Spir­i­tual Jour­neys

Travel Bulletin - - CONTENTS -

There’s a mo­ment when you re­alise that this is the spot. Right here: this is the place where his­tory changed. This city, where your feet are planted, is where so many of the world’s for­ma­tive spir­i­tual events took place, where en­tire re­li­gions and king­doms have risen and fallen, where so many of the myths and sto­ries that have been told through­out our lives are cen­tred. Jerusalem. High above on the hill there is the Dome of the Rock, one of the most sa­cred sites in Is­lam, a mosque perched upon a ci­tadel that’s con­sid­ered deeply sa­cred, too, by the Jewish peo­ple. Be­low that sits the West­ern Wall, the holi­est place for mod­ern-day Jews, a site of pil­grim­age and wor­ship. And at your feet lies the paved walk­way known as the Via Dolorosa, the street where, more than 2,000 years ago, a man said to be the son of God was forced to

By Ben Ground­wa­ter

carry his own cross to his cru­ci­fix­ion. This is the an­cient city of Jerusalem, and surely there’s no place more closely con­nected to the spir­i­tu­al­ity of the world. Three of hu­man civil­i­sa­tion’s great­est re­li­gious move­ments, their mod­ern-day fol­low­ers col­lec­tively num­ber­ing al­most four bil­lion, can trace their his­tory to this beau­ti­ful but con­tested city. Whether you’re a be­liever or skep­tic, a fol­lower of any or none of these re­li­gions, you can’t help but be af­fected by Jerusalem. Its walled Old City, an area in­hab­ited for more than 4,000 years, is a slice of liv­ing his­tory, a car-free war­ren of nar­row al­ley­ways and cov­ered bazaars, where you can get lost in min­utes, and yet stum­ble upon one of the world’s most im­por­tant re­li­gious sites with­out even try­ing. The most ob­vi­ous of those sites is the Dome of the Rock, the gold-topped mosque that com­mands the high­est van­tage point in the Old City. These days, vis­i­tors can’t sim­ply ar­rive at this point on Tem­ple Mount with­out re­al­is­ing it – as one of the most con­tested ar­eas of a di­vided city, seen as holy and ex­tremely im­por­tant to Mus­lims, Jews and Chris­tians, Tem­ple Mount is heav­ily guarded, off-lim­its to those of the Jewish faith, and a site even non-be­liev­ers will have to be heav­ily searched in or­der to ac­cess. It’s worth the has­sle, how­ever, to tread on these hal­lowed stones, to see the place where Jews and Chris­tians be­lieve God gath­ered the dirt to cre­ate Adam, and where Mus­lims be­lieve the prophet Muham­mad as­cended to heaven. The en­tire Tem­ple Mount site these days is a peace­ful haven, a place where men sit and chat in the shade of tall trees, and tourists move from site to site tak­ing it all in. Just be­low here lies an­other of the world’s most fa­mous re­li­gious mon­u­ments. For Jewish peo­ple, given their bar­ring from Tem­ple Mount it­self, the West­ern Wall, also known as the “Wail­ing Wall”, is the holi­est place in which they’re al­lowed to pray. This 20-me­tre-high stone em­bank­ment on the perime­ter of the mount is busy any time of the week; how­ever, at sun­set on a Fri­day,

the be­gin­ning of the Shab­bat, thou­sands of fol­low­ers of the Jewish faith stream in from across the city to pray and chant and lay hands upon its sa­cred sur­face. Near the wall, groups of Is­raelis, some young, some old, some in mil­i­tary uni­forms, oth­ers in tra­di­tional Ortho­dox garb, gather in groups to cel­e­brate the Shab­bat. The de­vout touch the wall and chant. Tourists and other on­look­ers min­gle and stare. It’s part fes­tiv­ity, part an­cient re­li­gious rite. Back on those paved al­ley­ways, the Old City buzzes. Mem­bers of East Jerusalem’s Ara­bic com­mu­nity sell falafel and hum­mus from hole-in-the-wall restau­rants. An­cient stores ped­dle an­tiques and knick-knacks. Wan­der these streets long enough and you’ll in­evitably stum­ble upon the third in Jerusalem’s tri­umvi­rate of his­tory-defin­ing re­li­gious lo­ca­tions. Near the end of the Via Dolorosa lies the Church of the Holy Sepul­chre, a place of wor­ship built on the spot where Je­sus Christ is said to have been cru­ci­fied, buried, and even­tu­ally res­ur­rected. The church, charm­ingly ram­shackle for such an im­por­tant site – dif­fer­ent parts of the build­ing be­long separately to Eastern Ortho­dox Chris­tians, Ro­man Catholics, and Ori­en­tal Ortho­dox Chris­tians – has been built to sur­round Je­sus’s orig­i­nal tomb, a struc­ture that’s lit bril­liantly dur­ing the day by beams of sun­light that de­scend from the ceil­ing high above. You can’t fail to feel the sig­nif­i­cance of this beau­ti­ful place of pil­grim­age. There are many other sites in Is­rael and the Pales­tinian Ter­ri­to­ries that Chris­tian tourists come to see, from Je­sus’s birth­place in Beth­le­hem, to his home city of Nazareth, to the site of some of his mir­a­cles at the Sea of Galilee, but this is the one in which their fer­vour seems at its most in­tense. It’s fit­ting for a city such as Jerusalem that an event as for­ma­tive as Je­sus’s cru­ci­fix­ion should have taken place here. This is, af­ter all, where his­tory and re­li­gion, sto­ries and myths, parts of life that once seemed so ab­stract, ac­tu­ally hap­pened. That re­al­i­sa­tion, in it­self, is a re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence.

Please note: The rules re­gard­ing en­try to the Tem­ple Mount area for non-mus­lims are in a con­stant state of flux, and should be checked by trav­ellers be­fore they at­tempt to visit.

Tem­ple Mount, Jerusalem

Jerusalem Gate

Jerusalem

Mount of Beat­i­tudes, Jerusalem

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