Jerusalem is the site of Jesus’s arrest, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. It goes without saying that is one of the holiest places in the world for many Christians. Growing up, I’d heard all of these names—Bethlehem, Gethsemane, Golgotha—but actually being here and walking the same streets where the history I grew up learning about was surreal.
After locating many of the holy sites, we crisscrossed the city from Mount of Olives to the heart of the old city to see the landmarks of these famous passages in the Bible. I laid out the areas we visited chronologically to better understand the significance of each area.
Just before Holy Week began, Jesus wept after foreseeing the destruction of the Second Temple. Shaped like a teardrop, the Dominus Flevit Roman Catholic church translates to “The Lord Wept.”
Now onto Holy Week highlights. While documented in the Bible, the timeline of the week leading up to Easter, the day of Jesus’s ascension into heaven, remains under debate.
On his last day, Jesus gave instructions to his disciples to prepare his last supper. On top of Mount Zion lays the room or Cenacle where this feast took place. Depicted by the famous Leonardo da Vinci, this hallowed room is the basis for the Eucharist or Holy Communion. It was during this meal that Jesus predicted the betrayal of one of his apostles present.
Church of All Saints
On the same day as his last Passover meal, close to midnight, Jesus was betrayed by Judah. He goes to a church, now the Church of All Saints, where he prayed before his arrest.
Gethsemane, translated to “oil press,” is a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Among old olive trees, Jesus went through his infamous agony. His Agony in the Garden stemmed from the fear, sadness, and anguish of his fate. Three apostles stayed with him to pray with him. They fell asleep, yet an angel from God was said to have come down to help him through his pain.
Via Dolorosa Street, Stations of the Cross
Translated as Way of Sorrow, Way of Grief, or Way of Suffering, this passageway is where Jesus is believed to have walked to his crucifixion. This winding street holds a majority of the stations of the cross. The stations start where Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate and ends at the Church of Holy Sepulcher.
Church of Holy Sepulcher
Built in the fourth century, Constantine the Great determined the area as the place of Jesus’s tomb. The holiest of places for the Christians, the church is home to the last four stations of the cross including the site of Jesus’s crucifixion, Golgotha, and the place where he was buried and resurrected.
The church itself is shared among several Christian denominations including Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox.
It was decided over 150 years ago through the Status Quo of Holy Land sites that no changes would be made to the church unless all denominations agreed unanimously. As can be expected, none of the churches have agreed upon much so the church looks identical to how it was when the agreement over its ownership was signed.
The absurdness of this pact has many tangible presences, namely an old wooden ladder that sits outside a window. Since it was there while the pact was signed, it has to remain there. If it’s knocked over by a storm, it is quickly put back up. This ladder has been deemed a holy ladder, despite the fact that it has no relation at all to Jesus. In fact, it wasn’t even a ladder when Jesus was alive.
Chapel of the Ascension
An unassuming place, I would have walked right by the Chapel of the Ascension without knowing its significance. A simple cream stone chapel encases the earthly spot where Jesus is said to have ascended into heaven. Within the chapel there lies a slab of stone on the ground said to contain one of two footprints left by Jesus.
Tomb of Virgin Mary
While not a part of Holy Week, we still had it on our list of must-sees. Approaching the tomb, we first had to walk down steps into a rock-cut cave at the foot of Mount of Olives. Believed to be the burial place of Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, dozens of sanctuary lamps line the ceilings that give the place a sacred aura.
Reflections of a tourist
What I’ll remember most is seeing places that seemed abstract from stories I’d heard since I was a child. I didn’t realize how my mind had created this specific narrative of what this world looked like. I liked being confronted with the reality of what these places actually look like. It also struck me that these places, so important in my life, are somewhat discarded.
Bethlehem especially was an interesting place. Dominated by Muslims who see Jesus as one of many prophets, the places aren’t held in the type of regard that I would imagine. It’s kind of like the Stanley Cup sitting in the backyard of someone who watches hockey casually. Christians do “own” some of the rights to these places, but by and large, Jews and Muslims are the ones who walk down these streets and pass by these sites on a daily basis. While Jesus is important to their religion, he’s not the central figure in it.
Even though my beliefs are more spiritual than religious, the tombs of Mary and Jesus had an effect on me that I find hard to describe. Goosebumps raised on my skin and my mind narrowed to desperately try to envision the lives of these two people who still hold so much weight into today’s world. No matter your beliefs, these places and these stories are worth hearing, if only because they give insight into a different time and place.