cronechronicler

Exploring the poetry of everyday life

Journey to Israel 1974: Holy Sites in Jerusalem

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.

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