sinhala.
A beautiful view of the city of Jerusalem and the Kidron valley. In the fore-front is the Jewish and Muslim cemetery. They believe that the Last Judgement will take place in this Kidron Valley. The high wall in the centre is the Wall of Old Jerusalem built many centuries ago. The most imposing Golden Dome is the Dome of the Rock. Jews believe that this is the location of the 1st (built by King Solomon which stood in the days of Jesus) and 2nd Temple of Jerusalem.
Dome of the Rock
Jerusalem’s iconic symbol is the gleaming Dome of the Rock, whose golden roof has dominated the Temple Mount for centuries. This Islamic holy place stands on a site that is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
• To Jews, this is where Abraham, in a supreme act of faith, prepared to offer his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. It is also the place where the Temple once stood.
• To Christians it is where the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple; where he was found among the teachers as a 12-year-old; where he later prayed and taught — and drove the money-changers out of the Temple precincts. For most of the 12th century, when the Crusaders controlled Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock was actually a Christian church.
• To Muslims the Dome covers the sacred rock where Muhammad prayed and went to paradise during his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back to Mecca on the winged steed called Al-Burak.
Here a group photograph was taken. There was a cameraman whose business was taking group photos and delivering the orders at a later point on our route one or two hours later. I did not think of buying one from him as I carried a very good camera with me. But I regretted it later because to pose for the photo myself I had to entrust the job to someone else and the product is not satisfactory.
The Russian Orthodox church of Mary Madelyn
Church of Dominus Flevit
Inside the Dominus Flevit
Dominus Flevit: Designed by an Italian architect Anntonio Berluzzi, built in 1955 to commemorate the Lord’s weeping over Jerusalem.
Excavations during construction of the church uncovered a number of ossuaries (bone boxes) from the time of Jesus with numerous inscriptions.
Garden of Gethsemane
The Church of Agony / all Nations
When we visited the church of Agony, a Holy Mass was in progress and we could not get very close or take a good photograph of the place where Jesus prayed. It is the grey area between the people and the Alter.
Adjoining the outside walls of the church there is a place traditionally considered as the place where the disciples fell asleep while Jesus was praying.
The Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane are very old, they say at least 1000 to 2000 years. There age cannot be determined as olive trees do not have rings. It is recorded that when Romans besieged the city of Jerusalem in 79-80 AD they cut down all the trees in the surroundings. Although these trees are not the same trees that stood at the time of Jesus yet they are very very old as can be seen by their trunks. Surprisingly these trees bear fruits to date as you can see in my pictures.
Next we visited the area known as Mount Zion.
Mount Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem, is the broad hill south of the Old City’s Armenian Quarter. Several important events in the early Christian church are likely to have taken place on Mount Zion.
• The Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, both believed to have been on the site of the Cenacle
• The appearance of Jesus before the high priest Caiaphas, believed to have been at the site of the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
• The “Falling Asleep” (The phrase used is Mary fell asleep-not died) of the Virgin Mary, believed to have occurred at the site of the Church of the Dormition
• The Council of Jerusalem, around 50AD, in which the early church debated the status of converted gentiles (Acts 15:1-29), perhaps also on the site of the Cenacle
0Hagia Sion (Holy Zion) known as the Mother of all Churches was a Byzantine church which covered the entire area now occupied by the Cenacle (Upper Room), the Tomb of David and Church of the Dormition
The Cenacle or the Upper Room is the place where Jesus had his Last Supper with his disciples. In the Gospel of Mark Chapter 14:
13 And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him.
14 And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the good man of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guest chamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
In those days it was the duty of a woman to bring water from the well. So a man carrying a pitcher was quite distinguishable so that Jesus' disciples would not have had any difficulty identifying the person.
Statue of Kind David with his Harp and the Upper Room (Cenacle)
Dormition Abbey and the church
Sleeping Mother Mary
Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
On the south eastern slope of Mt. Zion is the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (meaning cock crowing) where the tradition says was the house of the High Priest Caiaphas. Inside the church are the Dungeons where Christ was held prisoner.
Interior of the church
The pit in which Jesus was held prisoner
Lunch at a restaurant on the way
Afternoon: Shepherds' Field, church of Nativity, Milk Grotto
The Shepherds’ Field
Somewhere in this area the shepherds were watching their flocks by night and the Angels of the Lord appeared to them and announced the Good Tidings of the birth of the Messiah. Gloria in Excelsis Deo
Church of Angels: Another of Antonnio Berluzzi church designs
Inside the grotto where the shepherds took shelter in the night while they watched their flock
From the Shepherds' Field we proceeded to the Church of Nativity and Milk Grotto. We visited the Milk Grotto first. Tradition says that when Herod sought to kill the child by slaughtering all infants below two, St. Joseph hid Mary and the Infant here in this grotto before they escaped to Egypt. It is also said that while Mary fed the Infant few drops of milk fell on the rock below turning it to white. Now, would be mothers who have difficulties in getting conceived, with faith and prayers to Mother Mary, drink a bit of powder of this rock mixed in water and experience miracles of being real mothers. There are numerous testimonials with photographs of infants, hanging in a room adjoining the church, which are being sent by those who have experienced them.
There is a rare picture of Mother Mary feeding the Baby Jesus.
A bit of History before I proceed. By the way, the sections in Italic are extracted from other sources in the Internet, very specially the
seetheholyland.net or the Holy Bible. I am ever grateful to the authors of those articles.
History of the Church of the Nativity The first evidence of a cave in Bethlehem being venerated as Christ's birthplace is in the writings of Justin Martyr around 160 AD. The tradition is also attested by Origen and Eusebius in the 3rd century.
In 326, Constantine and his mother St. Helena commissioned a church to be built over the cave. This first church, dedicated on May 31, 339, had an octagonal floor plan and was placed directly above the cave. In the center, a 4-meter-wide hole surrounded by a railing provided a view of the cave. Portions of the floor mosaic survive from this period. St. Jerome lived and worked in Bethlehem from 384 AD, and he was buried in a cave beneath the Church of the Nativity.
The Constantine church was destroyed by Justinian in 530 AD, who built the much larger church that remains today. The Persians spared it during their invasion in 614 AD because, according to legend, they were impressed by a representation of the Magi — fellow Persians — that decorated the building. This was quoted at a 9th-century synod in Jerusalem to show the utility of religious images.
Muslims prevented the application of Hakim's decree (1009) ordering the destruction of Christian monuments because, since the time of Omar (639), they had been permitted to use the south transept for worship.
The Crusaders took Jerusalem on 6 June 1009. Baldwin I and II were crowned there, and in an impressive display of tolerance the Franks and Byzantines cooperated in fully redecorating the interior (1165-69). A Greek inscription in the north transept records this event.
The Church of the Nativity was much neglected in the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, but not destroyed. Much of the church's marble was looted by the Ottomans and now adorns the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. An earthquake in 1834 and a fire in 1869 destroyed the furnishings of the cave, but the church again survived.
In 1847, the theft of the silver star marking the exact site of the Nativity was an ostensible factor in the international crisis over the Holy Places that ultimately led to the Crimean War (1854–56).
In 1852, shared custody of the church was granted to the Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches. The Greeks care for the Grotto of the Nativity.
see illustration given below (copied from Google Images on Church of Nativity)
Door of Humility
A small rectangular entrance to the church was created in Ottoman time to prevent carts being driven in by looters, and to force even the most important visitor to dismount from his horse as he entered the Holy Place. The doorway was reduced from an earlier Crusader doorway, the pointed arch of which can still be seen above the current door. The outline of the Justinian square entrance can also been seen above the door.
The main altar at the east end and the one on the south (Altar of the Circumcision) are the property of the Greek Orthodox Church. The main altar includes an Orthodox iconostasis, which is crowned with gilded angels, icons, gilded chandeliers and lamps (presently under renovations).
The Grotto of the Nativity, a rectangular cavern beneath the church, is the Church of the Nativity's focal point. Entered by a flight of steps by the church altar, this is the cave that has been honored as the site of Christ's birth since at least the 2nd century.
Entrance to the Manger and Birth place of Jesus
A silver star in the floor marks the very spot where Christ is believed to have been born. The star's Latin inscription reads, "Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born — 1717." The floor is paved in marble, and 15 lamps hang above the star (six belong to the Greeks, five to the Armenians and four to the Latins).[/i]
[i]Where Baby Jesus was laid in the Manger
In Holy Land many places of religious and historical significance are shared by different Christian denominations (Roman Catholic, Greek & Armenian Orthodox .......), Jews and Muslims. Church of Nativity and Church of Holy Sepulcher are two of such.