cronechronicler

Exploring the poetry of everyday life

Journey to Israel 1974: Holy Sites in Jerusalem

on February 3, 2017

At the start of our daily bus rides our tour guide told us about sites we would visit that were recorded in Hebrew and Christian biblical texts which are part of the history of Israel. He emphasized that the sites were “taken on faith and tradition”. The site may or may not have been the actual spot where something took place. Not many are archaeologically documented as fact. However, since ancient times sites believed to be holy to the Jews, Muslims and Christians who pray to one God have been sanctified and remembered.

A story I once read, whose author I don’t remember, told of a holy spot in the woods where people gathered for worship and to say special prayers. After generations the people forgot where the place was but still remembered the prayers. More generations passed and they had forgotten the place and the special prayers. Finally all they remembered was one word and it was enough.

In Jerusalem the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located on the Hill of Golgotha, where it is written that Jesus was crucified and his tomb is located. The Church is shared by Greek Orthodox Catholics, and Coptic (Egyptian), Roman, Armenian, Syrian, and Abyssinian Catholics. There are no services for Christian Protestants because, I imagine, they were latecomers on the scene. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was consecrated in 335 CE. It was nothing I could have expected from my Sunday School lessons. The land of Israel is located where designs and architecture were influenced by Middle Eastern cultures going back millennia. I put aside my literal interpretations and felt the wonder of inhabiting a holy space mystical to me.

The Dome of the Rock, near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is holy to Islam and Jews. A Mosque was constructed in 691 CE over a great stone, named the Foundation Stone, believed to be the place where Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was written in the Koran that Mohammed ascended to heaven from the stone after his “miraculous night journey” from Mecca. His horse flew him to Jerusalem and landed on the Foundation Stone. The Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulchre stand together on the Temple Mount.

The first thing I saw at the Dome of the Rock was a large fountain spilling water into a trough ringing its base where Muslims were washing their feet before entering the Mosque. We took off our shoes as we entered the Mosque before stepping onto the magnificent Oriental carpet that covered the floor of the room where people knelt in worship. We were led to a space behind the large room into a smaller room where there was a low oval wall covered with wood. Our guide told us the story of Mohammed’s miraculous night flight and directed us, one by one, to place our hands in an opening in the wood and feel the rock below for the impression of the hoof of Mohammed’s horse where he landed after the flight from Mecca. I imagined the touch of the multitude of pilgrims who had been there before me.


4 responses to “Journey to Israel 1974: Holy Sites in Jerusalem

  1. Luanne says:

    What a special experience!

  2. vivachange77 says:

    It was, Luanne. Thanks for your comment.

  3. hbsuefred says:

    Well, in a nutshell, your reference to the Dome of the Rock, with no mention of The Western Wall aka the Wailing Wall, pretty much encapsulates a big historical reason for the discord between Muslims and Jews. This wall is an ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem which is a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall, known also in its entirety as the “Western Wall”. The Western Wall is considered holy due to its connection to the Temple Mount. Because of the status quo policy, the Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray, though it is not the holiest site in the Jewish faith, which lies behind it. This is, of course, the Rock which bears great significance for Jews and Muslims as the site of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son.The wall was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple by Herod the Great, which resulted in the encasement of the natural, steep hill known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount. The segment of the Western retaining wall traditionally used for Jewish liturgy known as the “Western Wall” derives its particular importance to it having never been fully obscured by medieval buildings, and is currently the closest a Jew can get to the Holy of Holies and thus to the “presence of God” (Shechina).

    The term Western Wall and its variations are mostly used in a narrow sense for the section traditionally used by Jews for prayer, and it has also been called the “Wailing Wall”, referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the destruction of the Temples. During the period of Christian Roman rule over Jerusalem (ca. 324–638), Jews were completely barred from Jerusalem except to attend Tisha be-Av, the day of national mourning for the Temples, and on this day the Jews would weep at their holy places. The term “Wailing Wall” was thus almost exclusively used by Christians, and was revived in the period of non-Jewish control between the establishment of British Rule in 1920 and the Six-Day War in 1967. The term “Wailing Wall” is not used by Jews and increasingly many others who consider it derogatory.

    The wall has been a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for centuries; the earliest source mentioning this specific site as a place of worship is from the 16th century. From the mid-19th century onwards, attempts to purchase rights to the wall and its immediate area were made by various Jews, but none was successful. With the rise of the Zionist movement in the early 20th century, the wall became a source of friction between the Jewish and Muslim communities, the latter being worried that the wall could be used to further Jewish claims to the Temple Mount and thus Jerusalem. During this period outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall became commonplace, with a particularly deadly riot in 1929 in which 133 Jews were killed and 339 injured. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the Eastern portion of Jerusalem was occupied by Jordan. Under Jordanian control Jews were completely expelled from the Old City including the Jewish quarter, and Jews were barred from entering the Old City for 19 years, effectively banning Jewish prayer at the site of the Western Wall. This period ended on June 10, 1967, when Israel gained control of the site following the Six-Day War.

    After the Muslims first came to Jerusalem in the 7th century, Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan ordered the construction of an Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock, on the site of the Temple. The shrine has stood on the mount since 691 CE; the al-Aqsa Mosque, from roughly the same period, also stands in the Temple courtyard. The Dome of the Rock, like many Muslim sites, are purposely built on top of older Jewish and Christian holy sites in order to suppress those religions. Of course, the Muslims who control those sites refuse to allow Jews to pray there.

    In December 1973, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia stated that “Only Muslims and Christians have holy places and rights in Jerusalem”. The Jews, he maintained, had no rights there at all. As for the Western Wall, he said, “Another wall can be built for them. They can pray against that”.Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel wrote that: “The Western Wall – all its various parts, structures and gates – are an inseparable part of the al-Aqsa compound…The Western Wall is part of Al-Aqsa’s western tower, which the Israeli establishment fallaciously and sneakily calls the ‘Wailing Wall’. The wall is part of the holy al-Aqsa Mosque”

    I found reference to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is said to contain, according to traditions dating back at least to the fourth century, the two holiest sites in Christianity and is also part of the Temple Mount. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ever settled, don’t you agree that the Temple Mount should be an international zone that anyone could enter?

    • vivachange77 says:

      Thank you so much for telling me all this. Your honesty is a gift to me. We did visit the Wailing Wall and left prayers in the cracks of the wall. I was aware of its extensive history but not really aware of the raw meaning it has for Jews. I just wasn’t thinking. In the two years I’ve been writing my blog, I hesitated writing of my trip to Israel for fear of saying things that would be hurtful to my Jewish friends who live in this apartment. Of my friends who read my blog, no one has mentioned this series of posts and I think I may have offended someone. I was trying to stay away from religion and politics but clearly was not able to. I completely agree that the Temple Mount should be an international zone.

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