Monday, January 11, 2010

Underneath the Western Wall and The Tomb of the Virgin Mary

After meeting with the patriarch, we headed to the famous Western (or Wailing) Wall, from which I had booked a special tour that goes in the tunnels underneath the Western Wall.

The photo above was taken from the top of the Western Wall plaza, an open area in front of the small section of the Western Wall that is exposed and used by Jews as a place of prayer. (Entrance to this plaza, by the way, requires passing through a metal detector.) You can see the famous section of wall on the left. On the right is a makeshift passage leading up onto the Temple Mount. This is controlled by the Muslims, who only allow non-Muslims to enter the Temple Mount through this guarded entrance (where, once again, you must go through a metal detector). Muslims, however, can pass freely without check through at least five entrances located around the Temple Mount. But more on this later.

This photo was taken toward the beginning of our tour, which takes place several stories below the modern-day ground level. But even here we are not yet at the ground level from the time of Herod the Great (19 BC). This level you can see on the tour through glassed-off sections of the floor that reveal shafts down another three stories or so. Down there was the original street level, and most believe that a row of shops originally lined this outer part of the Western Wall during Christ's time.

In the photo above, our group stopped to discuss some of the enormous blocks used in the wall. The one in the center of this picture is approximately 14 meters long and weighs around 600 tons. Many of these rocks were quarried out of the mountain that once stood here, which Herod had excavated in order to form an artificial platform area for the Temple Mount.

Here the tour guide showed us some graffiti that had been carved into the wall in Greek.

Here you can get an idea of the tunnels we walked through. The Western Wall is on the right. Jews come down here to pray, because they can get slightly closer (as compared to the Western Wall section above ground) to the spot on which the Holy of Holies stood.

After that most interesting tour, my dad and I explored some Armenian ceramics shops and bought some gifts, and then decided to drop them off back at our hostel via the Ramparts Walk, which runs along the top of the walls of the Old City. We thus walked from Jaffa Gate in the west around to Damascus Gate in the north, the closest point to our hostel. Above you can see my dad on the ramparts. The Latin Patriarchate complex is in the background.

Here I stand on the ramparts. In the background you get an idea of the chaos that is the Old City. Deep in the background you can see the famous Dome of the Rock sitting in the center of the Temple Mount, near where we had just taken that tour in the southeastern part of the Old City.

After stopping at the hostel, we headed out again and wandered the streets. We came to find that it is next to impossible to find what you are actually looking for in the Old City, but if you just wander around, you'll run into all sorts of fascinating sites. Here, we stumbled into the Orthodox church that sits on the site in which Christ and Barabbas were held prisoner. An Orthodox monk was managing the site, and when I asked to go underneath the church to see the actual site where Christ was held, he shooed the tourists out and turned on the lights in that area just for us. Above, I am standing where Christ was chained. In the bottom right of the photo, you can barely make out two rather large holes. The prisoner's legs went through here, as you see in the icon in the photo. Behind me and on the opposite wall was a place carved into the rock in which a chain could be looped.

Next we ran across the house in which the Virgin Mary was born and raised, the house of Sts Joachim and Anna. What is left of the house is underneath a Russian Orthodox church built on top of the site. Here you can see my dad coming back out through a narrow passageway.

Finally, toward the end of the day, we made our way over to the Mount of Olives, to the east of the Old City. At the base of the mount, we walked through the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ was betrayed.

We then visited the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, the site in which the Apostles laid the Panagia to rest before she was taken up bodily into heaven on the third day.

In the photo above, I am at the actual stone on which the Panagia was laid. It is glassed off, but people slip names and prayer requests through the cracks, as you can see. The site looks very similar to the Holy Sepulchre -- i.e., the original cave was isolated by St Constantine's architects and a small edifice was built on top of it to set it apart. The church was then built around the site.

For more photos from our very full second day, click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Father, wonderful explanations and trip!
Thank you very much!