Jerusalem: Good Friday Edition

Posted: April 10, 2009    Categories: Israel

I got up early to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to view/photo the events going on for Good Friday. The crowd which was there for the morning service wasn’t as big as I thought it would be. No bigger than what you would see on a Sunday at any large church in the US. The doors were locked until 8am and there was a real diverse mix of people outside waiting. A group of Ethiopian Christians, a group of what I think were American Protestants in what looked like choir robes, about seven different orders of nuns, a ton of Franciscan priests, pilgrims from all over, and a bunch of Israeli cops and members of the media.

The doors were opened by the two Arab men I mentioned in a previous post. The doors of the church were closed after everyone entered for 2.5 hours. Both the place where Jesus died and where he was buried are within the church,. The spot where he was believed to have died it up a flight of stairs and is a pretty small area. The main floor space of the church is dedicated to the tomb.

I didn’t stick around for the 2.5 hours. I went and got breakfast and got a good spot to take photos for the Via Dolorosa.

What a madhouse that was.

For those who aren’t familiar, the Via Dolorosa is the street that follows (sort of) the route Jesus is believed to have walked from being sentenced to death to crucifixion. Following the route (also called the Stations of the Cross) is a tradition developed by Catholic pilgrims in the Middle Ages when the Crusaders controlled Jerusalem. If you saw the Mel Gibson movie “The Passion of the Christ”, the whole movie basically takes place on the Via Dolorosa.

The first station of the cross takes place in the courtyard of what is currently a Muslim school. It was formerly the location of the palace of the Roman governor (which at the time would have been Pontius Pilate). The fact that the stations of the cross are usually performed on a Friday, and the school is not in session on Friday, works out well for everyone.

The Via Dolorosa is the reason why many pilgrims come to Jerusalem. The route is not exact. The streets do not line up with streets from 2,000 years ago. Some places are only a guess as there is evidence of anything, only legends and traditions. In fact, there is no real way to know if the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is on the spot where Jesus died. There really isn’t any better location, and there isn’t any reason to think it didn’t happen there.

As people began to gather in the courtyard, there was a large group of Boy/Girl Scouts which showed up. I thought it was odd. It would cost a lot to fly scouts to Jerusalem. I also noticed a lot of people with hymnals in Arabic. Also odd. Eventually a large group came in carrying a huge cross and I didn’t know what language they were speaking. I eventually realized that half of the people who were there, and all of the scouts, were Arab Christians. Even though most Palestinians are Muslim, there are a sizable number of Christians, and they were representing in full force. Christian hymns sung in Arabic sound totally different than the Muslim calls to prayer you hear sung in Arabic.

Trying to cram all those people down the streets took forever. I sort of assumed that they would stop, pray, stop, pray, until they got to the church. I ended up at the back of the line and didn’t really get to see anything in the procession once it left the school. It just seemed like a big march of people from the back end.

There were a lot of video cameras from news outlets from all over the world. Of what I could identify, there were crews from Poland, South Korea, somewhere in Latin American (at least one), and the US. There were maybe a dozen I couldn’t identify.

Because there were so many people, I didn’t even make it to the church. I would up around Russian Orthodox Chapel where they found the segment of the old wall, not too far from the church.

It was the first time I tried to photograph a large event. Lesson: you can’t really photograph everything. Your best hope is to stakeout a spot somewhere on the route and take photos there.

I understand why people come to Jerusalem during Holy Week on pilgrimage, but honestly, it isn’t really built to handle a lot of people. Not the Christian Quarter at least. I think you’d have a better experience if you came at another time.

I’m considering heading to Tel Aviv tomorrow because Easter is going to probably be even worse. I was going to go north and then to Tel Aviv, but my computer problems have changed the schedule. I’ve stayed in Jerusalem longer than I had originally planned because of Holy Week, so I’m going to pick up the pace through the rest of Israel.

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