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Places of Worship in Old Jerusalem



People assume that Israel is the place to visit if you're Jewish, but it is a country of so much more! Of course there are many synagogues ancient and new, but in the Old City, in our wanderings we kept on stumbling onto Christian churches, and no one can miss the huge golden Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhrah) on Temple Mount.


The Christian section of the city has the 14 stations of the cross, the route along which Christ was taken after being condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. As we were in Jerusalem near Easter, there were large groups of 30 or more pilgrims walking and regularly stopping along the Way, at times self-righteously blocking the narrow alleys. They sang holy songs, sometimes quite out of tune to the point where we had to cover our ears, sometimes, like a Russian group, possibly orthodox, in heavenly harmonies, enticing us to stay and listen longer. 

                                                   The 9th station of the Cross is one of the places where Jesus fell carrying his heavy                                                    cross. In that spot, in the middle of the Arab market, is the Ethiopian Coptic                                                                church, known as Deir es-Sultan (coptic from the word Egypt). The Queen of                                                              Sheba visited King Solomon (970-931 BCE) to seek, and to test for herself, his                                                              legendary wisdom. Sheba's kingdom probably included Yemen, today's Somalia,                                                        Eritrea and northern Ethiopia. This encounter, and later the birth of a son due to                                                        an even closer encounter, (at least according to Ethiopian legend), influenced the                                                        beliefs of Ethiopia for nearly 3000 years. In ancient times Ethiopia largely followed                                                    the Abrahamic religions. It was also one of the first countries that converted to                                                            Christianity (around the 4th century). There is a small Jewish population                                                                      remaining today, though most Ethiopian Jews were airlifted from their                                                                          country to Israel in the 1980s and 90s, (Operation Moses and Operation Solomon),                                                    thus fulfilling their ancient prophesy that a large silver bird would come to rescue                                                      them.


Ehiopian Coptic Church

The Holy Sepulcher is where the last few stations of the Cross are, and where Jesus is said to be buried. The Holy Sepulcher is shared today by a number of Christian religions, the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, the Syrian and the Armenian Orthodox and of course the Ethiopian Copts on the rooftop.


Underneath the Ethiopian church is an ancient water cistern named for St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, who came to Jerusalem in the 4th century. Water is the  life of a city, especially a walled city. The cistern is a bit spooky, the steps are numerous and dangerously slippery, but hey, it was there…








                                                                  Down to the cistern


Another wondrous church we stumbled upon was the Syriac church of St Mark, a Syrian Orthodox Monastery.


                                                                  The plaque at the entrance states: “This is the house of Mary, mother of

                                                                  John, called Mark. Proclaimed a church by the holy apostles under the                                                                           name of Virgin Mary, mother of God, after the ascension of our Lord Jesus                                                                   Christ into heaven. Renewed (as it happens, many times) after the                                                                                   destruction of Jerusalem by Titus  (Titus Flavius Vespasianus, Emperor of                                                                   Rome from CE 79-81 ) in the year AD  73.”  The apostle St Peter                                                                                       established this Syriac Community  in CE 37.  Relevant inscriptions were                                                                       found to this effect from the 6th century at the time of the church's last                                                                         major renovation in 1940. 


      St Mark's church, Jerusalem

         (photo from the internet)


We read the plaque, and, as the door was open, decided to proceed in. We entered a dark space, but, when our eyes settled, we saw the ornate decoration inside. An enthusiastic woman with a warm smile, maybe a priestess, ushered us in, as she continued her preaching to the few people in the church. She had a sharp, falsetto-sounding voice, and I wanted to leave, but her genuine enthusiasm, her utmost belief in what she said held me spellbound. Yes, this was the very first Christian church. Mary, the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus was baptised here, and Jesus himself was here. Here? In this church? Yes, yes, Jesus was here with the Apostles at the Last Supper, and he washed the feet of his disciples. In this same church? Yes, in this same church, and although St Mark's was destroyed by Titus, it was later rebuilt. Many pilgrims visited this holy site ever since.


When we thought we heard enough, Kati and I looked at each other, ready to leave, but then the lady began to                                                 sing. The unpleasant voice vanished and was replaced by

                                              something heavenly,  fit for the Scala or the Met. Her voice  

                                              in  worship soared high pinning us to our seats. It was an  

                                              awesome experience in the real meaning of the word, an  

                                              unexpected gift that made our backs tingle.


                                               We didn't ask, but she probably sang in Syriac, a version of

                                               Aramaic spoken by Jesus, kept alive in the liturgy of the

                                               church. The  Syriac worship employs the oldest surviving  

                                               liturgy in Christianity, based on the rites of the early

                                               Christian Church of  Jerusalem.



Singng worship in St Marks                                                                                                               Inside St Marks church









                                                                                       Hurim Synagogue


I will write about The Western or Weeping Wall in a later blog.



To be continued: Bethlehem





The main Synagogue in the Jewish quarter

was originally built in the early 18th

century, but was soon destroyed by the

Muslims.  It lay in ruins for a 140 years, and

it was then that the site got its name Hurim

('Ruin') Synagogue.  After it was rebuilt

in 1864, it was considered to be the most

beautiful synagogue in all of Israel.  

In 1948, when the rest of the Jewish quarter was destroyed, the Synagogue too, was razed to the ground.  After much discussion it was decided to rebuild it in a Byzantine style, which fits in with the architecture of the Old City and is similar to how it looked in its heyday during the 19th century.  

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