We were dropped off at the Jaffa Gate and we walked to the Lion’s Gate, where we entered the Old City. Our first stop was a place called Bethesda, which was a place of healing in the time of Christ. Next to the healing pools is the Church of St Anne — she was the mother of the Blessed Virgin. This is the place where scholars feel that Mary was born, so we descended below the church to find the room where she might have been born and raised.
Here is a cubicle which may have been Mary’s birthplace.
Next we began our journey along the Via Dolorosa (the Way of the Cross/Way of Sorrow), following the route that Jesus took from his scourging and crowning with thorns all the way to Golgotha, where he was crucified and buried.
At each Station we said a small prayer and sometimes sang a song.
The route began in the Armenian Quarter, then traversed the Moslem Quarter until ending in the Christian Quarter. Along the way we encountered many shops and interesting alleyways.
The end of the Via Dolorosa, and the last 5 stations are contained within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by the Crusaders on the site where Christ was crucified. In Jesus’ day, this spot was outside the city walls. However, when the walls were rebuilt by Sulieman, Golgotha was incorporated.
The church is shared by six (6) different Christian sects, including the Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Franciscan Roman Catholic, and Coptic, Syrian and Abyssinian communities. Thus visits are often chaotic, with many different groups competing for space and the ear of the faithful.
The church entrance is decidedly Orthodox in style.
The main focus of a pilgrim’s visit is the spot where Jesus was crucified, commemorated in the form of an altar which visitors kneel under to kiss or touch the spot.
Father John said Mass at a chapel in the lower level of the church.
Another significant part of the church is the tomb where Christ was laid after he died. This tomb is in the lower level of the church and is enclosed within a circular structure. Visitors are only permitted to see the tomb for a very short period of time.
From here we walked through the Christian Quarter where there were numerous shops in narrow alleys. As we moved on to the Jewish Quarter, the alleys became wider, the shops larger and more respectable, and the prices increased substantially. Cardo Street is the main street of the Jewish Quarter and it could be a suburban mall in the US.
Eventually we came to the Western Wall, the holiest shrine in the world for Jews. Men and women are separated as they approach the wall, and the devout can be seen praying fervently, often kissing or at least touching the wall.