Jerusalem: Good Friday Edition

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.

10 thoughts on “Jerusalem: Good Friday Edition”

  1. Good reading your post, brought back some nice memories. I stayed in Tiberias and biked around the sea of Galilee.

  2. Well, I’ve been here a week and have to get going eventually. I think I’m going to stay here a few more days and do a day trip to the Galliee from here. It is probably faster and cheaper to do that than to try and find a place to stay there.

  3. Why is “Arab Christian” an oxymoron? Christianity as an institution was created in 325CE and thus existed in this region about 300 years before the advent of Islam (in about 622CE! The Nabateans (who brought frankincense & myrrh as well as other spices from the east via camel caravans from Musqat north through the Arabian peninsula to Petra which they built and across the Negev to the ancient port of Aza) converted to Christianity and were never Muslim.

    Gary – don’t leave Jerusalem – the Holy Week you witnessed was Roman Catholic/Protestant Holy Week… Starting tomorrow (Sunday), Easter Sunday for the Catholic & Protestant churches is also Palm Sunday for the Eastern Orthodox Church culminating in Orthodox Easter next week. Their traditions & services are VERY interesting! And, of course, Passover continues.

    One more note – the via Dolorosa is mostly in what today (and only since about 1936) is called the Muslim Quarter (not today’s Christian Quarter). Much of that area was outside the walls of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. Plus – there are several ideas about the route (if any) Jesus would have walked… see for archaeologist Shimon Gibson’s theory, which I believe is a lot more likely!

    For those Christians thinking of visiting Jerusalem, if you want to participate in a walk of the via Dolorosa, the Franciscans lead one every Friday beginning at 3PM, starting at Station #1 – easy to find, ask anyone!

    Hag Same’ach (have a joyful holiday, whichever one you celebrate)!

  4. Since we were in Israel for 3 weeks including Palm Sunday through Easter in 2008, I was interested in seeing photos of Good Friday in Jerusalem today. I came across your blog. I realize Israel is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I just have to encourage you to reconsider the absolutely amazing opportunity of standing on sacred land during such a sacred time. If you haven’t already done so, stop by the Christian Information Centre at the Jaffa Gate and get a list of the procession and service times and experience, experience, and experience! Being there during Easter (AND Passover) is an even more extraordinary experience. Take a moment–maybe go to the Mount of Olives and sit and reflect while looking across the Kidron Valley toward to the Eastern (Golden) Gate. These are thrilling days. Life is short!

    Also, check out the YMCA 3 Arches across the street from the King David Hotel–historical, great location, reasonable accommodations, and really nice staff. My daughter is currently in Ghana and we will arrive in Israel on April 22 for only 8-9 days, sadly missing the Holy Week events. I must say that we wouldn’t have missed it for the world last year , though, and will definitely look forward to going during the season in the future. This will be our 4th visit–just love the land! Getting around by rent car is totally easy and safe. The Galilee is also phenomenal, if you haven’t been there yet. Better to check it out than Tel Aviv, just another large city. There’s also a great historic little YMCA by Peniel on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I do hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity that millions only dream of! Be blessed.

  5. You answered my question to the term, “Arab Christian” which still seems like an oxymoron.

    Thanks for the very interesting information on the Via Dolorosa. I have always wanted to travel to see Jerusalem and if I get the chance it would most definitely be at different time as you suggest here.

    Great stuff.

    • “Arab Christian” is no less an oxymoron than “the astute and well informed Cheryl McCann”. Know your history. The Old or New Testament would be a good start…

  6. Hi Gary. Love Your work!

    You are in Israel… now…?
    contact me… I would be happy to meet.

    All the best, Roee.

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