Jerusalem: In the Footsteps of Jesus

The Holy Land: Jerusalem - In the Footsteps of Jesus

Historically, the Christian Churches in Jerusalem have a common theme: Built by the Byzantine, destroyed by the Persians, rebuilt by the Crusaders and destroyed again during the Arab conquest and rebuilt again. In terms of arts and architecture, they are not as grandiose as other Catholic churches you would find from other parts of the world designed by famous artists such as Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Palladio, Gaudi and decorated with works by artist of the likes of Ghiberti, Titian, Bellini, DaVinci, to name a few. But what made them remarkable are the story of sacred events marked by the churches and some of the objects like the 'rock of agony' we found within the church walls.  Not that I joined this pilgrimage with unquestioning faith, but as I entered the church to kiss the stone said to have an imprint of the foot of Jesus or feel the stone under the darkened vault of the nave, I simply knelt and prayed. And the prayers came with ease.  

Chapel of the Ascension at the Mt. of Olives
We first visited the Chapel of the Ascension at the Mount of Olives, the spot where Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven forty days after resurrection. We entered a narrow gate where on the right side was the tower of the adjacent mosque. Inside, we found an octagonal-shaped chapel that stood in the middle of a walled yard. It was very small. So that our group had to wait for the other pilgrims/tourists to finish their visit before we could go inside the chapel. Meanwhile, our guide gathered us around the courtyard to give us the history of church: The Crusaders built it in the 12th century over the Byzantine chapel from the 4th century. The compound also served as a fortress along the road to Jericho that protected the pilgrims during the Mamlukes and Ottoman period. When Saladin captured the city, it was converted to a mosque. The inner chapel walls and columns and the covered cape were added at a later period. The reconstruction was conducted by the Armenian Christians who hold celebrations at the site on the feast of the ascension. Our guide then talked about the set of hooks found on the walls used by pilgrims to cover the yard during the ascension celebration.

The chapel was very small inside, about 40 x 40 feet. In the center of the floor, we found a stone, said to be, an imprint of the foot of Jesus when he made the ascent to heaven. We lighted up candles and took turns to kiss the stone.

The Pater Noster
The Pater Noster is part of the Carmelite Sisters convent. Originally built by Constantine, the church was called Eleona (Greek word for ‘of the Olive Tree’) at the site believed to be where Jesus taught the “Lord’s Prayer” in the Mt. of Olives. Earlier on this pilgrimage, we visited the site where Jesus taught the “Lord’s Prayer” as part of his Sermon at the Mountain of the Beatitudes in Galilee (Matthew 6:5-15). We learned that Jesus taught the “Lord’s Prayer” at least twice (Luke 11:1-4) from Galilee to Jerusalem.

Within the church we found two grottos – one where Jesus revealed some mysteries to his disciples, the other called the Grotto of the Pater.  The “Lord’s Prayer’ in different languages were posted on the walls inside and outside the church. 

After the expulsion of the Crusaders, the area fell into ruin once again until the mid-nineteenth century when the Princess de la Tour Auvergne, purchased the site and lived there before building a convent, which she gave to the Carmelite Sisters. The princess died in Italy and was buried in the cloister. Her tomb can be seen on the right side after the church entrance.

Garden of Gethsemane & the Church in Gethsemane
We wandered around the garden, beneath hanging branches of ancient olive trees before visiting inside the church. Our guide showed us an olive tree that was about 1000 years old. The Franciscan order maintained the well-kept garden. It was here at Gethsemane that Jesus came with his disciples to pray. He had doubts and was tempted to find a way out, but finally overcome the temptation and accepted God’s will.

The Church in Gethsemane is also called "The Church of Agony" or "The Church of All Nations" (so called because its construction was made possible through worldwide contribution).  We visited on a busy day. There were many activities inside the church in preparation for the Pope’s visit. Men in brown robe who were polishing some fixtures and two men adding and rearranging chairs blocked our view of the church centerpiece as we entered the church.

So I looked at and admired the apses and the cupolas first. The apses were decorated with mosaics depicting biblical events in the Garden of Gethsemane. Twelve cupolas rest on six monolithic pillars. Each cupola has a gold-inlaid ceiling with the the symbols of the country that contributed to the church incorporated into the design.

Finally, I was able to find a space to see and reflect on the centerpiece of the church – the Rock of the Agony – said to be the very rock on which Jesus prayed in agony on the night of his betrayal. The church looked Byzantine from the domed roof, thick pillars and mosaic floor.

Bethpage Church
Bethpage is a small chapel to mark Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. Within the chapel is the “mounting stone”, original 12th century frescoes on chalk with scenes of Jesus’ work in the area. The north side of the stone shows the mounting of Jesus, the south shows the raising of Lazarus, the east shows people with palm branches, and the west shows the faces of saints.

The Church at Bethany marked the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary and the place where Jesus restored Lazarus to life after he had been dead for four days. Lazarus’ grave is behind the Sanctuary of St. Lazarus. In the church are many mosaics and frescos.

Dominus Flevit Church
The Dominus Flevit Church marked the spot where Jesus mourned over Jerusalem. The church is in the shape of a teardrop to symbolize the Lord’s tears. “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it” (Luke 19:41)

Our priest celebrated a mass there, but it was hard to concentrate during the mass because behind the altar was a window that frame a beautiful view of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock.
1-Teardrop-Shaped Church             2-Window behind the altar               3-Hen and Chickens on Altar

Church of St. John the Baptist
The Church of St. John  the Baptist in Ein Kerem was built above the cave believed to be where the John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus Christ, was born. We visited on a Sabbath day and I noticed it was near the area where coffee shops and bars were open.

Via Dolorosa and the Holy Sepulcher
Via Dolorosa also called the “Way of Sorrow” or “Way of the Cross” was the route taken by Jesus bearing a cross on his back after the judgment court to Golgotha, his place of crucifixion. There are fourteen stations on the way of the cross, nine along the narrow street and five inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As pilgrims, we did the station of the cross to retrace the steps of Jesus and remember his agony. Some of the stations were along the Suk (the Old City Market), so that there were few distractions along the way – blaring music, tourists taking our pictures and the hustle and bustle of  the Suk. We finished the station of the cross at the Holy Sepulcher Church the following day.

Photo Gallery

  Interior view of the Church of All Nations


Note:  All photos by the author



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