Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Old Jerusalem

I took these pictures of Jerusalem when we went to the Mount of Olive.

The Wall of Jerusalem surrounding the Old City and the Damacus Gate that led to the bazaar and the Via Dolorosa.

Written in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The Via Dolorosa is the path that Jesus walked while carrying his cross. It is now one of the most crowded bazaars in the world.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is twice as large as the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. It was built in 326 AC by Emperor Constantine at the site where the three crosses were found. In 638, the Christians were forced to surrender Jerusalem to Muslim control under caliph Omar. In a remarkable gesture for the time, Omar refused to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, saying, "If I had prayed in the church it would have been lost to you, for the Believers [Muslims] would have taken it saying: Omar prayed here." This act of generosity would have unfortunate consequences, however.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre continued to function as a Christian church under the protection of Omar and the early Muslim rulers, but this changed on October 18, 1009, when the "mad" Fatimid caliph Hakim brutally and systematically destroyed the great church.

Ironically, if Omar had turned the church into a mosque, Hakim would have left it alone. But instead, Hakim had wrecking crews knock over the walls and he attacked the tomb of Christ with pricks and hammers, stopping only when the debris covered the remains. The east and west walls were completely destroyed, but the north and south walls were likely protected by the rubble from further damage.

The mausoleum harboring the tomb of Christ and the second floor built on the Golgota.

The Christian community of Jerusalem could not afford repairs, but in 1048 Emperor Constantine Monomachos provided money for reconstruction, subject to stringent conditions imposed by the caliphate. This was the church to which the knights of the First Crusade arrived to sing their Te Deum after capturing Jerusalem on July 15, 1099. The Crusader chief Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the first king of Jerusalem, declared himself Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri, "Defender of the Holy Sepulchre."

Subsequent centuries were not altogether kind to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It suffered from damage, desecration, and neglect. Another caliph turned it into a Moslem school.

Not until 1959 did the three major communities (Latins, Greeks, Armenians) agree on a major renovation plan. The church's chaotic history is evident in what visitors see today. Byzantine, medieval, Crusader, and modern elements mix in an odd mish-mash of styles, and each governing Christian community has decorated its shrines in its own distinctive way. In many ways, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is not what one would imagine for the holiest site in all Christendom. But at the same time, its noble history and immense religious importance is such that a visit can also be very meaningful.