Tour Day 7: Western Wall Tunnels, St. Anne, Christian Quarter, Holy Sepulcher, Israel Museum, American Embassy

This morning we woke up and was sad as this was our last day of the tour itself. We have really enjoyed Israel and felt like there was so much to see still. Dewayne was not feeling well and many people were sweet enough to provide some medicine to keep him going. After a great open-buffet breakfast, we met Tito right outside in front of the David Citadel Hotel and walked to our first stop.

On the way, we ran into a Bar Mitzvah celebration for a young man in the streets. There was a ton of dancing, singing, playing of instruments (trumpets, drums, clarinets). People were dressed in their finest dress attire. We crossed the street cutting in-between all the people celebrating. I tried to get a photo, but it was so chaotic that I was unsuccessful. Tito then told us that Bar Mitzvahs were only allowed to happen on Monday, Thursday (which was today) or Sundays.

Stop 1: Western Wall Tunnels

Yesterday, we visited the Western Wall, however, today we were going to make our way through the tunnels that span the Western Wall.

In 19 BCE, King Herod undertook a project to double the area of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by incorporating part of the hill on the Northwest. In order to do so, four retaining walls were constructed, and the Temple Mount was expanded on top of them. These retaining walls remained standing, along with the platform itself, after the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.  Since then much of the area next to the walls became covered and built upon. Part of the Western Wall remained exposed after the destruction of the Temple. Since it was the closest area to the Temple’s Holy of Holies that remained accessible, it became a place of Jewish prayer.

Walking the Via Dolorosa

After being in the tunnels, we then walked out into the sunlight and heat and started walking toward our next stop. Along the way, we took the Via Dolorosa is a processional 18th century route in the Old City of Jerusalem, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. It starts from the Antonia Fortress west to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (2,000 ft). It is today marked by nine Stations of the Cross; there have been fourteen stations since the late 15th century, with the remaining five stations being inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Stop 2: Saint Anne & Pools of Bethesda

What is unique about the Church of St Anne is that it is the traditional site of the home of Jesus’ grandparents, Anne and Joachim, and the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. It is just north of the Temple Mount, about 160 feet inside St Stephen’s (Lions’ Gate), the church stands in a courtyard with trees, shrubs and flowers. You would never know this place is among the craziness of the Muslim Quarter. The Church of St Anne is known for its amazing acoustics. Outside of the church is where excavations have revealed the actual location site of the Pools of Bethesda, the place where Jesus healed the crippled man. What Tito, our tour guide, told us was that the pools continued underneath the convent.

Our tour group sat down on the wooden pews, and was led by two of our awesome praise team members from our church. The sound inside was amazing!

Now there in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.
John 5:2 (NIV)

Stop 3: Via Dolorosa and Nun’s Ascent (Convent of the Sisters of Zion)

After we left Saint Anne’s, Tito told us we were going to lunch in the Christian Quarter of the city, but we would have to walk through the Muslim Quarter to get there. While walking down the streets of Jerusalem, soaking in the colorful culture, we came to the area called the Nun’s Ascent, an ancient street that intersects with the Via Dolorosa. I found it fascinating because of how long and high the steps went, almost like it ran into Heaven.

Apparently, Nun’s Ascent connects with the Convent of the Sisters of Zion (built in 1857) and we went inside to a small place where we sat down on concrete risers. There was barely enough room for everyone to sit. There was a podium at the bottom, like a lecture hall at school. It surprised me when Tito picked up some visual aids (i.e. maps, diagrams, etc.) and then begin to tell us the history of Via Dolorosa, history of the ancient ruins we were about to see in the basement. Apparently the ruins dated back to the Roman occupation of the city.

Lunch in the Christian Quarter

All that walking made us super hungry and I was on the verge of being hangry (hungry + angry). I was relieved when Tito told us we were stopping at this big place called Everest Ramzi. It was a tiny, cramped space, but was air conditioned, and so none of us complained. I didn’t take a photo because it wasn’t much of a place from the outside, but the food was great. I ate falafel balls and drank lemon aide mixed with mint leaves. Tito apparently knew the owner well and they chatted for awhile at a tiny round bistro table near the door. Because the place was so small, our food was prepared a couple of doors down, so the wait staff would come through the front door to bring us our food. It was a little different, but made memories.

Stop 4: Old City Jerusalem Marketplace

After lunch, Tito told us we were going to the Holy Sepulcher, but would be walking through the Old City Marketplace first. There were a ton of people, lots of vendors on the streets selling fresh fruits, goods from China (no kidding), and homemade apparel.

Stop 5: The Holy Sepulcher

After making our way through the streets of the Muslim Quarter, we came to the Christian Quarter. It’s located in the northwestern corner of the Old City, extending from the New Gate in the north, along the western wall of the Old City as far as the Jaffa Gate, along the Jaffa Gate – Western Wall route in the south, bordering on the Jewish and Armenian Quarters, as far as the Damascus Gate in the east, where it borders on the Muslim Quarter. The Christian quarter contains about 40 Christian holy places. Among them is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of Christianity’s holiest places. Most of its residents are Palestinian Christians, despite their dwindling numbers.

The Holy Sepulcher (so massage on the outside), from Christian perspective, contains the two holiest sites in Christianity:

  1. The site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, at a place known as Calvary or Golgotha (Matt. 27:33–35Mark 15:22–25John 19:17–24), Golgotha, “the place of the skull” has been identified as an area of abandoned stone quarries just outside the city wall of the time.
  2. Jesus’s empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. The tomb is enclosed by a 19th-century shrine called the Aedicula. About 10 years after the crucifixion, a third wall was built that enclosed the area of the execution and burial within the city, and this accounts for the Holy Sepulcher’s location inside the Old City of Jerusalem today. In the bottom photo, the tomb is located to the left where the trees are on the other side of the wall.

Once we got inside the church, a flood of emotions came over me. The beauty of the place was overwhelming. I don’t usually feel emotional much, so the sudden feelings took me off guard. I am still processing these feelings, but the ones I can differentiate right now are awe, love, sadness, confusion, disgust, anger, and pity. I felt the awe and love of Jesus when I saw the area designated to Christianity.

As I started walking around different parts of the church, I saw people worshiping the planets, stars, and false gods, I was confused, then sad and felt pity for the people, but also had disgust for what they were doing. As I walked outside the door of the Holy Sepulcher, I then started to feel more disgust, but mostly anger.

I think the emotion I still feel is anger, but also sadness. If this is the most holy place, built on the place where Jesus was crucified, died at Golgotha, was buried in the tomb and rose from the dead, why are people worshiping other gods on the most sacred, holy, spot in the entire world?! That’s messed up!

On the Way to the Bus – the Jaffa Gate

After we spent some time in the Holy Sepulcher, we then headed out into the streets of Jerusalem and headed for the bus to take us to our next stop of the day. Along the way we passed by the ancient Jaffa Gate. This is the gate where the light show was on display the night before. The gate was built in 1538, as part of the Ottoman wall construction.

Stop 6: The Israel Museum (Model of Jerusalem & Dead Sea Scrolls)

We have been walking a majority of the past couple of days and now we found our bus parked and air conditioner running on a nearby street. We then drove 3.2km (2 mi) west to the Israeli Museum. The parking lot was huge, so I was grateful Eli let us off at the front. Here at the museum, Tito explained we would be seeing a large model of the city of Jerusalem and also the scrolls that were found in Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls). This was the Shrine of the Book portion of the Israel museum. While I wanted to take photos of that portion, that area was strictly forbidden to take photos and there were many people guarding that area.

Stop 7: American Embassy at Jerusalem

After viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls and the model of Jerusalem, we headed back to the bus. I was starting to feel sad because that was our last stop… or so we thought. On the bus heading back to our hotel, Tito mentioned we had one more stop – the American Embassy in Jerusalem. We were all excited since the embassy hasn’t been around but only a year. It is important too… the Embassy is responsible for the extensive US-Israel Bi-lateral relationship.

The Conclusion of Our Israel Tour

On the way back, the atmosphere was quiet. I was thinking about all that we have done with the group. I would assume others were thinking the same things. Tito, however, still talked and mentioned that him and Eli would be taking us to the airport the following day. That’s good. We have all spent so much time together, and it was nice to know we would get to see them one more time before leaving. But why did I feel so sad? ?

Tito told us that we would have a meeting at 5pm tomorrow on the bottom floor of the David Citadel hotel. After that meeting we would be downstairs by 6pm to load our luggage onto the bus. Then we would have our final meal at the hotel (I am really sad now – the food was freakin amazing). Our church was awesome to work with the hotel to let us keep the rooms until early that evening. That meant we could take a shower prior to leaving for the airport. That was a HUGE blessing.

Tomorrow, though, we would get to go anywhere in Jerusalem and do whatever we wanted – our free day. Dewayne and I decided we needed to get some gifts for our friends and family. We also found out that we could visit George and Betty Jackson’s apartment in Jerusalem. George and Betty are the parents of our pastor Allen Jackson.