Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Where did it happen?

We wonder where the gospel events took place, especially during Holy Week.. Where was Jesus judged by Pilate? What way did he go to Calvary?  Where was he crucified and where was he buried?

Reliable historians generally agree that the tomb of Jesus and the site of Calvary are  in the Church of the Holy Sepucher.  “Is this the place where Christ died and was buried?” Jerome Murphy-O’Connor asks in his solidly researched “The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide” (New York, 2008). “Yes, very probably,” he answers. (p 49)

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Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s “Via Dolorosa”, the traditional way of the cross,  is less historically reliable. Beginning near St. Stephen’s Gate, where the Fortress Antonia once stood, it winds up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Murphy-O Connor says it is “defined by faith and not by history.” (pp 37-38) Early Christian pilgrims created it.

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Pilgrims on the Vis Dolorosa

After the Christian church was established by Constantine in the 4th century, pilgrims from Mount of Olives, where many stayed, walked through St. Stephen’s Gate up to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, stopping at certain places to recall incidents from the passion of Jesus. The present Via Dolorosa was formed from their devotions over the centuries.   (cf. Murphy-O’Connor, p 37) Pilgrims, not archeologists, have given us the present Via Dolorosa.

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Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus

Is their a more reliable way?  A reconstruction of Jerusalem (above) from the time of Jesus at the Israel Museum–somewhat altered here– suggests another way that  Jesus was led to Calvary.  At the bottom right is the luxurious palace complex built by Herod the Great. (below) When Pontius Pilate came from Caesaria Maritima for Passover he probably stayed there and judged Jesus in the courtyard outside the palace.

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Herod’s Palace, the Citadel

After sentencing Jesus to death, Pilate handed him over to a detachment of soldiers quartered somewhere in the great towers to the left of the palace, who scourged him and crowned him with thorns.

They then led him away to Calvary, probably parading him through part of the upper city as a warning to others. In our map of Jerusalem above, the rock outcropping near to the city wall is the site of Calvary where Jesus was crucified. The gospels say  he was buried in a tomb only a stone’s throw away.
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In Jerusalem today the Citadel stands on the ruins of Herod’s palace, still dominating the western part of the Old City.

You can walk on the southern ramparts of the city wall where Herod’s palace once stood and view some few remains of Herod’s building;  the towers have been rebuilt.

Murphy-O’Connor suggests a way  Jesus was taken to Calvary from here. “If, as seems likely, Jesus was brought into the city on his way to execution, the approximate route would have been east on David Street, north on the Triple Suk, and then west to Golgotha.” (p.38)

I walked that way some years ago, down David Street, to the Triple Suk and then west to Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  My sense is Murphy-O’Connor is right, but I think we better not change the Via Dolorosa. For one thing,  good piety has given us the present Via Dolorosa and it has a truth and beauty all its own.  More importantly, it would start a war in Jerusalem, and the city has enough grief now.

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For more information on the places of the Passion, see

Cyril of Jerusalem: The Power of the Cross

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386), whose feast is celebrated March 18th, was bishop of Jerusalem. In his day the Holy Land was a center for Christian pilgrims and scholars, like Jerome and Paula, who came to pray and study at the places where Jesus was born and died and rose again. His church influenced the liturgical, catechetical and devotional life in churches throughout the world. The Stations of the Cross originated here, for example. He’s honored as a Doctor of the Church.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by the Emperor Constantine over the tomb of Jesus and calvary where he died, still stands today. It was the principal place Cyril preached and celebrated the liturgy

Here’s an excerpt from one of  his catechetical sermons, which he preached in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, near the places where the relic of the cross and  the tomb of Jesus were honored.

“The Catholic Church glories in every deed of Christ. Her supreme glory, however, is the cross. Well aware of this, Paul says: God forbid that I glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!

“At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so: a man born blind recovered his sight. But of what importance is this, when there are so many blind people in the world? Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this affected only Lazarus: what of those countless numbers who have died because of their sins? Those miraculous loaves fed five thousand people; yet this is a small number compared to those all over the world who were starved by ignorance. After eighteen years a woman was freed from the bondage of Satan; but are we not all shackled by the chains of our own sins?

“For us all, however, the cross is the crown of victory. It has brought light to those blinded by ignorance. It has released those enslaved by sin. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of mankind!”

The relic of the cross honored by Cyril in this church was not just a grim reminder of the suffering of Jesus; it was bathed in the glorious memory  of Jesus’ resurrection celebrated close by in his empty tomb.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

The Land Where Jesus Lived

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Bethany, outside Jerusalem

“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?”  ( Mark 4, 30) Jesus turned to the land he lived in to answer that question. It was a changeable land.  If you stand  on the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany near Jerusalem, as I did some years ago, you can still see olive trees growing beneath you. The Mount of Olives  just west of us.

Then, looking eastward to Jericho and the Dead Sea, it’s barren desert. Then, as you go from Jericho to Galilee the land turns from desert to lush farmland. A changing land.

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Jordan Valley

Jesus experienced a changing landscape as he left Nazareth for the Jordan River and then the Sea of Galilee;  it influenced the way he spoke. His parables are rich with the language of the sower and the seed. Like us, he was influenced by the place were he lived.

In a book written in the 1930s Gustaf Dalman, an expert on the geography and environment of Palestine, observed that when Jesus went from the  highlands of Nazareth, 1,100 feet above sea level to the fishing towns along the Sea of Galilee, 680 feet below sea level, he entered a different world.

For one thing, he ate better – more fish and nuts and fruits were available than in the hill town where he grew up. He looked out at the Sea of Galilee instead of the distant hills and valleys of his mountain village. He saw a great variety of birds, like the white pelicans and black cormorants that challenged the fishermen on the lake. He saw trees and plants and flowers that grew abundantly around the lake, but not around Nazareth.

Instead of the chalky limestone of Nazareth, Jesus walked on the hard black basalt around the lake. Basalt was the building material for houses and synagogues there. It made for sturdy structures, but they were dark and drab inside. They needed light. Light on a lampstand became one of his parables. (Mark 4,21)

Basalt also made for a rich soil in which everything could grow. “… here plants shoot up more exuberantly than in the limestone district. Where there are fields, they yield a produce greater than anyone has any notion of in the highlands.” (Dalman, p123)

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Farmland in Galilee

The volcanic soil on the land around the lake produced a rich harvest. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, praised that part of Galilee for its fruitfulness, its palm trees, fruit trees, walnut trees, vines, wheat. But thistles, wild mustard, wild fennel grew quickly too and could choke anything else that was sown. The land around the Sea of Galilee was fertile then; even today it has some of the best farmland in Palestine.

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Soil near the Sea of Galilee

The weather in the low lying lands was not the same as in the mountains, warmer in winter, much hotter and humid in summer, which begins in May. “It is difficult for anyone used to living in the mountains to work by day and sleep by night…Out of doors one misses the refreshing breeze, which the mountains along the lake cut off…one is tempted to think that Jesus, who had settled there, must often have made occasion to escape from this pitiless climate to his beloved mountains.” (Dalman, p. 124)

These observations aren’t found in the gospels, of course, but they help us appreciate the world in which Jesus lived and the parables he drew from it. Jesus was influenced by where he lived, as we are.

And what about us? We’re experiencing climate change now, aren’t we? It’s going to influence our spirituality, how we see, how we live, how we react to the world around us.

Lord, help us appreciate the land we live in, and gain wisdom from it.

Holding on to the Past

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We’re reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews these days at Mass. Raymond Brown calls the work “a conundrum”  in his “Introduction to the New Testament”. Who wrote it, where and when it was written, to whom, why?  Hard to figure out.

Indications are the letter was written after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD to Jewish-Christians, perhaps in Rome, who wanted to reconstruct the temple and renew worship there.  Martin Goodman’s “Rome and Jerusalem” (New York 2008)  offers an interesting picture of the longing Jews and Jewish Christians had afterwards to rebuild the temple and  revive its rites.

Our letter sees Christ as fulfilling the Jewish past and creating something new. Without dismissing the past, he completes it.

Do we face something like this today as our world and our church face change, drastic change?  We hang on to the past, not knowing the future and afraid of what it will bring, yet we can’t recreate what has been, something new lies before us.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us to face the future bravely, and keep before us the One who holds the key to what is to come. Remember his struggle. It’s ours.

“Keep your eye fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith, For the sake of the joy put before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and has taken his place at the right hand of the Father. Consider how he faced such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

The Triumph of the Cross: September 14

 

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Pilgims enteing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

This ancient ecumenical feast,  celebrated by Christian churches throughout the world, originated in Jerusalem at the place where Jesus died and rose again. A great church called the Anastasis ( Resurrection) or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by the Emperor Constantine, was dedicated there on September 13, 325 AD, It’s one of Christianity’s holiest places.

Liturgies celebrated in this church, especially its Holy Week liturgy, influenced churches throughout the world. Devotional practices like the Stations of the Cross grew up around this church. Christian pilgrims brought relics and memories from here to every part of the world. Christian mystics were drawn to this church and this feast.

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Tomb of Jesus

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Calvary

Pilgrims today visit the church and the tomb of Jesus, recently renovated after sixteen centuries of wars, earthquakes, fires and natural disasters. They venerate the rock of Calvary where Jesus died on a cross. The building today is smaller and shabbier than the resplendent church Constantine built, because the original structure was largely destroyed in the 1009 by the mad Moslem caliph al-Hakim. Half of the church was hastily rebuilt by the Crusaders; the present building still bears the scars of time.

Scars of a divided Christendom can also be seen here. Various Christian groups, representing churches of the east and the west, claim age-old rights and warily guard their separate responsibilities. One understands here why Jesus prayed that ” All may be one.”

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Egyptian Coptic Christians

Seventeenth century Enlightenment scholars  expressed doubts about the authenticity of Jesus’ tomb and the place where he died, Calvary. Is this really it? Alternative spots were proposed, but scientific opinion today favors this site as the place where Jesus suffered, died and was buried.

For more on its history, see here.

And a video here.

Readings for the Triumph of the Cross

 

 

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“Do not forget the works of the Lord!” (Psalm 78, Responsorial Psalm) We remember his great works here. How can we forget them.

Feast of the Birth of Mary (September 8)

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Church of St. Anne, Jerusalem

Celebrated by Christian churches of the east and west. this feast originated in Jerusalem after the Emperor Constantine and his successors built churches over important biblical sites in the Holy Land in the 4th and 5th centuries. Christian pilgrims, after experiencing the feast there, began celebrating it in their own churches back home.

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Ruins of Bethesda and ancient church

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In the 5th century the feast was celebrated in a church built over the ancient pool of Bethesda, near the Gate of St. Stephen, just north of the Jewish temple. Here Jesus  healed a paralyzed man,  John’s gospel says:  “Now there was in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate, a pool in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of the blind, lame and crippled,”  (John 5,2) At this healing place, honoring pagan gods  like Asclepius and Serapis Jesus healed a paralyzed man.

In the last century the ancient healing pool with its porticoes, parts of the ancient church and ruins of a temple of Asclepius (2nd-4th century) were uncovered by archeologists..

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Ruins of the Temple of Serapis

The church over the healing pool became associated early on with Mary, the mother of Jesus; third century Christian writings placed her family in this area of Jerusalem. Mary’s birth and early life came to be remembered here. Barnett - 781

Early stories said that Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, were faithful Jews waiting for the One who was to come. They were old and childless. Joachim supplied sheep for the temple sacrifices, but was looked down upon because he was childless. Then, angels announced to the two of them that they were to conceive a daughter. Their faith, like that of Abraham and Sarah, was miraculously rewarded.

The feast of Mary’s parents is celebrated  September 9 by the Greek Church. The Roman Church celebrates their feast July 27th.

The Feast of the Birth of Mary and stories of her childhood associated with it influenced the liturgy and devotional life of all the early Christian churches. The crusaders, after conquering the Holy Land in the 11th century,  rebuilt the small church over the healing pool, fallen into ruins, and also built a larger church honoring St. Anne, the mother of Mary, southeast of the pool. The present Church of St. Ann, today one of the most beautiful of Jerusalem’s churches, stands overlooking the remains of the old church and the healing pool,  a favorite destination for pilgrims today.

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Church of St. Anne, interior

The readings for this feast present Mary representing all her ancestors.  The gospel  is St.Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, starting with Abraham. Mary fulfills the hopes of generations before her, indeed the hopes of the whole human race. “We commemorate the birth of the blessed Virgin Mary, a descendant of Abraham, born of the tribe of Judah and of David’s seed,” (Antiphon, 1st Vespers, Roman rite) The birth of Mary prepares for the birth of Jesus Christ.

“This feast of the birth of the Mother of God is the prelude, while the final act is the foreordained union of the Word with flesh. Today, the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages…
Today the created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.”
(St. Andrew of Crete, bishop, Office of Readings, Roman rite)

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St.Ann and Mary, her child

The Orthodox Church in its liturgy sees Mary as the mysterious ladder that Jacob saw in a dream reaching from earth to heaven. (Genesis 28,10-17) She is the way the Word comes down to earth’s lowest point, death itself, and returns to heaven having redeemed humanity. The Orthodox liturgy also associates  Mary with the miracle of the paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. She has a role in healing our paralyzed humanity.

The Orthodox calendar year begins on this feast of Mary and ends with the feast of her Dormition, on August 15th.