Via Dolorosa & Holy Sepulchre

Since we were heading out earlier today, I decided to pray the Liturgy of the Hours before breakfast walking the area outside the Jaffa Gate. Sunrise was not for another half hour but there was sufficient light for a little stroll. The yellow and white flag flies over the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s residence and offices inside the old city walls.

We headed out to begin our Way of the Cross weaving our way through the Muslim Quarter toward the Church of the Condemnation / Flagellation. I don’t recall how we got to where we were going, just that we were in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from station 9 on. The crowd was still fairly thin when we entered the church and got in line to see the tomb. It took roughly an hour waiting in line before we walked into the smaller structure sitting under the dome.

It was a moving experience to kneel inside that small room. The slab is believed to be a bench from the same tomb where his body was laid, although the original limestone cave had been leveled before the stone building was built over the spot. The oral tradition is how we identify these sacred sites, and a history of churches built to commemorate a sacred event in time and space. 10 years after the crucifixion, a third wall was built that enclosed the site within the walls of the old city. It had previously been just outside a major city gate. The church is shared by six different Christian traditions: Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Coptic Orthodox.

After emerging from the Holy Sepulchre, we ascended a set of steep stairs to the top of Calvary where the crucifixion took place. It may seem we went in reverse order but we went to the Holy Sepulchre first because the line was longer. We would have time to return to any of the sites within the church on our own later to allow for prayer and reflection. These mosaics are mostly on the walls and ceilings on the way to venerate the rock of Golgotha under the altar. The last photo in this gallery looks back toward the altar where people kneel under it to touch the rock of Golgotha.

We headed toward the Blessed Sacrament Chapel for our Mass to commemorate Easter. A thought from Mass. We came to the Holy Land not as tourists but as pilgrims to personally encounter God in mystery. We have met him in scripture, in sacrament, in each other, in solitude, in prayer, in contemplation. And our encounter with him has transformed us that we are no longer the same. And now we are witnesses like the apostles. Now we must go and joyfully proclaim him whom we have encountered and by whom we have been transformed.

We continued our tour of the church, coming across unique features like caves similar to where Our Lord was buried, the Stone of Unction/Anointing, the Chapel of St. Helena, the Armenian shrine marking where Mary stood with the Apostle John at the foot of the cross. The current church is from the period of the crusades. Much of the place is under renovation and closed off to visitors. I found a floor plan that helped locate where everything is.

We headed off to lunch at a rooftop restaurant in the market area, after which we were free to roam the city until we regrouped for dinner.

It’s been an intense week, especially commemorating the Easter Triduum in these last three days. But there is much to ponder in the days and weeks ahead. I know reading the gospel will be different for many of us now that we have images to visualize events and locations. Our time here has been about encountering God in mystery. Now we must proclaim him and the new life he gives us with our words and our lives.

Tomorrow is our last day of pilgrimage. We make our way to Emmaus/Abu Gosh to a Benedictine Monastery and a 12th century Crusader church.

Rolo B Castillo © 2023


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