Day 4 (Part 3) – Cana and Capernaum

Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.

After a VERY full morning — Nazareth and Nazareth Village — our pilgrimage group headed a few miles northeast to Kfar Kanna (Cana), the Arabic town that commemorates Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine (John 2:1-12) and his second miracle of healing the son of one of Herod’s officials (John 4:46-54). Cana is also identified as the hometown of the Apostle Nathanael, who was also called Bartholomew (John 21:1-2).

Our first stop was lunch — tasty felafel and schwarma pitas again — at a nice restaurant on the busy main street. We also did some shopping nearby on the way back to the bus. Since it was Palestinian Mother’s Day, Foteh and Walid surprised all the ladies with the gift of a red carnation.

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To get to the church, we walked down a very narrow cobbled street that was lined with more shops on both sides. Every so often we had to dodge the local cars as residents made their way to the main part of town. (When I did a “street view” of this area on Google maps, there was one of our tour company’s buses parked on the corner.)

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The church itself sits off the street in an enclosed courtyard, and its exterior facade is lovely. Sheathed in native limestone, it almost seems to glisten in the sunlight. Foteh explained that the architect (not Antonio Barluzzi, as I had guessed) intended the two towers to represent husband and wife, with Jesus (standing on the middle pediment) in the midst of their relationship. (What a wonderful symbol of Christian marriage!) We also paused outside for a few minutes of Bible study about Jesus’ first “water into wine” miracle.

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The interior of the church was simple, but quite beautiful. The area under the dome was relatively unadorned except for the artwork over the high altar. And the rough limestone blocks and high arches helped to flood the sanctuary with light, a great visual reminder of the nature of miracles.

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Though I didn’t go downstairs this time (bum knee, again), I know that the discoveries from the excavations are quite interesting.

On the way out of Cana and back east toward the Sea of Galilee, we encountered a pretty major traffic jam. But Walid’s driving skills “saved the day” as he took us on some alternate routes that got us to Capernaum in plenty of time to have a nice, long visit in this town that was Jesus’ “headquarters” in the Galilee. The site is under the custody of the Franciscans, and the grounds are beautifully kept.

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Many of the gospel accounts about Jesus’ miracles took place in Capernaum: the healing of the centurion’s servant, of Peter’s mother-in-law, of the man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit, and of the paralyzed man who was let down through the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching. In the waters nearby, Jesus found a coin to pay the temple tax in the mouth of a fish. It was also while in the Capernaum synagogue that Jesus declared himself to be “the bread of life.”

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Toward the center of the site is an octagonal shaped modern church dedicated to St. Peter. The decorative ironwork railings — outside the building and around the center of the inside — contain a variety of Christian symbols, including letters that spell out the apostle’s name.

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We weren’t permitted inside because a Catholic Mass was being celebrated at the time (so the picture above obviously wasn’t taken by a member of our group), but we were able to view the archeological ruins around the base of the church. The “See the Holy Land” website describes it in this way:

Today an ultra-modern Catholic church, perched on eight sturdy pillars, hovers protectively over an excavation site. It is believed to have been the site of Peter’s house, where Jesus would have lodged.

Archaeologists believe the house was in a small complex grouped around irregular courtyards. Drystone basalt walls would have supported a roof of tree branches covered with straw and earth — a fairly flimsy construction easily breached to lower a paralysed man on a mat, as described in Mark 2:1-12.

Excavations show that one room in this interlinked complex had been singled out since the middle of the 1st century. Graffiti scratched on its plaster walls referred to Jesus as Lord and Christ (in Greek). It is suggested that this room was venerated for religious gatherings as a house church. If so, it would have been the first such example in the Christian world.

In 5th century an octagonal church was built around this venerated room. The present church, dedicated in 1990, repeats the octagonal shape.

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We ended our afternoon there with some time for individual exploration and reflection. I don’t know what everyone else was thinking about, but I was also remembering that for all the wonders Jesus performed in that town — probably including the conversion of the tax collector, Matthew — people generally refused to believe in him and rejected his ministry and message. (Luke 10:13-16) I prayed that God would help me to be found faithful at the end of my life, even through the various ups and downs.

After one more scrumptious buffet style dinner, we gathered for Bible study and sharing and then enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

Click here for additional group pictures of Cana and Capernaum.

Day 5 (Part 1) – The Mount of Beatitudes

Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.

We got an early start this morning, boarding the bus and heading north through Tiberias to the upper part of the lake. Climbing a twisting road up the hillside, we arrived at the Franciscan Church of the Beatitudes. Though no one knows exactly where Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, this tranquil setting is a great spot to commemorate His teaching. The acoustically resonant Cove of the Sower is right below, and from the hillside there is a clear view of all the ruins of the most important local towns — from Bethsaida (home of Peter, Andrew and Philip) to Magdala/Migdol (home of Mary Magdalene). And the beautifully landscaped grounds create a spiritual atmosphere that naturally leads to prayer and reflection.

cob+landscape8The main church building was designed by architect Antonio Barluzzi (who also did the Church at Shepherd’s Field, which we saw earlier) and built in 1938 with the financial help of Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. The structure incorporates the local stone — black Galilean basalt — and its octagonal shape represents the eight beatitudes. The cloistered porches surrounding the structure allow for magnificent views of the grounds and the Sea of Galilee below.

Image 364Before entering the building, we stopped at a shady area in the plaza for a time of Bible study and personal reflection.

COB+BS2Even the mosaics beneath our feet helped us to focus on the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. The woman in the lower left circle is Mary Magdalene. (Magdala or Migdol means “tower,” and scholars believe there was an ancient lighthouse on the nearby shore.)

cob+mosaic4The inside of the church is lovely: airy and filled with light. The central altar is situated under a graceful arch that mirrors the other archways and draws the eye upwards toward the dome.

cob+altar1The surrounding walls contain stained glass windows with each of the beatitudes written in Latin, and the floor includes mosaics with symbols of the seven traditional virtues of justice, charity, prudence, faith, fortitude, hope and temperance.

cob+dome2For me, one of the best experiences on our entire trip was the time we spent inside the church. Strict silence usually must be maintained, and that has a deep spiritual significance that I have always found quite moving. But since our guide, Foteh, was acquainted with the nun guarding the entrance, we were given permission to have a short time of devotion and singing. Barluzzi is noted for the acoustics in his buildings, and this one was no exception. As we lifted our voices in the song “Seek Ye First,” many in our group began to cry, and so did some of the other tourists around us. It was truly a glimpse of heaven!

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Click here for additional group pictures of the Mount of Beatitudes

 

Day 5 (Part 2) – Tabgha, Eremos and St. Peter’s Fish

Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.

Right beside the Sea of Galilee at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes is the area of Tabgha, which means “seven springs.” It’s close to the site where the northern Jordan River dumps into the lake, warming the temperature and increasing the growth of algae, which draws the fish and makes it a prime site for fishing.

Also a prime site for fishing for men!

The earliest building in the Tabgha area is a small chapel — the Church of the Multiplication — that was built in the fourth century by a Jewish convert to Christianity. A mosaic of fish and bread in the excavated floor of the more modern church commemorates Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000. (Other than in “a solitary place,” only Luke identifies the site as further to the east near Bethsaida — Luke 9:10-17) It has a lovely, quiet courtyard that is just the spot for thinking about the Lord’s provision in our own lives.

2014-03-22 10.40.48Closer to the lake is the Church of the Primacy of Peter. Incorporating part of a 4th century church, the simple structure and beautifully landscaped grounds honor Jesus’ post-resurrection reinstatement of the Apostle Peter, commissioning him to “feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-19) A place of Christian pilgrimage since at least the late 300s AD, it encloses a large rock that is said to be the “table” (Mensa Christi in Latin) that Jesus used to feed the disciples a fish breakfast.

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The outside of the church is built of the local black basalt stone as are the rocks that are probably part of the ancient harbor.

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A great way to end the visit was walking along the shore and wading in the Sea of Galilee. Even “Flat Stanley,” who was brought along by literacy volunteer Lindsay Hyland, joined in the fun.

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While some of us continued to rest under the flowering trees, the adventurous among us climbed up the hillside to the Cave of Eremos. (In Greek, eremos means deserted or solitary, and Scripture tells us that Jesus often went to such a place to pray.) As with Tabgha, Christian pilgrims began visiting this site at least as early as the 4th century, and deceased archeologist Bargil Pixner was convinced that just above it was the most authentic spot for Jesus’ delivering the Sermon on the Mount. Some scholars also think that it’s more likely Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer somewhere in this area rather than near the traditionally honored site on the Mount of Olives.

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A visit to the Galilee isn’t complete without having at least a bite of the tasty St. Peter’s Fish. A form of Tilapia that originated in Africa, most of the modern day catch served in tourist restaurants is actually “farmed” on the local Kibbutzim. Still, it’s quite an experience to eat something that’s kind of watching you do it.

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Click here for more pictures of Tabgha, Eremos and fish lunch.

Day 5 (Part 3) – Banias and Caesarea Philippi

Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.

After lunch we rode around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and headed even further north to the foot of Mount Hermon where we stopped at the beautiful Hermon Stream or Banias Nature Preserve.

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A flowing spring, one of the sources of the Jordan River, is found at the base of a cliff and it served as the water source for local residents. After Alexander the Great conquered the area, the Greeks founded a new city south of the springs that they called Panias (Banias in Arabic) after the god Pan, the goat-legged deity that ruled over the flocks, hunting and wild natural areas. A grotto in the hillside marks the spot where Pan was worshiped by the sacrifice of goats, and niches carved into the rocks are thought to have held statues of other Greco-Roman gods and goddesses. 

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When Herod the Great was granted oversight of the area he built a temple to his patron, the Emperor Caesar Augustus. Remains from that period also litter the site.

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When Herod’s son Herod Philip inherited Banias at his father’s death, he built his capital city there and named it after himself and his patron emperor Tiberius — Caesarea Philippi. Its remains lie across the parking lot from the nature preserve, and they contain excavations from the Roman and Byzantine periods. The ruins of a Byzantine church commemorate the site where Jesus healed a woman with uncontrollable bleeding.

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The city was significant during the Arab, Crusader and Medieval periods, and then declined to a small village under Turkish rule.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that this is also the area where Jesus took his disciples to ask them some very important questions: “who do people say that I am?” and “who do you say that I am?” What better spot to do that than a place where people worshiped and honored just about everything and everyone besides the true and living God! The Grotto of Pan was also thought to lead to the “gates of hell” or the “gates of hades.” So Jesus had a wonderful “show and tell” example when he told his followers that the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church. And while Banias is now just a mass of stones and rubble, the Church of Jesus Christ is still alive!

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Banias/Caesarea Philippi is one of my favorite stops on the pilgrimage. Not many visitors come here, and the late afternoon is a peaceful time to sit and reflect on Jesus’ important questions about His identity. When so much of our culture tempts us to “idol worship” of some kind, it’s good to be reminded that Jesus is our one true Lord and that nothing the world throws at us can overcome our faith.

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And speaking of cultural temptation … after dinner that evening a group of us went to one of Tiberias’ diamond centers. Israel is a leader in the cut diamond industry worldwide, so the prices are purported to be very good. It was way too rich for my blood, but some of our pilgrims’ loved ones were going to get really nice gifts back home.

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Click here for more pictures of Banias, Caesarea Philippi and the Diamond Center.

Day 6 (Part 1) – Ginosar and Mount Tabor

Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.

For our last day in the Galilee, which happened to be a Sunday morning, we began by heading to one of the harbor areas of Tiberias to board a wooden boat and sail on the Sea of Galilee. As Pastor Randy always jokingly says, this is one place in the Holy Land where Jesus walked that isn’t covered over with gilt and marble. The experience has an authentic spiritual feel that is quite memorable, and most travelers vote it as their favorite highlight of the trip.

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The mostly Israeli crews usually begin the voyage by showing their appreciation for American support of Israel by raising our national flag.

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Once we’re out in the middle of the lake, they also give us a brief lesson on fishing. In the five times we’ve visited Israel we’ve never seen anyone catch anything. Either it’s the wrong time of day or the fish prefer other spots. Still, it gives us all a good picture of what fishing was like in Jesus’ day.

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The lake (which is also called Lake of Tiberias, Lake of Gennesaret, or Kinneret, which means “harp” in Hebrew) is not very large — only about 8 miles across from east to west and 20 miles long from north to south. Growing up as a kid, my most usual experience of a lake was Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes where my folks would go for vacation. When I heard the stories of Jesus calming the storm or walking on water, I always envisioned a body of water that size — one that you could not see to the other side.

The actual Sea of Galilee seemed a bit “puny” on my first visit and it amazed me that God chose this spot for his Son’s ministry and the launch of the gospel message. But that was because I had forgotten my Holy Land geography lessons. An ancient trade route called the Via Maris (Way of the Sea) passed through at least two of the harbor towns along the lake — Migdal, which was the home of Mary Magdalene, and Capernaum, which was Jesus’ headquarters in the Galilee. It was used by merchants and other travelers to get from Egypt to Damascus and beyond into Syria and the area of modern Turkey. It was perfectly situated to spread the word outside “backwater” Galilee.

I also learned on that first visit about how the winds could rush in unexpectedly — either down from the Golan Heights on the east side or funneled through a natural declivity on the west side called the “Valley of Doves” — causing violent storms. In 1992 one such storm sent 10′ waves crashing into Tiberias and causing significant damage.

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But our boat ride was very, very peaceful. When the captain cut the engine and we drifted on the lake, it encouraged a time of reflection about everything we had learned so far. Then guide Foteh taught and Pastor Randy preached and led worship. Though the music was recorded, that didn’t stop us from having a “lively” time praising God.

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Even Fat Stanley thought it was an unforgettable experience!

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Our boat docked at Kibbutz Ginosar where we toured the Yigal Allon Museum and learned how an ancient boat — possibly from the time of Jesus — was rescued from the mud during a drought season in 1986. Discovered by two seasoned fishermen, the boat was encased in foam, raised by a crane from the water and broken from its shell after it was immersed in a special solution to preserve what was left of the wood. On our first visit in 1994 the boat was still contained in its fluid-filled tank; now it is displayed so you can see it “up close and personal.”

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Saying “good bye” to the lake area, we headed west again uphill and toward Mount Tabor. Tabor is a large, volcano shaped hill that is the most prominent feature of the Jezreel Valley.

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In the Druze village at the foot of the hill we climbed into shuttles that hurtled us up the hairpin turns to the top of the Mount. Christians since the fourth century have honored this area as the site of Jesus’ transfiguration. During Ottoman rule the Franciscans were given permission to live atop Tabor, and they have taken care of the holy ground ever since the early 1600s. In 1924 they built the present church on the foundation of Crusader era remains.

The church grounds are delightful, and the view from the overlook extends across the mountains of Samaria.

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Some of the Crusader and Byzantine excavations near the walkway on the way to the church are a perfect place to draw away from the crowds and share in Bible study. The story of Jesus’ transfiguration mirrors the story of his baptism in such a profound way: in both God speaks from heaven confirming Jesus’ identity as His Son, authorizing Jesus’ mission and giving Jesus encouragement for what would follow in the days ahead. In the case of his baptism, that was the temptation in the wilderness; in the case of his transfiguration that was the suffering and death he would soon endure. It was sobering to consider the sacrifice Jesus was preparing to make, and it was a personal invitation for me to get spiritually ready for “walking in his footsteps” in Jerusalem. We had never visited Tabor before, so this was also a very moving experience.

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The church building was beautiful outside and in. Designed by the renowned architect Antonio Barluzzi, its central sanctuary area represents Jesus while the two side columns represent Moses and Elijah, who appeared before Jesus and the disciples during the miracle. (We had also seen two other Barluzzi designs earlier in the trip: Shepherd’s Field Church outside Bethlehem and Church of the Beatitudes. You can find out more about Barluzzi, who was often called “the architect of the Holy Land,” and his work in this pdf booklet.)

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The interior includes a sunken high altar, which is situated in a grotto that contains breath-taking mosaics that depict different phases of Jesus’ life: birth, suffering, death and resurrection.

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A mosaic depicting the transfiguration story is at the top of the sanctuary above the high altar and worship area.

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Finally, there are small chapels in each wing that honor Moses and Elijah.

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We had hoped to tour Samaria during the afternoon, but riots in Jenin prevented us from doing so. It was a very concrete reminder of the fragile nature of the cooperation between Israel and Palestine. And a call to prayer.

Click here for more pictures of Ginosar and Mount Tabor.

Day 6 (Part 2) – Megiddo and Caesarea Maritima

Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.

Since we couldn’t tour through Samaria, we continued to head west for a stop at Megiddo National Park, a World Heritage site and the location of Har Megiddo. “Har” means “mount” in Hebrew, and when you put it together with the name of the city you end up with the Greek-ified word “Armageddon.” Yes, this city on a mount stands guard over the western edge of the Plain of Jezreel, the place where Scripture claims “the last battle” of good and evil will be fought.

Since earliest civilization Megiddo was an important city-state because, like Capernaum, it sat atop the Via Maris trade route from Egypt to Syria. (The modern-day highway follows the ancient roadbed.) Though its 26 levels of occupation have been extensively excavated, the most relevant remains for visiting pilgrims are the fortifications and city gate from the time of King Solomon (1 Kings 9:15), or possibly of the Kings of Israel, Ahab or Jeroboam II. (Archeologists are not in agreement on the age.) A later King of Judah, Josiah, was killed in battle on the plains of Megiddo.

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One of the most fascinating remains is the water system built by King Ahab in the 9th century BC. Water was a valuable resource and especially vulnerable to enemy attack. By constructing a shaft and covered tunnel to the water supply, the residents of Megiddo could obtain water without going outside the fortifications. The same kind of system was fashioned much later in Jerusalem by King Hezekiah, and a similar tunnel features prominently in one of the chapters of James Michener’s book The Source. Scripture tells us that the Jerusalem diggers started at opposite ends and somehow managed to meet close to the middle. Those in Megiddo were only off by one foot!

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Backpacks are relatively easy. Imagine doing this with a water jar atop your head!

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After our relaxing lunch (falafel sandwiches again!) and tour we continued west to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the once glorious city of Caesarea Maritima. Compared to Megiddo, Caesarea was a relative newcomer, and mostly insignificant until Herod the Great developed it into one of the wonders of the Greco-Roman world. Our pilgrim group had only a short visit in 2009, and much has changed since then. The welcome area has been improved, including a picture-worthy statue of a Roman sentry and a state-of-the-art movie theater to introduce and explain the archeological remains.

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There are a lot of archeological fragments (mostly replicas) displayed in various areas of the park. In 1961 the “Pilate Inscription” was discovered, the ONLY known historical occurrence of the name “Pontius Pilate.” It’s a building dedication from him to the Emperor Tiberius. Up until this time, many liberal scholars doubted that Pilate, who sentenced Jesus to be crucified, even existed except as a figment of the gospel writers’ imaginations.  This inscription confirms the accuracy and truth of the New Testament, and it was enough to solidify my own shaky faith when I first visited in 1994.

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A large amphitheater is located on the south side of the city.

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And the ruins of Herod’s Palace are slightly north, jutting out into the sea. St. Paul was probably held prisoner in or near this building before he was sent on to Rome for trial.

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Caesarea Maritima and its environs were engineering marvels. The harbor was the largest artificial structure built on the open seas up to that date. (Its concrete was designed so that it “cured” while underwater.) And the city’s sewage system was timed to “flush” with the tides. If Herod the Great was good for nothing else, he certainly knew how to build.

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After visiting Caesarea, our bus climbed through the hills to the outskirts of Jerusalem. We stopped along the hillside of Mount Scopus for a lovely first view of the city with its lights twinkling on in the dusk.

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After check in at the Grand Court Hotel, we enjoyed another fine buffet meal with an almost unending dessert and chocolate bar. Israeli hospitality at its best!

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 Click here for more pictures of Megiddo, Caesarea Maritima and our hotel in Jerusalem.

Day 7 (Part 1) – Bethphage and the Mount of Olives

Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.

Our pilgrimage time in Jerusalem always feels to me like “coming around the home stretch.” No matter how we organize the schedule, no matter how much free time we try to build into the days, it still feels like a big rush of events. There’s just so much to see and do and learn!

So for me, it was even more of a blessing to have our wonderful guide and driver, Foteh and Walid. Foteh kept us “on track” with a keen understanding of how much time to spend in one place. And Walid maneuvered the bus into some really tight spots in order to cut down on difficult walking. He was there “bright and early” each morning with a friendly welcome as we began the adventures of a new day.

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The first part of the day was spent on the Mount of Olives tracing the footsteps of Jesus and his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Our first stop was the village of Bethphage, which was considered the outermost edge of the city of Jerusalem — the distance one could walk on a Sabbath’s day journey. Its name in Hebrew means “house of unripe figs,” a reference to the gospel story where Jesus caused an unfruitful fig tree (representing the nation of Israel) to wither. (Matthew 21:18-22) Ironically, this is the same town that Jesus chose as the place where he would begin his ride into Jerusalem.

The Crusaders believed that a large, chiseled stone was the mounting block Jesus used to climb on the donkey. They painted murals on it of the raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and it became central to the medieval pilgrim’s commemoration of Palm Sunday. When the Franciscan monastery was built in the late 1800s, the block was rediscovered in what would have been the Crusader chapel, which itself had been built over an older 4th century Byzantine structure. And in 1954 the renowned architect Antonio Barluzzi renovated the current Sanctuary of Bethphage.

The front facade contains a Jerusalem cross at the apex. Other Jerusalem crosses festoon the interior of the church.

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The church was undergoing renovations and the Crusader mounting block had been removed. But there were lovely sepia toned frescoes of the Palm Sunday procession on the walls — they had a definite 50s “mid-century” look to them!

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And a glorious multicolored mural of Jesus and the disciples was above the altar, which was also covered over for renovations.

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As with the Church of the Beatitudes, the sanctuary had amazing acoustics. (Thank you, Mr. Barluzzi!) Praising the Lord with song was an awesome way to start the day.

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From Bethphage we walked downhill to join a mass of pilgrims at the Church of Pater Noster. “Pater Noster” in Latin means “our Father,”so this Carmelite monastery commemorates Jesus’ teaching his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. According to the “My Israeli Guide” website:

The earliest church on this site was actually called Church Eleona (Church of the Olives – named after the mountain) and was one of the four monumental churches constructed by Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, in the Holy Land. The church is built above a cave considered to be the site where Jesus would teach his disciples. Inside the cave are buried many important figures including Bishops of Jerusalem.

In the courtyard surrounding the church are colorful ceramic plaques with inscriptions of the Lord’s Prayer in 140 languages.

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Many of us had pictures taken under the mural that reflected our ethnic heritage or something from our history. Don Maas and his wife Cheryl Deininger had recently done a short term mission in the country of Georgia, so they were delighted to find a mural in that national language to remind them or their trip.

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The most moving spot, however, is the cave or grotto under the church. Christians since the 2nd century have honored it as the place where Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. (Though Matthew connects the teaching to the Sermon on the Mount in Galilee, Luke says it happened after Jesus was visiting Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany, which is very nearby. On this pilgrimage we visited both traditional sites.)

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No matter what time of year, there is often a long wait to get into this popular pilgrimage site. As we were standing in line among the crowds, I recognized and greeted a man named Aram, who was our guide on our second pilgrimage in 1996. Like Foteh, Aram is a Christian, and his faith really enhanced our trip. I was surprised when he remembered me after almost twenty years, but maybe not so surprising since we were his very first tour group. That trip was almost a disaster because our departure from Baltimore was delayed for three days due to a massive unexpected snowstorm. Aram did a great job “making up for lost time” and we still had a memorable visit. How wonderful it was to see him again!

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No thanks to architect Barluzzi, the prayer grotto has awesome acoustics, too. This time we sang the musical version of the “Our Father.”

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After the Pater Noster Church we walked downhill on a VERY steep and narrow one-lane road that is traditionally recognized as the path Jesus would have taken on Palm Sunday. It curves down the west side of the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley at the bottom, and up the east side of Jerusalem to the Temple Mount. It’s always an exciting experience because you never know when a vehicle will have to get by.

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On the left side of the road is an immense Jewish cemetery. According to the 4th chapter of Zechariah, the Mount of Olives will be the place where the Messiah comes to judge people in the final resurrection. Since ancient time Jews have desired burial in this area, and now the cemetery covers almost all of the western slope of Olivet and much of the southern slope below the Temple Mount.

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Rather than putting flowers on the tombs, loved ones place visitation stones (also called “stones of remembrance”) on the tops. We would also see these mementos at other Jewish holy sites and at the Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem.

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Dominus Flevit (“Jesus Wept”) Church is the midway point down the hillside. It commemorates the site where Jesus stopped to weep over the spiritual blindness of the leaders and people of Jerusalem. (Luke 19:41-44) This is another of Antonio Barluzzi’s designs, so the structure is minutely planned to emphasize the story. The church itself is shaped like a human tear and the four supports for the dome are capped with lacrimosa (tear vials), which Roman and Victorian people used to catch and keep their tears when mourning.

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The inside is comparatively undecorated, the main focus being the window over the altar, which is situated to give an unobstructed view of Jerusalem.

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During construction of the modern church in the 1950s, excavators found remains dating from the 13th and 14th centuries BC to the Byzantine period — 7th and 8th centuries AD. Sarcophagi or “bone boxes” from Jesus time helped shed light on 1st century AD burial practices.

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There are several quiet outside areas where you can sit, have Bible study and devotions, and enjoy the outstanding views from the overlook.

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Then it’s back down the hillside, though some of us with bum knees (myself included) opted for a quick taxi ride.

Click here for more pictures of Bethphage and the Mount of Olives.