When we parted in Cairo, Elizabeth tells me if i am in Israel during Easter, Jerusalem is the place to be. She is due to arrive a few days before having completed her tour of Iraq. She does, i am, so we meet.
With holiday traffic running riot throughout the country, i opt to take the train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, David kindly drives me out to Lod, some 40 minute from Hertzliya so i don’t have to change trains. Bless his cotton socks. The journey is very picturesque, comfortable, costs NIS19.50 and takes about 1 hour 15 minutes.
Elizabeth is staying in Jerusalem for at least 10 days and she fixes me a room at her base hotel in the New City – Kaplan Hotel (No. 1 Havazelet Street), just off Jaffe Street. A single costs US$65. I get into Jerusalem by 10.30 and my room isn’t ready. I literally dump of my bag, grab The Beast and head into the Old City.
I have a real penchant for the Old City, and it never disappoints as you go through the labyrinth of market stalls that make up the Moslem Quarter. The Old City is a relatively small area broken up into four quarters – the Christian quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Moslem quarter and the Armenian area. Each are fairly unique and have their own kind of charm.
By accident i hit upon the massive procession walking through the Via Dolorosa. It is clearly a very multicultural affair with Indians, Russians, Greeks and Ethiopians and Taiwanese making up a sizeable percentage of the pilgrims. Police barriers and blockades are all over the pathways leading into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the alleys are completely chocabloc with both pilgrims and photographers. Actually many of the pilgrims are also snapping away along the path.
It was Helena, mother of Constantine in around 313AD that originally endeavoured to locate these 14 points based on the New Testament – much of it written down between 50 – 300 AD. It’s too easy to fit the Stations around the writings, after all there were simply no living witnesses, but then i am just an old irreligious sceptic.
The pathway of the Final Walk is known as the Via Dolorosa.
This is the place where Jesus was condemned. It is now the courtyard for Omariye College.
The Franciscan chapels of condemnation and flagellation are where allegedly Jesus was given the death penalty, whipped, crowned with thorns and attached to the cross
At the corner of El-Wad Road stands a Polish chapel. It marks the spot where Jesus fell for the first time. This is depicted by a high relief by Thaddeus Zienlinsky
Jesus’ Mother says her fond farewells on the roadside. It is now an Armenian chapel
A Franciscan Oratory marks the place where Simon the Cyrenian risked persecution for assisting Jesus with the cross
Veronica wipes the sweat from Jesus’ forehead with a cloth
Jesus falls for a second time. It is marked by a Roman column in yet another Franciscan chapel.
This is marked by a Latin cross on the wall of a Greek monastery. Allegedly Jesus consoles the weeping women of Jerusalem
A Roman column close to the Holy Sepulchre Basilica marks the point of his third fall
Stations Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen are all at the Holy Sepulchre
10th – stripped of his clothes
11th – nailed to the cross
12th – death on the cross
13th – taken down from the cross
14th – laid into his own tomb where he miraculously rises again three days later
I manage to get past some of the blockades and find myself at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a large collection of cross-bearing Christians are making a mass exodus.
I eventually manage to meet up with Elizabeth who has come armed with a quality Streetwise map of Jerusalem and we make it onto the Via Dolorosa. We find all the Stations of the Cross and visit some of the landmarks along the way, including the prison cell. It is packed solid and hugely claustrophobic with many Russian pilgrims breaking down into tears – i’m guessing for Jesus rather than their own personal discomfort, but i might be wrong. You an also visit the place where the last supper was hosted and the birthplace of Jesus' Ma, Mary.
Indeed the pilgrims are very emotional and i see several in tears throughout the day. The women in particular look incredibly pious, extremely plain and completely asexual. The men either look like hippies or dorks. Almost all are carrying crosses of varying sizes and the Moslem and Christian stallholders are doing a roaring trade with prices for Jerusalem Olive wood crucifixes with Jesus images beginning at US$60 for the smallest ones.
a field day for cross sellers
Eventually arriving back at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Elizabeth insists i go inside. With five of the 15 Stations it is Christianity’s most reverent pilgrimage site. The crowds are heaving and all i will say is i have rarely witnessed such unchristian like behaviour in my life, with people shoving into each other and swearing like foul-mouthed Wayne Rooney in a Manchester derby as they jostle to enter. It’s all too much madness and i refuse to complete the Stations. After twenty minutes i jostle back out from whence i came.
We end the daylight hours away from the Christian pilgrims at the Wailing Wall to witness the ultra religious Jews – variety is the spice of life.
Unfortunately the hordes increase on the Saturday and almost all the gates into the Old City are closed. off by police, army and barriers. Only permit holders and residents are allowed in. Eventually i manage to enter by the wailing wall but again there are barriers to stop anyone getting near to the Holy Church of the Sepulchre. It is here where there is the main annual celebration - the Fire Ceremony.