Our last day in Jerusalem was our reason to be there: A tour of the Holy Sites in the Old City. An all-day tour wasn’t enough time to go to all of the sites, but it hit the more significant ones. And when you’re talking about the capital of the Holy Land, you can imagine these places were VERY significant. If you don’t know anything about the treasures of Jerusalem's Old City, know about these:
The Dome of the Rock: This place is one of the most prized pieces of land for both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, which makes it extremely precious and delicate. It has a long and very distinguished history. One, the location of the Dome is the original site of the First and Second Jewish Temples, the Temple Mount. Two, the Foundation Stone, located at the heart of the Dome, is believed by Jews to be the location of the Holy of Holies in the Second Temple, and therefore the holiest place in the world. Additionally, the stone is believed to be where Abraham prepared his son Isaac for sacrifice. The Dome’s location has additional importance in Islam because it is where, in the miracle of Isra and Mi'raj, Mohammed ascended into heaven to speak to God and the major prophets before coming back to earth with instructions for God’s people. The dome was built in 637 A.D. and, though it was converted to a church for a brief period by the Crusaders, Muslims control the mosque site today.
There are strict rules to follow while in the site. Besides the usual dress code regulations, men and women aren’t allowed to touch and non-Muslims aren’t allowed to enter the mosque. Jewish people do not enter the site’s grounds at all. We originally thought it was in silent protest to the Muslim control, but we later learned that it’s because, since the temples were destroyed, we can’t be sure where we are stepping and they could unknowingly trod on the holiest of holy spots.
The Western Wall: On the site where the Dome of the Rock is today, originally stood the First and Second Jewish Temples. King Herod expanded the Second Temple and, in order to make the hill level, built a gigantic, rectangular platform foundation. When the second temple was destroyed, that platform foundation remained as just four walls. Today, the wall encloses the grounds of the Dome of the Rock. With us so far?
So, a small section of this wall is called the Western Wall. It is considered to be the closets of the walls to the original temple, and so it is considered to be the holiest one. Today, many Jews come to pray at the Western Wall because it is the closest they can get to the Temple without entering onto the holy site. This small section of the wall is not the only surviving portion of the original wall, like many people circulate.
The Church of Holy Sepulcher: This Church is the Church of all Churches. It’s where it went down. This church is built over the locations where Jesus was crucified and buried. Therefore, where he died, and where he rose from the dead. YES, all one church. The original church was built by Constantine the Great’s orders in 325 A.D. It has been torn down and rebuilt many times with the surrounding buildings of Jerusalem coming right up to its border. The result is a church unlike any other, made of many different rooms with many different denominations adorning throughout. It’s probably best that the church is so different—no building could encompass the greatness of what happened here and it would be foolish to try.
Unfortunately, this church also shows the internal competition between denominations that control it. The territories are strict and sensitive between the groups with each one elbowing the other for more space. It’s heartbreaking, and not the way it should be.
Via Dolorosa (The Way of Suffering): This is a path through the Old City that is held to be where Jesus walked to his crucifixion. It includes nine of the Stations of the Cross, including the trial by Pontius Pilot, the three falls, and where Simon of Cyrene carries the cross for Jesus. The five other Stations are all within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
In addition to these spectacular sites, it’s possible to see King David’s tomb, the remains of an ancient Roman street, and the place where the Last Supper was celebrated. It was an exhausting day, but we returned to our room invigorated by the wonder for all we got to see!
Wow can’t be said enough. With our heads and hearts full, we left Jerusalem to continue on through Israel. Though the great city will be with us forever.
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