Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Today we walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the church that holds within it both Mount Calvary and the Tomb of Christ. We arrived in time to catch the tail end of the Franciscan Procession. Every day at 5PM, they process throughout the church, chanting; with candles lit and incense rising. It is quite beautiful to hear as the male voices echo hauntingly around that cavernous church.
The Holy Sepulchre dates to 326AD and has become a hybrid conglomeration of chapels and denominations. No less than seven denominations have carved out space here and defend it ferociously (as a recent You Tube video will attest.) It is full of worship paraphernalia like icons and ornate lanterns that are strange to our eyes and rather distracting. There are holy things that are certainly improbable, such as the marble stone at the entrance on which the body of Christ was supposedly laid. We watched people prostrate themselves to kiss it. One woman rolled several bundles of candles she had purchased upon the stone to impart it’s blessing. The Franciscans spent considerable time there incensing it thoroughly.
We slipped up the stairs to Calvary as soon as the Franciscans left, catching it at a rare and momentary quiet. They have plexi-glassed every inch of the rock upon which the cross was affixed. Overtop is a complex array of iconiery including a large ornate crucifix. They have provided a small cupboard you can crawl into with a hole in the glass through which you can poke your arm down and touch the rock. How many millions have touched that place?
The tomb of Christ is below and even more difficult. It has an ugly Russian Orthodox chapel over it that will allow only a few people in at a time, and they queue up for hours. I approached the barrier to take a peak inside and was threatened by a burley black robed priest who actually balled up a fist to warn me, against what?, I am not quite sure.
What to do? The fact is, this place has tremendous historical credence attesting to it’s validity. On this hill, our Lord was crucified. He was laid in a tomb nearby. On the third day He rose. In my minds eye I tried to strip away all the centuries of accumulated clutter and see the place where my dear Lord died. I will never be closer, in one sense, to these world shaking, life changing events. This great mess of a church has marked and preserved these spots, for which I am grateful. I am even more grateful to be here, to spend time in this place and to join in worship with the hosts who have been here before me.
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