After a three hour delay to the flight before leaving Rome – the designated plane had a malfunction and another plane had to be flown in to replace it – I arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday night, the 1st of June, about 11.15pm. I cleared immigration and received a visa – all straight forward, no hassles – then caught a shuttle bus as per instructions to a hotel in the new city of Jerusalem. It was over an hour’s ride. I was sorry it was done in darkness, as I would have loved to see the terrain as we climbed up from the coast to Jerusalem.
From that hotel I immediately caught a taxi to my destination in the Old City. So by the time I was received there and got to bed, it was 3.00am. As I was getting into bed, I realised that I will be sleeping in this bed most nights for the next month, the greatest stability I have had since leaving Australia in January this year, and if you include the Christmas-New Year holiday when I was travelling around ACT, South Australia and Victoria, then since I left Sydney in mid-December last year!
My “home” for the next month is Ecce Homo. It is run by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Zion. They offer programmes in biblical formation. I will be doing a one month programme “Rediscover Jesus in the Land … with Mark”, based on the Gospel of Mark, which is the Gospel for this liturgical year.
Ecce Homo is ideally located in the Old City, a few hundred metres from St Stephen’s Gate/The Lion’s gate. It is on the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus reportedly followed on the way to his execution, now commemorated by pilgrims following the devotional Stations of the Cross.
Along that way, Ecce Homo is the site of the Lisothotros (the pavement), traditionally designated as the place where Pilate, having had Jesus crowned with thorns and scourged, presented him to the crowds with the words, “Ecce Homo” (Behold the man!) (Jn 19:5).
To give you a sense of the location, here are some scenes from the roof:
The near green cupola is from the Basilica of Ecce Homo; the minaret just beyond that is from a mosque (with the azan or call to prayer at 4.15am!); and beyond that the golden dome is from The Dome of the Rock, the building marking the spot where the Prophet Muhammed is reported to have ascended to heaven in a mystical experience.
In the above photo, turning just a little bit further to the right or to the west, the Dome of the Rock is still visible on the left. Just below it to the right, in the valley, hidden from sight, is the Western Wall, the remaining part of the wall built to support the western side of the Temple Mount, the focus of Jewish devotion and yearning and memory for more than 2,000 years.
Turning further to the right, in the area above and to the west of the Western Wall, is the Jewish quarter, with the Christian quarter further right again.
Now turned nearly 90 degrees and almost facing completely west, we are looking towards the Christian quarter. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional location of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, is the double domed building in the centre of the picture. It is more or less on the horizon in a straight line between the dome and the trees in the foreground.
With Jews, Christians and Muslims living around us, and these sites sacred to the respective traditions so near, you can see that I am really in the middle of it all.
On my first day I had a walk around just to orient myself a little in this neighbourhood. Here is a view of the Western Wall:
Here is a long distance view of the Dome of the Rock (only Muslims are allowed on the Temple Mount to visit the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent al-Aqsa Mosque during regular hours, though others can visit there early in the morning):
And here is a view of the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:
No doubt I will be sharing more about these sites and more in the coming days and weeks.
Today was an orientation day. In the morning we were shown around the house here at Ecce Homo, quite a warren of basilica, chapel, rooms, offices, levels, classrooms, dining room, lounge and other facilities, not to mention the archaeological levels below the ground.
In the afternoon, we had a guide who accompanied us on bus tour to Mount Scopus Lookout over the city and then walked down the Mount of Olives. Here’s the view of the city from the lookout:
The Dome of the Rock shines out because of its the light striking its golden colour.
And here’s the pilgrim on the lookout:
A little bit further along the road, and looking in the opposite direction, towards the east, is the view out over the Judean desert, the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea and beyond to the Hills of Moab and Jordan in the distance:
Here’s a nearer view, half-way down the Mount of Olives, of the Temple Mount on the other side of the Kedron Valley, at the bottom of which is the the Garden of Olives:
I look forward to learning and sharing more on my pilgrim way in this ancient city, sacred to the three monotheistic/Abrahamic traditions.