Story by Bruce Sach
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — When I visit a city like Jerusalem, I like to think I’ll be able to connect with the ancient and holy. It is easy to think ancient and holy in the walled city of Jerusalem, as it is a holy site for Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
But, truth be told, Jerusalem is such a mind-bogglingly ancient city, that walking in the old walled city can be misleading. I mean, how old is old?
After all, the walled city, built by Suleiman the Magnificant, has only been in existence since the mid-fifteen hundreds, barely a page turned backward in the city’s ancient past. Trying to imagine the part of Jerusalem within the Old City in Jesus’ time is virtually impossible as most of the important sites from the Crucifixion have long been paved over, built upon or transfigured beyond recognition.
Easter, of course, is a big reason why people from all over the world make the trip to Israel. For readers who may not be of the faith Easter is the most important and oldest festival in the Christian religion. Easter recognizes the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity.
The Times of Israel says a record 3.54 million tourists entered the country in 2013, half a percent more than in 2012. The leading home countries for incoming tourism were said to be the United States, Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, contributing some NIS 40 billion (12.7 Billion Canadian Dollars) to Israel’s economy. Ynetnews.com says around 71,000 tourists arrived from Canada in 2013.
The Old Walled City In All Its Glory
To walk in Jerusalem is to step into history, and for this reason I never tired of the distant view I had of Old Jerusalem from my hotel’s window. This was because I had a huge panoramic view of the south- facing side of the Old City. It included views of the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the Church of Mary Magdalene and Mount Zion, and glimpses of what is now thought to be David’s Royal Palace.
Perched about all this and centered from my window view was, of course, the old walled city in all its glory. Morning noon and night, the view was always glorious. But something even more magical came during the twilight hours. In late afternoon, the sunset and the grayish tones of the Jerusalem stone, and a mysterious mist mixed together.
There is no right time of day to visit Jerusalem’s holy sites, but I would suggest early morning or very late in the day. This way you will avoid two bothersome realities: the hordes of tourists and the hordes of sellers.
Many say that the Old City is just a mishmash of narrow historic alleyways that are impossible to navigate and easy to get lost in. Should you enter at the Jaffa Gate, (more than likely you’ll start there), discreet signs clearly indicate the Armenian sector, the Christian sector and the Muslim one. Sadly, the masses of tourists and touts will literally get in your way and may distract you enough to force you to lose your bearings.
Let’s say your destination is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a natural choice as the sites of the Crucifixion and the Burial of Christ are located there. This church is so huge that the different sectors belong to different Christian. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is best visited early in the morning it opens at 4 AM.
On a normal day, many believers are crowded up the narrow stairs that lead to an altar built over the outcrop of rock (Golgotha) venerated as the site of the Crucifixion. Back downstairs, near the main entrance is the Stone of Unction were the anointing and wrapping of Christ’s body after death has been commemorated since medieval times. The large crowds tend to take away from the sanctity of these areas.
The same can be said for Christ’s Tomb. There is often a long line up of both the faithful and the merely curious. The latter deserve that wait so they can pose for pictures at the entrance to Christ’s Tomb.
FIVE SPOTS TO CELEBRATE EASTER IN JERUSALEM
The sense of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem during Easter is commemorating the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus at the places of salvation. Here are five wonderful stops for tourists visiting Jerusalem during Easter.
1. Jesus Enters Jerusalem
Commemoration of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem (Procession from the Mount of Olives to the Old City of the Jerusalem).
More Information: Go Israel / Christian Media Center
2. Upper Room
Eucharistic celebration of the Last Supper in the Holy Sepulcher presided by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. This is a celebration of the washing of the feet on Mount Zion in the Upper Room presided by the Custos of the Holy Land. The Coenaculum is the traditional place of the Upper Room, where the Last Supper was held.
More Information: Sacred Destinations / Go Israel
Holy Hour in the Gethsemane presided by the Custos of the Holy Land. It was here where Christ, knowing he was about to be killed, asked God to “relieve him of this burden.” This site offers services and activities throughout the Easter holiday.
More Information: Holyland-Pilgrimage.org
4. Jesus Carries The Cross
Procession of the Way of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday, with funeral procession in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a major event on Easter, but Christians make the walk throughout the year.
More Information: Go Israel
MORE ABOUT THE DAN BOUTIQUE JERUSALEM HOTEL
— With files from Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles. This information was given to Vacay.ca courtesy of the Christian Information Centre, which also provides information on hours of Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. Special thanks to Lioba Radke, KoGB of the Christian Information Center.