Driving northward from the area of Jericho, we finally made it – JERUSALEM!
I’ve dreamed of visiting this holy city for a very long time and it was thrilling to finally see it as we came into the city. It was already late in the day but even driving through traffic I could sense that this was a city unlike any I’ve ever seen.
We made our way to where we would spend the next few nights – The Pontifical Institute Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem. Just outside the Old City, across the street from the New Gate, this really felt like the place to be. It is beautiful architecturally and imbues a sense of peace and spirituality akin to a monastery, perhaps.
As you can see, the rooftop bar/restaurant affords a great view of the city, old and new. I can’t imagine staying anywhere else. Check out their website and read about the fascinating history of the place.
CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER
Just before dinner and about the time things were starting to close down, Mountain took us through the New Gate and into the Old City. We were on a mission to meet with a priest at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher about staying overnight in the Church. Apparently a small group of pilgrims is allowed to spend the night in prayer in this very holy place and part of our group was interested in finding out about it.
It all happened so fast, that I wasn’t really prepared for the experience. Turning this way and that, through darkened and crowded streets, I found myself in the small plaza outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
I had seen the church and this plaza before, on TV during Holy Week broadcasts. What I now saw was just what I had seen before. An ancient church, an ancient door, and tangible places inside that had previously only been pictured in my mind’s eye.
This wasn’t the “official” visit that we would make later as a group, so there wasn’t any real prep for this visit.
Stepping inside the massive front door, I found myself turned to the right and climbing a steep set of stairs.
And, suddenly I was standing a mere five feet from the site of Christ’s crucifixion. To be honest, I was a bit overcome when I realized where I was. I hugged the wall behind me and tried to keep my composure. I was HERE. HERE – this place where such a monumental thing occurred.
Down another set of stairs and now I’m standing before a large rectangular stone, set into the floor and lit by sanctuary lights. HERE – this place is the Anointing Stone where Christ’s body, taken from the Cross was prepared for burial. Of the pilgrims still in the Church, many were gathered here, touching, rubbing, laying upon this stone, some uttering the most fervent of prayers.
Around to the left, and then around the right, we made our way to the sacristy to meet with the priest about the overnight stay.
But HERE, just HERE is the site of Christ’s Tomb. HERE – the site of the Resurrection. What more can I say?
The Church was pretty quiet now. Getting late, many of the pilgrims and visitors had left. I sat on a bench facing the Tomb and just pondered this all. There wasn’t much thought, really, just waves of emotion.
I’m glad that this first visit was raw and unprepared. No lecture or explanation would have helped this experience, and I wouldn’t have wanted it either. How could one building encompass so much? (watch this)
Walking back to the Notre Dame Center, through the even quieter streets of the Old City, I felt lighter, as if some crust of barnacles had been removed.
It was peaceful.