JERUSALEM, April 4, 2015 – Jerusalem is a city where three great religions converge. It has witnessed more than its share of conflict and, if history is any indicator, it will continue to do so. It is a place where the layers of time continue to add to its mystery, perhaps forever creating more questions than answers.
For travelers to the Holy Land, these constantly changing layers of history make Jerusalem a challenging destination to absorb. A good example occurs at Via Dolorosa, Latin for the “Way of Grief” or the “Way of Suffering,” which is the path Jesus took while carrying the cross to his crucifixion. Today, a labyrinth of narrow passageways between a myriad of shops and stalls lines the route from the Lion’s Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Each year thousands of pilgrims walk the route, a distance of just under a half a mile, where 14 stations mark the way, representing important events that occurred during Christ’s excruciating ordeal.
Over centuries, the route of the Via Dolorosa has changed many times, making it virtually impossible to do the walk as Jesus did it. In Christ’s day, the path was relatively straight from beginning to end.
The historic stations do provide specific locations to aid travelers in comprehending the dramatic events of the day. Among the most popular are stations one, two, three, four, seven and nine.
Numbers one and two are said to mark Jesus’ encounters with Pontius Pilate. Stations three, seven and nine signify locations where Christ is said to have fallen during his trek, but there is no evidence that Christ literally dropped to the ground in the true sense of falling down.
The fourth station claims to be the site where Jesus encountered his mother, though there is no mention of any such meeting in the New Testament.
One of Jesus’ favorite places was a mountain ridge just beyond the walls of the Old City called the Mount of Olives. It was so named because of the olive groves that once covered its slopes. On Palm Sunday, Jesus traveled across and down the mount riding a donkey to enter Jerusalem.
The golden light that pervades the city, especially in early morning or late afternoon, is awe-inspiring. From the crest of the mount, the Old City exudes an aura that feels much as it was two millennia ago.
Also visible from the Mount of Olives is Lion’s Gate, situated just a short distance away. The gate marks the entrance Christ used for the last walk from prison to his crucifixion. Today, the walls of the Old City still surround the dusky desert hues of a place that altered the course of history for all mankind.
The Garden of Gethsemane is not large, but here the olive trees with their ancient, gnarly appearance create a sensation that they could have actually been there during those historic events. It was at there that Judas betrayed Christ, arriving with soldiers, high priests and Pharisees to arrest him.
One of the most intriguing sites in Jerusalem is called the Garden Tomb. The traditional location of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection is at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but during the 19th century some doubts were raised about its authenticity.
While on sabbatical in 1893, Gen. Charles Gordon, an important member of British society, became curious about the name of a rock cliff in the garden known as “Skull Hill.”
The crucifixion site is called Golgotha (Aramaic) or Calvary (Latin); both terms mean “the place of the skull,” and the appropriately named cliff resembles a skull when viewed from several angles.
Slim evidence, yes, but Garden Tomb officials make no claims that their site is the indisputable place where Jesus was interred. What they will state, however, is that there are several features about the area that coincide with biblical accounts of the crucifixion.
The Bible says Golgotha was outside Jerusalem’s city walls along a busy thoroughfare near a city gate at a place of execution with a garden nearby, and the site was shaped like a skull.
The tomb itself was in a garden belonging to a rich man, and Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy. It was hewn out of rock, entered through a low doorway with a burial chamber to the right, and sealed by a rolling stone.
All of these elements are found at the Garden Tomb.
In the “Gospel According to John” in the King James Version of the Bible, John specifically states that Jesus’ tomb was in a garden.
Many authorities have opposing views about the authenticity of the Garden Tomb as the true site of the crucifixion and resurrection. Despite those views, the Garden Tomb has become a popular pilgrimage site, especially for Protestants. For travelers, whether the Garden Tomb or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the actual spot where Jesus died and was resurrected is a matter of personal conviction.
But as one Catholic priest put it, “If the Garden Tomb is not the right place, then it should be.”
Walking in places so familiar to people of faith from around the globe is spiritually powerful, and Jerusalem is a place where visitors relive events that changed the world more than two thousand years ago.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award- winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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