Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Holy Land: Holy Sepulchre Church

May 20:  We entered the "Christian Quarter" of the Old City of Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate this morning.  We walked to the Church of Holy Sepulchre.  Surrounding the church are small roads and alleys full of shops of all kinds of items, with some stores having really interesting and beautiful religious and non-religious artworks, souvenirs, and pricey things.  Some items are from local artisans, and some made in China which are of course cheaper.  

You can haggle in the stores.  The Muslim Quarter is full of small shops with cheaper items. Some of my companions who have eyes for beautiful reasonably priced items bought jewelry and hand-embroidered table cloths.
Of course we went around the shops only after lunch.  We spent the whole morning at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The original Basilica was built by Helena, mother of emperor Constantine, starting 333.  It came under Islamic control in the 7th century, and was totally destroyed under a mad Muslim ruler in 1009.  The current church was built by the Crusaders starting 1099, and enlarged through the centuries.

The church serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, who shares control of the building with the Latin Patriarchate (Roman Catholic), the Armenian, the Syriac, the Coptic and the Ethiopian churches and a Muslim institution under complicated arrangements. In fact, it is the Muslim institution that has to hold the key to the main door because of "the jealous possessiveness" of the different Christian churches that "watch each other suspiciously for any infringement of rights" (Jerome Murtphy O'Connor).
The complicated arrangements made the movement of pilgrims less orderly and the place less conducive to prayer.  We came in early when the crowds were thinner.  We went up a few steep steps to "Calvary Hill" on top of which was a Greek Orthodox chapel where below the altar under a glass cover was limestone rock with a crack where, it is believed, Christ's cross was erected.  There is a hole in the glass where you can insert your hand to touch the rock.  There was a crowd with no clear line and people pushing to get their chance to touch the rock.  I prayed and was not inspired to line up.
Scholars are 90% sure that the crucifixion and burial occurred within the complex of the church.  As to the exact places, it is strictly speaking not important. While the pushing and disorderliness can be distracting and irritating, one can also witness authentic devotion.
The "Edicule," the structure that encloses the place where Jesus’ remains were buried, also had a long line and I was not inspired to line up again.  If it was indeed Jesus' tomb, nothing of the original was left in the wake of the destruction ordered by the mad Muslim ruler, and what you find inside is a reconstruction.  

The Calvary rock, however, is still original, even though its identification as the place of the cross was partly based on the fact that the Romans erected a shrine of Venus over it, and it was believed that the Romans did it to stop pilgrimages to the place and to obliterate the memory of Christ.

We had Mass at the Crusader chapel which is beside the Mary Magdalene chapel, both chapels under the control of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Mass was short (30 minutes) but inspiring.  Another group was scheduled to use the chapel immediately after us.  The priest was a Salesian Latin American or Spaniard who serves and works with the Filipino OFWs (estimated to be 45,000) in Israel. We met some of them at the Hong Kong airport and in the Old City.

The different churches take control of the Edicule at different times.  While we were in the complex, the Greek Orthodox church took control of the Edicule for an hour in which there was an impressive procession of their clergy around it, and pilgrims could not enter.  We entered a chapel and bent into a small poorly-lit cave where there were two authentic "oven" tombs that give you an idea of what Jesus' original tomb could have looked like.

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