Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nov. 9th, Part 2—The Temple Mount

After our extraordinary experience in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we returned to the hotel for breakfast and a couple of hours "off" to rest a little and reflect on what we had just participated in–a group Mass in the Holy Sepulchre is truly a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience, and you were in our thoughts and prayers.

At 11:00AM we began the 2nd part of our day–a trip to the Temple Mount. It is perhaps the holiest site in Judaism and, some would assert, the holiest spot of ground on planet Earth. Also because of this, more blood has been shed over these few acres of land than over any other. It is the site of Abraham's sacrifice of Issac and Solomon Temple (which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC). It is the site of the Temple of Jesus' day, built by King Herod the Great, who died long before its reconstuction was finished. The Mount saw the invading Roman armies who destroyed the city of Jerusalem and Herod's Temple in 70AD.

Everywhere is Israel there are ruins to be discovered and this is also true of the Temple Mount. Even as one climb's the ramp to the Wailing Wall, one can see excavations in progress.

 There are Security check points everywhere in Israel, and the Temple Mount is a sensitive area. We were told to leave everything we didn't need on the bus, including watches, and jewelry. Strange, perhaps, to modern western attitudes, the Wailing Wall is segregated by gender–the security line to the left was for the men, and the one to the right was for the women. Having successfully cleared the Check Point our group entered the area of the "Wailing Wall" that we have seen on TV so often. The crowd was light this day, but made up of what I'm sure is quit "normal"–Security guards, "Orthodox" Jews (black suites and hats for the men, long dresses and head coverings for the women), other Jews, Moslims and many tourists. There was even an Evangelical Christian group a stone's throw from us quietly singing, "How Great is Our God", a popular contemporary Christian "worship song." Everyone taking in the site and worshiping in a way that is comfortable to them. At the Wall, the men and women are again segregated: men to the left and women to the right.

At the Wall, the men and women are again segregated: men to the left and women to the right. This is easily seen in the photo below, which was taken as we ascended the ramp to the Temple Mount itself.

The first thing one sees when reaching the top of the Mount is a large "garden" area with some sizable everygreen trees. The group even had to dodge a bulldozer whcih was in the process of removing a pile of dead branches that were being removed.  Beyond the garden, on the southeast corner of the Temple Mount is the al-Aqusa Mosque. The picture below shows the purification area just in from the Mosque.

When we looked to the north, we got our first "up close" view of one of the most famous landmarks on earth, The Dome of the Rock.

In the picture below we have gathered in the shade just inside the south entrance to hear George give a brief history of the site and some interestng connections with other places that we will visit. We were not allowed inside, but were given a fair amount of time to walk around the Dome and take pictures.

The picture below: from the Arch entry way on the west, one can easily see the Mount of Olives. The gold domes of the Orthdox Church of St. Mary Magdalene is clearly visible at the bottom of the first arch on the left.

With our time on top of the Temple Mount ended we exited the site to the north where we went to visit the Church of St. Anne, the mother of Mary.  The church was built by the Crusaders who believed it to be the birthplace of St. Anne, This church is one of the few that were not destroyed by the invading Mamelukes in the 12th Century. The Church has superb acoustics, and we entered and sang as a group,the chorus to "Here I Am, Lord" and the first verse of  "Amazing Grace" – but pausing  between phrases to listen to the reverberation. Though relatively small, the church has a 6-second "delay." What a wonderful place to sing!

One of the most touching features of the Church is the beautiful statue below of St. Anne with the child Mary.

Just outside the Church of St. Anne is another area of excavation, this one of ancient healing pools.


Our afternoon completed, we exited the Old City of Jerusalem through the "Lion's Gate"–in the picture below note the lions on either side of the opening. This gate is also know as "St. Stephen's Gate."

A very long but very rewarding day for everyone. God bless you all!

 —Posted by Greg Smithhisler, IHM Liturgist

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