Today, Saturday 7th of June, we participants in the Biblical Formation programme at Ecce Homo had a free day until 4.00 in the afternoon when we had a talk on Islam by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald. Some simply had a rest but most of us explored some part or other of Jerusalem.
A group of us decided to walk the walls, the ramparts around the Old City of Jerusalem. It was an opportunity to get a different perspective, to get an overview, literally, to see over the different quarters – the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter – to locate in them the sites sacred to the different traditions (and to the different denominations!).
The walls and towers also bear the history of the city, subject to various invasions over the centuries, including the political and national changes that have occurred in the last century. The various gates – Jaffa Gate, New Gate, Damascus Gate, Herod’s Gate, Lion’s Gate, Sion Gate, Dung Gate – have seen pilgrims come and go for millennia, including Jesus and his disciples; they have seen armies come and be repelled, or come and conquer; they have seen citizens come to work, pray and play; they have seen tourists come and go; they have been a defence against invaders; they have been breached, destroyed, rebuilt, fortified, used by insiders to repel those coming from outside, and used by outsiders to attack those living inside.
The walls are a history of the city. They continue to bear the memories, histories, hopes and aspirations and desires of the people of the three Abrahamic faiths, Jews, Christians and Muslims. We read in Psalm 122 of the Holy Bible:
Song of Praise and Prayer for Jerusalem
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
1 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
2 Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
4 To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
8 For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Here are some of the views that we saw:
A view of the ramparts.
The walls were crenellated, so that those defending the city could fire arrows or bullets out narrow slits but be relatively safe from incoming fire.
A view over the Christian Quarter, with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the horizon towards the centre of the photo.
The Dome of the Rock stands out prominently on the Temple Mount, due to the height of its location, the size of the building, and the gleaming gold colour of the Dome.
A view from the eastern wall looking out over the Kedron Valley – the Garden of Gethsemane is in the foot of the valley – towards the Mount of Olives climbing up the far side.
From on top of Lion’s Gate, looking west towards the Old City, the view along the start of the Via Dolorosa, the way that Jesus followed to his execution on Golgotha, as commemorated in the Stations of the Cross. This route is followed by Christian pilgrims who read the account in the Gospels and sing hymns, often one or more in the group carrying a wooden cross.
The Tower on David’s Citadel, near Jaffa Gate.
A view of the path we followed within the ramparts, in this particular part, with walls to either side.
Just outside the city wall to the north west, a view of the Dormition Abbey. In Catholic faith, the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, by God’s favour, was conceived without original sin (the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception), submitted herself to God’s call to be the mother of the redeemer (the event celebrated in the Annunciation), lived her life in total submission to the will of God, so that the moment of her death was also the moment of her complete surrender to God of her whole life, body and soul, such that, as a special favour from God, her body did not undergo corruption in the grave like the rest of humankind, but she was assumed body and soul to heaven (the doctrine of the Assumption). This church commemorates that event.
A view through the ramparts to the southeast over the lower Kedron Valley
A view along the outside of the walls and towers.
A view along the inside of the walls and towers (some of our group making their way along the path). The hill ahead is the southern end of the Mount of Olives, the white area being a graveyard, as the site is said to be the place where the resurrection of the dead will occur, hence a propitious place to be buried (to be in the front row for the resurrection!). The steeple on the top of the hill is the Church of the Ascension.
New life! The more one learns about the history of Jerusalem and the peoples who love her, the fratricidal conflicts they have waged in the past and into the present, the embittered histories in which they are caught, the challenges they face, the prospect of peace might seem impossible (but to God, all things are possible!). I found great encouragement from this plant. Improbably, it is growing in the wall. There would hardly be any soil in the crevice between the stones. There has been no rain for ages. Yet without soil or water, the plant is not only growing, but alive and flourishing. Its greenness stands in stark contrast to the pervading white stone from which everything in Jerusalem is built. The living plant was a contrast to the dry, hard stone of the wall. For me, it was a very powerful symbol of new life, of possibility, of hope.
Shalom, Peace, Salaam.