With the morning free for worship and other adventures of our choosing, Kate and I decided to return to Holy Sepulchre- the site of Jesus’ death as well as his resurrection. We left at 6 am to walk there through the Old City. It is probably not surprising to know that it was less crowded at 6:30 in the morning. I went up to see the site of Jesus’ crucifixion again, and this time got to see the tomb where his body was laid. It is a cave you have to stoop to get into, and despite the monk assigned to crowd control (getting people in and out as fast as possible) I have to say it was a really cool place to be. This site is very likely the actual site of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it easier being there this second time to feel some of the awe and mystery of that.
The other site we visited today is the Pool of Bethesda, the place where Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid for thirty eight years. The pool was in disuse for about for almost eight hundred years, until it was rediscovered when the French were gifted the land by the Ottomans after the Crimean War. They eventually did excavations and rediscovered the pool.
On the same site, next to the pool, the White Fathers (French monastics) claim to be the place of the Virgin Mary ‘s birth; around the corner the Greek Orthodox Church makes the exact same claim. Go figure. It doesn’t really matter to me, because the best thing about the Crusader era stone church next to the pool is the perfect acoustics. Our Maori contingent sang the Lord’s prayer, which was beautiful, and then the whole group sang a couple of hymns. Because that is what pilgrims do in this church: gather in the center and sing, listening to the perfect resonance of those prayers in the air. It was glorious.
The pool area was also a highlight. It is ruins, and you can see the remains of a Crusader era church that was built over a Byzantine era church. You can also see the steps and platforms of the original pool and it is easy to picture Jesus’ encounter with invalid. “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asks him. When he says yes, he is healed. Being there was a very powerful experience.
Tomorrow we will spend the day in Nazareth, about a two hour drive north into Galilee. I can’t wait.