PLACES TO VISIT IN JERUSALEM
The tomb of the Blessed Virgin is not far from the Gethsemane Grotto on the Mount of Olives. The Tomb of the Blessed Virgin is believed to be where apostles laid Mary to rest prior to her Assumption into heaven.
While its exterior church was destroyed numerous times during invasions of Jerusalem, the crypt was left in tact. The cave church is decorated with hanging lamps as pilgrims make their way down the stairs into the tomb. The tomb was built as a mausoleum, with the outer structure enclosing an interior space known as an aedicule.
The replica here at the Monastery was built in 1916 and dedicated on the Feast of the Assumption. The inside is home to a marble altar and a Byzantine style painting of the Madonna and child.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem covers the site of the most important event in human history: the place where Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead to forever change human history.
Inside the church is a bewildering conglomeration of 30-plus chapels and worship spaces. These are encrusted with the devotional ornamentation of several Christian rites. This sprawling Church of the Holy Sepulchre displays a mismash of architectural styles. It bears the scars of fires and earthquakes, deliberate destruction and reconstruction throughout the centuries. Today it remains a living place of worship. Its ancient stones are steeped in prayer, hymns and liturgies. It bustles daily with fervent rounds of incensing and processions.
This is the preeminent shrine for Christians, who consider it the holiest place on earth. And it attracts pilgrims by the thousand, all drawn to pay homage to their Savior, Jesus Christ.
Early Christians venerated the site. Then the emperor Hadrian covered it with a pagan temple. Only in AD 326 was the first church begun by the emperor Constantine I. He tore down the pagan temple and had Christ’s tomb cut away from the original hillside. His mother, St Helena, found the cross of Christ in a cistern not far from the hill of Calvary. Constantine’s church was burned by Persians in 614, restored, destroyed by Muslims in 1009 and partially rebuilt. Crusaders completed the reconstruction in 1149. The result is essentially the church that stands today.
Ownership of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared between the Greek Orthodox, Catholics (known in the Holy Land as Latins) and Armenian Orthodox.
Each religious community guards its rights jealously. A wooden ladder resting on a cornice above the main entrance and leaning against a window ledge typifies the often-uneasy relationship laid down by the Status Quo.
The ladder has been there so long that nobody knows how it got there. Various suggestions have been offered: It was left behind by a careless mason or window-cleaner; it had been used to supply food to Armenian monks locked in the church by the Turks; it had served to let the Armenians use the cornice as a balcony to get fresh air and sunshine rather than leave the church and pay an Ottoman tax to re-enter it. The ladder has become the basis for the “Status Quo,” the document that lays out the specific rights of each religious order for this Holy Site.
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THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
The Franciscans staff three chapels at the site of the Garden of Gethsemane, the Basilica of the Agony, Grotto of the Betrayal and the Tomb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Garden of Gethsemane is one of the most impressive sites in the Holy Land. It lies at the foot of the Mount of Olives. This garden remains almost as it was at the time of Jesus, maybe with the same olive trees. This is the garden where Jesus on His last night underwent the most sorrowful hour of His passion. Judas came then with the servants of the high priest and betrayed his master, and all the disciples fled, leaving Him alone. In the Garden of Gethsemane, there are eight olive trees whose age is lost in antiquity. Some botanists claim that they may be 3,000 years old. Josephus relates that Titus cut down all trees in the environs of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. If these trees escaped destruction, they are the very contemporaries of Christ as they are Roman olive trees. If not, they are without doubt the shoots of those under which Jesus prayed on the night of His agony.
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“Now there was in the place where he was crucified a garden; in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein nobody had yet been laid. Because of the preparation of the Passover, they laid Jesus, because the sepulchre was nigh at hand.” (John 19:42) Jesus was laid in a tomb at the foot of Calvary. This tomb, hewn out of the rock, was made by Joseph of Aramathea’s family. Joseph of Aramithea,who was a member of the Sanhedin, was a disciple of Jesus, but in secret, because he was afraid of the Jews. (John 19:38) The tomb that Joseph of Aramithea made was the type built for the rich Jews. It was composed of two chambers – the first served as a meeting place for the mourners and in the second, the corpse was laid on a slab cut in the rock. The actual tomb of Jesus, which was isolated from the rest of the hill by Queen Helena, existed until the year 1009, when it was totally destroyed by the Khalif Hakem. The present monument, with a Moscovite cupola, was built over the site in 1810 by the Greek Orthodox and the Russians. Inside, a marble slab marks the place where the body of Jesus was laid. It is believed that the original stone is beneath the one that is displayed.
Christian tradition places here two moments from the Passion of Jesus: the flagellation and the condemnation to death. The two sanctuaries are annexed to the Franciscan convent, seat of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. In the floor of the Condemnation are conserved several stones of the “Lithostrotos,” a Roman road. The imposition of the cross is indicated on the external wall of the Sanctuary of the Condemnation at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa. The interior of the church contains three stained glass windows, each depicting a different aspect of the church’s Biblical history. The first window depicts Pontius Pilate washing his hands, the second the Flagellation, and the third the victory of Barabbas. The mosaic of the dome is designed as a crown of thorns.
The Cenacle room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem is where two major events in the early Christian Church are commemorated: The Last Supper and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles.
The Last Supper was the meal Jesus shared with his apostles the night before he died. During this meal he instituted the Eucharist. The coming of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, is recognized as marking the birth of the Christian Church. The Cenacle is on the upper floor of a two-story building near the Church of the Dormition, south of the Zion Gate in the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. Above it is the minaret of a Muslim mosque; immediately beneath it is the Jewish shrine venerated as the Tomb of King David (though he is not buried there).
This Chapel marks the Fifth Station of the Cross. The lintel over a doorway bears a Latin inscription marking the site where Simon, a visitor from present-day Libya, helped Jesus to carry the Cross. The Franciscan chapel here, dedicated to Simon the Cyrenian, is on the site of the Franciscans’ first house in Jerusalem, in 1229.
Acts 1:9-12 tells how Jesus took His disciples to a mount called Olivet and how, after blessing them, He ascended into heaven. The top of the Mount of Olives is considered to be the site of the Ascension. In Acts, it is said that the disciples departed from the Mount of Olives, which was a Sabbath day’s journey away from Jerusalem. A Sabbath day’s journey is about 1000 yards and this is approximately the distance which separates the site of the Ascension from Jerusalem. A Byzantine church was built on the site in the 4th century and was destroyed by the Persians in 614. The Crusaders built another church in the 12th century. The present small chapel is an edifice built by the Crusaders, in the court of their church to contain the rock with the legendary footprint of Christ, made when he ascended to heaven. The Muslims, who still occupy the site, walled the arcades and added the present cupola.