Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Sat 31 Oct

This, like most of the rest of Jerusalem, is a strange place. It is believed to be where Jesus died and was buried, and so is one of many major pilgrimage sites in the city. In its turn it houses several major Christian shrines. It struck me as a collection of disparate elements that seem to exist independently of each other, albeit in the same building.

The first thing you see is a crowd of people on their knees, huddled round a stone slab. They are praying at the Stone of Unction, which commemorates the preparation of Jesus' body for burial. They touch the stone, rest their forehead, place a cross, or precious or personal item on it. Above it hangs a row of decorative lamps.

Just round the corner is the tomb of Christ, and nearby, up a stone staircase, are not one but two Calvaries. There are several other chapels, crypts and relics. A believer could spend a good deal of time in there. We only had 20 minutes, so we didn't join the queue for the tomb, and probably missed some other good bits. Here's some of the bits we did get to see.

Given the building's focus on a key part of the Christian story, it is only natural that most of the main Christian denominations feel they have a stake in it. It is jointly run by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Roman Catholic Churches, and the Coptic, Syrian and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches are also represented. They all get along fine, especially the Greeks and Armenians, as attested in this news report.

....and Jan says
"Do you know the way to the Church of the Holy Sepultree?"

This is what an American asked me … I wonder why he thought it was pronounced this way? I didn’t ‘twig’ what he wanted to start with, but as Michael has said, it’s…. strange… but full of marvellous things. As a non-believer brought up on bible stories in Welsh Chapel, I have a curiosity which is more related to the ‘reality’ of people’s experience … and the question Why? I marvelled at the mosaic that shows Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, in the Armenian chapel, I loved the oil lamps and the incense as spectacle, I gawped at the queues of people waiting – under police control – to go into the holiest place, and frankly I was amazed at the plastic bags full of clothes that the East Europeans wiped in the rose oil on the slab. BUT I also did wipe a scarf and wore it! I was entranced by the Armenian chapel, and the Orthodox icons. I loved the lit candles, and I can completely understand the fighting in the YouTube video! Encompassing the CHS was the church of the Knights of St John, and the square of the five fountains – marvellous chicken sharwarma & falafel! 

No comments:

Post a comment