Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.
Our group split up after the visit to St. Peter in Gallicantu. A half dozen of us with mobility issues ate lunch and had a few hours of free time in the modern area of the Jewish Quarter. We entered through the Zion Gate, which is off of a parking lot on the southwest side of the Old City. The bullet marks are a testament to the Israeli effort to lift the siege of the Jewish Quarter during the 1948 War of Independence.
And the new development inside the gate is a testament to the tenacious spirit of the Jewish people. (Most of the area was destroyed during the war and rebuilt afterwards.) We enjoyed delicious hot fudge sundaes at an outdoor cafe, including chatting with the Jewish-American teen who served on the wait staff. We also mixed with the “natives” in the plaza who were shopping, playing music and singing, and just plain relaxing.
Our more active group walked the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross), the traditional route of Jesus’ journey to Calvary. The entry is through the Lion’s Gate in the northeastern corner of the Old City that leads directly into the Muslim Quarter. The panthers or leopards (not lions) near the top of its arch are symbols of one of the Ottoman sultans that ruled the city. The gate is also known to Christians as St. Stephen’s Gate because of its proximity to the traditional spot where Stephen was martyred (Acts 6:5-8, 7:58-59).
According to a Wikipedia article, the traditional route of the Via Dolorosa follows the pathway of one of the main east-west roads of the rebuilt Jerusalem of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD). It was first used for Christian memorial and devotional purposes during the Byzantine era in the Third Century. The individual stops did not begin to develop until the later Middle Ages and the current 14 stations were not finally agreed upon until the 1800s.
Here is a 3-D rendering of the route from the Biblewalks.com website. (Click on the picture to enlarge it and see the numbers more clearly.)
Right inside the gate and to the right is the Church of St. Anne. Recognized as one of the best preserved Crusader-era buildings in Jerusalem, it commemorates the traditional site of the birthplace of the Virgin Mary in the home of her parents, Joachim and Anna. The sanctuary has amazing acoustics, and most pilgrim groups take the opportunity to sing some of their favorite hymns and praise choruses.
Many scholars think that the Antonia Fortress, a massive structure that overlooked the courts on the Temple Mount, was the site of Pilate’s judgment of Jesus. So Station 1 is traditionally located at a contemporary building near there — the Umariya Elementary School. (Other scholars believe the site was near Herod’s Palace at Jaffa Gate, and we will visit that site on our 2016 trip.)
Station 2 is a complex of Franciscan buildings that commemorate Jesus being whipped and condemned. The Church of the Flagellation, is another Antonio Barluzzi design with symbols of the crucifixion carved into the exterior and beautifully colored stain glass windows inside. (All together we saw seven Barluzzi-designed on our trip: Shepherd’s Fields Church, Beatitudes Church, Church of the Transfiguration, Sanctuary of Bethphage, Dominus Flevit, Church of All Nations and this one.)
Outside on the street is the remain of the central arch from a triple-archway of a forum area of Hadrian’s time. It is erroneously called the “Ecce Homo” arch as early pilgrims assumed it was where Pilate presented Jesus to the crowds. One of the archway sides is part of the altar in the adjoining Ecce Homo basilica.
Stations 3-8 are simply marked by commemorative plaques or carvings. The small buildings and chapels they adorn are often not open for drop-in visitors.
The street is lined all along the way with tourist shops and stalls, which can be very distracting. But the clamoring merchants and the local crowd give something of the feel of what it might have been like in Jesus’ day.
Toward the end of the Via Dolorosa you can see the gray domed roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
From here you can continue to walk around the corner to the front entry plaza or, as we did, you can ascend a set of steps up to the roof of the Holy Sepulcher Church and Station 9. (The steps are easy to miss if you aren’t careful. On our 2009 trip I got separated from our group because I had stopped to look at jewelry and beads in one of the shops on the street. When I hurried to catch up I ran right past the stairway. Luckily some of the local residents helped me find my way back, but Randy and our guide were really worried about me.)
Every inch of the church (including the roof) is administered by a different religious group. “Rights” are rigorously protected and many conflicts have occurred over the years. So, depending on which side you favor, the complex of huts on the roof — the Deir-es-Sultan Monastery — belong to either the Egyptian Coptic or Ethiopian Churches.
The final stations — 10-14 — are located inside the Holy Sepulcher Church. A set of stone steps ascend from the floor of the main area to Calvary. A relatively plain Franciscan altar (Station 11) honors the spot where Jesus was nailed to the cross. And a highly decorated Orthodox altar (Station 12) honors the spot where his cross was erected and he died. A section of original rock in between is preserved under glass.
Looking down from the balcony in front of Calvary you can see Station 13 where Jesus was taken down from the cross and hastily prepared for burial. The preserved “Stone of Unction” means “stone of anointing.”
The final station #14 — a small chapel built over the tomb of Jesus — is located in the rotunda under the central dome of the church.
Many pilgrims have a hard time getting past all the marble and gilt that cover this holiest spot in all Christendom. But that doesn’t bother me at all because I believe this spot has the most authentic archeological evidence as the place where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. That, and the fact that thousands upon thousands of faithful have worshiped here over the years, makes it one of my pilgrimage favorites.
Walking back to the Jewish Quarter, we saw the gigantic Golden Menorah that was constructed by The Temple Institute (see below) and the remains of King Hezekiah’s “Broad Wall” and the Roman “Cardo” — the major north/south street in the 1st Century AD city.
Our two groups of pilgrims rejoined for a final visit of the day to the Temple Institute. Members of the Temple Institute look both to the past by preserving Jewish worship history through the re-creation of the temple implements and costumes, and to the future by hoping and praying that the temple will one day be rebuilt where the Muslim Dome of the Rock now stands. The latter makes the group quite controversial, and we take our pilgrims to visit mainly for the historical interest. For more information about the group, you can check out these videos here and here.
Click here for more pictures of the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.