Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Pit and a Manger

Yossi plays a short selection from 'The Passion of Saint Matthew', part of a one and a half hour piece of music. 

Some scholars say Christ’s Passion started here in this dungeon where Jesus spent his last night before He died. Passion means suffering, and I think on how the word has changed over the years.
Yossi points out that Psalm 88 talks about going into the pit, on the brink of death. He says he feels Christ’s agony and distress here in this cold pit. He asks for silence so we may also feel the place speak to us. I shut my eyes. There's a light draft, a whisper of cold air. It’s hard for me to imagine the dank darkness, or the passion Christ would have experienced. 
The Holy Staircase, where Jesus walked to face his accusers
Our guide takes us to the Holy Staircase, behind the church and beside the fenced off ruins of Caiaphas’s house. We learn that a new church will be built here, destroying the ruins. Our archeologist guide is angered by such destruction, even though he has often told us that his profession is a destructive one. The stairs before us are fenced off. Too many pilgrims have chipped away at them for souvenirs. 

Caiaphas, who wanted Jesus dead, lived here.

The church and the ruins of Caiaphas's house

The Catholic church wants to build a church over these ruins.

We know Jesus came up these irregular stone steps to be tried that Thursday. I turn around, seeing beyond the City of David, to the potter’s field. This was where Judas would have hung himself after returning the thirty pieces of silver he’d been paid for Jesus’ life. For me, this place is as moving as the pit we've just exited.
We're given another homework question and I jokingly tell my husband I am sure to fail this course. 
Where in the Old Testament do we hear a prophesy of thirty pieces of silver? On the bus, using the wifi, I find Zechariah 11 predicts the life and death of Christ. Again, another prophesy of Jesus, written more than 500 years before His birth. One beyond His control, though some might argue otherwise. 
Shortly after, we’re off the Bethlehem, via a new tunnel. 

Manger Square

We’ve been blessed so far this trip with no line ups, thanks to Yossi's forethought, but here in Palestinian territory, we must line up to go into the cave where Jesus was born. The air is thick with incense. The Armenians are holding a service, delaying everyone, and a French-speaking woman behind us demands to be allowed to go in first because she says her bus is leaving. Someone in our group tells her it’s impossible and half an hour later, she is seen still wandering around the church.

We waited 20 minutes to enter the cave where Jesus was born.

The only bare spot of cave floor.

The rest of the cave

It’s warm down in this ornate cave, and tightly packed. Many pilgrims drape rosaries and crosses over the small round hole that exposes the cave floor. When we leave, I ask our new guide (for Yossi is not allowed in Palestine) if we can go into the Shrine of the Holy Innocent and he retrieves the key for us. I tell my friend about the bones we see in this extension of the nativity cave. They were exhumed in the fourth century by Constantine’s mother. They are the bones of the children Herod ordered to be murdered, and the mothers who tried to save their children. Only a few dozen, in reality.
My friend is unimpressed that we didn’t learn this from our new guide. One of the others in our group is skeptical of the authenticity of the bones, but I explain that this church (and the caves beneath it), were never destroyed by the Muslims because it has Persian wise men depicted on its walls. In fact, we saw several Muslim visitors here. But as I learn later, some of the bones are from a revolt in the 600s. Still, the tiny ones in a glass case are obviously children's. I have decided not to post the photos here. They are too sad. 

But it's interesting to note that these children are considered the first martyrs for Christ. 

The church is getting a facelift, and it's amazing to see the colours beneath the dark film of incense smoke. There seems to be hundreds of gilded censers hanging down in the apse and with candles and music, it's a sensory overload. 


bringing a column back to life.

Our tour isn't over yet. We're going to learn the connection to the Mafia, of all things.

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I shouldn't have left her alone!

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