Today was a day of difference. We started by meeting Merav’s parents’ friend/guide near the Jaffa Gate, and heading to the Churches of the Holy Sepulchre. Off we went, left turn on to the street of the Greek Patriarchate and then right past the Cloisters of the Greek Orthodox, and into the plaza in front of the complex which is the Holy Sepulchre.
The Holy Sepulchre, as with all the other churches in Jerusalem is a mishmash of tradition, legend, and superstition. The story is Helena, Constantine’s mother, came to Jerusalem to poke about and found not only his tomb, but the crosses of both Jesus and the Two Brigands. Conveniently the tomb was right by the crosses (she tested the veracity of them by touching sick people. One of them healed people, the others did not, ergo she had found, The True Cross).
On top of all that she found the slab of stone on which Christ’s body was prepared for burial, and the tomb of Adam.
It’s no more plausible than George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or Alfred and the Cakes. Which is fine by me. I dont think the point of all this isn’t to see the actual sites (which, absent a whole lot of evidence which would have already come to light, ages ago. The point is that Jesus death, if not his life, was tied up with Jerusalem. If one wants a sense of place, to engage in communion with that sense of place, one needs a focus.
The churches (and there are many, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, each jealously guarding the piece of turf they have staked out, and arguing about who gets to do what, where, and when), manage to do that. These have been places of pilgrimage for going on 1600 years (that’s for the Christians, add the people who came through here on their way to Jerusalem; for any of the three festivals one was supposed to hie oneself to the Temple to observe, and it’s connections stretch back no one can know how long).
It’s a variation on the only heretical scene “The Last Temptation of Christ”, where Paul declaims the actual life, or death, of Jesus is immaterial because the message is what matters.
I didn’t come to Israel as a pilgrim. I came to visit family. On the other hand it IS is a place of pilgrims, and this is a week for pilgrimage. So we went; I’m the only Christian in the family, and I’m not much for performative religiosity. I am not going to bend down to kiss things, nor climb the Spanish Steps on my knees. What I do take to heart is continuity, so putting my hands in the deep hollow on the door, trailing along the wide, dark, band of stained stone; crossing the incised graffiti carved by others heading all the way down to the purported location of the true cross… those are meditative, connective; Communal.
The shared sense of what the teachings in Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles are what tie the various sects of Christianity together. Climbing the stairs to the Chapels overlooking the Stone of Unction the common threads are visible. The Catholic Chapel is cheek by jowl with the Greek Orthodox, where Armenians, Russian Orthodox, Lutherans, Romans, Greeks, Baptists, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Quakers, et alia, all make their personal acts of worship; or observation.
I stood, as in the Women’s Gallery of an Orthodox Shul, listening to the Greek Orthodox liturgy below me, joining in the responsorial Kyrie Elieson: one with the entire body of the faithful.
That, I think, is the thing I was trying to sort out before, how the thread which warps its way from Judaism, to Christianity; and also to Islam, binds up the separate warps of our personal beliefs, bound in the passage of the years, and the variations of the weft spun by our different creeds. It’s all tied up in this city. Even for the devoted, who like myself, are not very devout.
It is, by virtue of historical accident, the Omphalos of the world for something like one third of humanity. That sense of connection to the rest of humankind, not the fripperies of the fables told of the churches here (be they the Temple, The Dome of the Rock, or the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre) are, I have come to see, what I ended up making pilgrimage to find.
For the moment, I can rest my scallop on the mantlepiece.