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Bethesda- Saint Anna

We hadn’t thought of visiting Bethesda. Fortunately – for us – one of my mates found that my street bought falafel was more hygienic than his restaurant-eaten food, and the bathrooms were too tempting for him. So we entered.

Apart from the church, which has been a cistern, a wall, a Roman temple dedicated to Serapis (Romans didn’t care much about whose gods belonged to whom: Serapis is an Egyptian god); the temple was destroyed by the Persians, and rebuilt as a Byzantine church, destroyed again by  Caliph Hakim and rebuilt by the Crusaders, who dedicated it to Saint Anne.  Salal al Din destroyed it and  the site was converted into a Koranic School.

From them on it has been a Church, and there are excavations all over the place.

A column from the crusaders’ time (easily recognizable):

Some of the excavations reach down to the original ground – again, hopefully: it’s not that easy to excavate a city under a city.

Or is it?

Originally there were some cisterns here, and around one of them the sick people waited to be cleaned, as they couldn’t go near the Temple if sick. So it must have been there, or very near there, where Jesus cured a paralytic, according to John 5,1-9. This information was painfully dug up by me in a Christian Bible; I just remembered the ex-leper dancing around Brian and claiming to have been cured by Jesus.

Anyway, this seems to be the pool – or what is left of it.

The water is stagnant.

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The Holy Sepulchre

Now we have finally reached the sepulchre that is not a sepulchre because no one is buried here. I’m not sure anyone ever was. Long queue for entering, of course. There is a long line of  Italians all wearing a blue scarf following a guide. We wait. (Queue of Italians was skipped in the photo).

Inside there is a marble rock where I think I understand Jesus was anointed and prepared for burial.

Then there is the long queue of Italians with blue scarves patiently waiting to enter a subterranean grotto that is so small that only one person is allowed at a time. Apparently there is always a warden at the entrance, and there is also a strict roster of  monks, friars, priests, fathers of all Christian faiths to guard the entrance. The Italians having gone, the entrance is empty for a second. I suppose this might as well count as a miracle.

Inside the small cave, where Jesus was supposed to be buried everything is covered with candles. The light is quite bad and it’s impossible to use the flash. And the tomb is empty. I try to decipher what’s written on the walls. I come up with “He whom you search for is not here”. That’s news.

There are lots of chapels around but I don’t want to enter each and every one of them. The pilgrimage is over; it was senseless, it’s impossible that Jesus Christ or anyone else walked all this way carrying a cross. I’ve had enough of Christianity to last me a long time. And well, most of the Christian sites overlap Jewish sites, so I’m bound for another bit of Christianity every way I look.

We’ve reached (almost) our final destination. I’m surprised to find there are two crosses leaning against the wall. I mean, I know Christian wear crosses sometimes, but they could have chosen another symbol of their religion, couldn’t they? After all, a cross is an instrument of torture. What if Jesus Christ was guillotined or hanged? It mystifies me. However, it doesn’t mystify my mates at all: they run to the crosses as I would run to Captain Kidd’s  hidden treasure.

I assume they’ve proved they can carry – or at least hold – a cross for thirteen mississippies. The rest of the stations lie underground – where they should be from the beginning.

If there ever was such a thing: crosses are heavy, and Romans were a very organized people. If they had – and I do not doubt they did – a place for crucifying dissidents the most economic and easiest way would have been to have a handful of crosses all ready at the crucifixion place. Making prisoners take their own crosses to the crucifixion place would be a waste of time, resources and effort. And probably this means blasphemy to someone, so I’d better stop right here, on top of the Holy Sepulchre. Why does the Path end at the top of the Holy Sepulchre?

We continue through the market looking for markers, all right I confess I stop at every stall; I want to buy something for the kids and well, I don’t want a “I <heart> Jerusalem” tee-shirt.

Fifth station located. Now it’s time to know what’s it all about. Apparently someone called Simon carried or helped Jesus to drag his cross – the inevitable chapel is nearby and the inevitable Jew does not enter.

My Latin is not that bad; I haven’t studied it for years but I can still read it – a little bit. I doubt I could translate Cicero now.

Another stop now to drink more mint tea and buy some more water bottles. We need to drink a lot, it’s really too hot.


I don’t know what happened here (possibly some crusaders fought  some other crusaders) but there is a church nearby. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, I’m utterly lost. Bet the others are as lost as I am, though I am becoming an expert in Latin and decipher that someone called Veronica wiped Jesus’ face, er, “here”.

We need now to find the seventh, and we are getting hungry. I want to get some falafel from any of the street stalls, but my colleagues prefer a restaurant because they think it’s more hygienic or so. Anyway, while we discuss it we find the next station:

There is an old cross with a  hole under it; if there is a church nearby, I can’t see it (I’m too busy eating my falafel).

And, while I very unhygienically lick my fingers and drink the last of my water, we find the ninth.  Or quite – we need to go inside yet another church.  And then the rest of my mates decide to have lunch on a terrace.

We decided next to follow Jesus Christ’s walk  carrying his cross. It was my mates’ decision, as I cannot imagine how any dissident rabbi condemned to be crucified by the Romans could walk, crossed or not, through streets that were built during the Middle Ages.

Apparently each spot is marked:

so it should be easy to follow this alleged path. Well, it isn’t. Most of the marks are scattered through the market, and the market is more than full: it’s overbooked. So, armed with the National Geographic guide, we started our walk.  The Via Dolorosa, or the Path of Grief.

I’m not sure where they want to begin; according to someone we should begin the pilgrimage in the Garden of Gethsemane. But that would mean retracing our steps and gosh, it’s hot.  So, in the end, we go our own way. Flagellation Priory first. I don’t want to go in; all those images of a dying, tortured man sicken me. So I stay away of every church, priory, chapel or whatever that commemorates the stations.

We have to cross the Ecce Homo Arch (but this couldn’t be here two thousand years ago, not as it is now, OK, I’ll shut up).

And then we reach our next station:

(I am already lost with all the discussion about beginnings and ends but I trail along dutifully).

Apparently Maximilian of Bavaria reconstructed the site – Heaven only knows what it was in the beginning; now it’s another chapel – where I refuse to go in. After all, I already know what I’m going to find.

We are beginning to get lost at this point – the rest of the crew as well as myself.  Finally we find the next station:

:

Ha, it’s the third. There’s no mistake because it’s written down. Jesus falls. We weren’t as lost as we thought. Well, just a little bit.

I’m still wondering how can anyone believe a man could have dragged one heavy wooden cross all this way – and the original ground is dozens of metres below; but it’s traditional.

 

I’m not quite sure what this one is meant to represent. We’re now into the market. Jesus and Mary, or Jesus and the Magdalene.

 

We decide to stop now and take some mint tea. I prefer grenade juice with ice, I’m not worried about if it’s OK or not to drink something that it’s not bottled or sealed: I love grenade juice.

King’s David Tomb

We continue our tour to see the Tomb of David. It’s almost empty now, illuminated by candles here and there. I explore every recess; I don’t want to cross the road and visit the Shoah Museum at the other side of the street. That’s where my mates are now.

I was dragged once into that Museum, and I don’t want to come in again; I have no need of reminders, and that last time I was there I cried till I had no tears left.

There’s a yeshiva just on top of David’s Tomb, with a sign that indicates it’s also a music school. Wonderful. I wait outside,   sitting on a steep, daydreaming,  expecting to hear some ethereal, heavenly music. Orthodox boys were pouring into the yeshiva, carrying with them their musical instruments.

I jumped from my comfortable step when I heard the first chords of Smoke on the water booming against the walls.

Jerusalem stamps

I climbed the stairs that lead from the Wall to the City of David, way up the hill. On the second landing there’s now a sentry box where a very young, and apparently very bored, Israeli soldier, stood guard. I sat on the wall next to the sentry box, under the shadow of a tree, to roll a cigarette. I had taken off my shawl and my long-sleeved blouse, so I was wearing cutoffs and a tee-shirt.The stairs are a good vantage point: all the people coming and going down on the square can be seen from there; at that moment was filled up with of American tourists.

The soldier looked at me, laid carefully his rifle (maybe it was a rifle, I know nothing about firearms; it was long and black) and begged me for a cigarette. I rolled one for him, and we both sat on the wall, this time watching the stairs – because, after a frantic search through pockets  (in his case),  and handbag (in mine) we found out none of us had a lighter.

A varied crowd of people climbed up and down the stairs. The soldier and I kept on asking for a lighter, but the anti-tobacco league is widespread.

One of them, a very round, very jolly mullah, in a long black robe and white turban, approached us with a lighter and, after I rolled another cigarette for him, lighted them.

So there we were, a Muslim, a scantily dressed Jewish woman, and an Israeli soldier, talking about how really expensive tobacco is nowadays and smoking our cigarettes.

There was just one religion missing there, and it was coming up the stairs. The young man wore a pair of canvas trousers but was bare-chested; he didn’t, anyway, need a shirt: his chest was virtually covered with crosses, crucifixes and icons of Saint Mary hanging from gold chains.

When he saw us, he stopped right on his tracks, wide eyed.

– “Sinners!”, he shouted, “you will all burn in hell”.

The mullah, the soldier and me looked at each other. It was the mullah the one to answer first.

– “In what way are we sinning, son?”

– “I can see your black souls, sharing marijuana with the Whore of Babylon! God is my witness!”

– “Yeah, I’ve hidden the marijuana inside my gun”, said the soldier, “you can check it if you want”.

– “The soldier is lying”,  said the mullah, “I’m the one who has the hashish hidden inside my turban “.

– “Convert to the true religion and forget your false prophets! All your false prophets are burning in Hell, and so you will!”

The Israeli soldier exhaled a puff of smoke and calmly said:

– “What about Moses? Isn’t he a prophet of yours, as well? Is he burning in hell?”

– “And Jesus Christ is a prophet of ours”, said the mullah. “Is he burning in Hell too?

– “The only true salvation is in Christianity! Convert, you sinners! Convert and denounce the evil ways of false prophets! Accept Jesus Christ in your hearts, and spread the Word! Denounce the Whore of Babylon!”

He meant me, of course; the Israeli soldier hardly looked the part, and no sane mind could have imagined the round mullah as a voluptuous belly dancer.

By that time there was a crowd of Muslims, American tourists, passers-by and schoolchildren from a nearby yeshiva watching the scene.

The soldier crushed his cigarette but, shook hands with the mullah, smiled at me, retrieved his gun and told everyone to leave. The mullah crushed carefully his cigarette butt, put it inside his pocket, winked at me, and left.  I crushed my cigarette butt, looked around to see where my mates were, and joined them.

– “What was going on?, they asked.

– “We were just having fun”, I answered.

The young man with the crucifixes, after some hesitation, decided to follow the Whore of Babylon, namely me, still shouting.

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