Shabbath Shalom! As it was the Sabbath, public transportation was down and the streets of West Jerusalem empty as I walked towards the old city.
Entering through the Jaffa Gate, I again climbed to the ramparts, and this time walked atop the city walls from the west to north side. I had great views of the city and could watch the activity below. After stepping down into the city near the beginning of the Via Delorosa, I entered first the small and elaborately decorated church of St. Anne, Mary’s Mother, run as part of a convent of Greek Orthodox nuns.
I delighted in the paintings of Jesus’ grandmother and her husband Joachim. In one painting, they are embracing and there is an expression of joy in each other. In another, a small Mary stands between them. She is perched on a small tree.
The Via Dolorosa, the road representing the path Jesus took carrying the cross to Golgotha, begins in the Muslim quarter and winds, mostly uphill on a steep incline, into the Christian Quarter. All along the route is the bustle of modern Bethlehem, with vendors calling out inviting you into their shop to buy a trinket.
The last of the stations takes place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which I visited briefly yesterday. I noticed the beautifully painted murals depicting Jesus death and burial that featured women who grieved, loved and stayed close to his side in his final hours (an image of one of these is at the bottom of the this post)
The line to see the tomb where Jesus was laid was perhaps two hours long and so I again decided to not wait in the line. Adjacent to the long line of people to see the tomb was a chapel that was not drawing anyone’s attention.
At first, took pleasure in being able to sit in a relatively quiet place on a bench where I could sit and rest my feet. It was only after sitting there taking in the chapel that I understood it was dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Not one of the ‘featured attractions’ in the church, I would have missed it entirely if the crowd at the tomb were not so long and my feet weren’t needing a break.
The chapel was an open space with benches and an altar. The alter had a number of large candles and over the altar was a wonderful bronze image of Jesus and Mary. Facing toward each other, Jesus and Mary both have one knee bent as if in movement, as if dancing. And if the image were set in motion, with the bending of the knee carrying them to the next movement, they would be moving, dancing in a circle around each other. They both have one hand on their heart. His other hand extended upwards. He is stood with his arms and face upward. Her other hand is reaching towards his heart. Their faces are both raised looking towards his hand that is reaching skyward. So lovely.
There are many depictions of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus– in churches and souvenir shops. I have a deep love for the Blessed Mother, but I am on the search this trip for a different Mary. And so this bronze relief delighted! The church itself is primarily dedicated to the Passion, suffering and death of Jesus…in this chapel I beheld the Resurrected Jesus, alive and dancing!
For lunch I had shawarma – so delicious. An Israeli specialty. The center of the plate is chicken cooked with spices. Around the side is sliced cabbage, hummus, sliced carrots, a spicy sauce, cucumbers…and then pita bread to scoop it up with. Complete and total refreshment!
Overall, as much as the previous day was engaging, today I felt barraged by the cultural differences within the city, the earnestness of the street vendors, the intentness of pilgrims, the suffering evoked by the Via Delorosa - all adding up to create a perpetual intensity of within the walls of the old city day after day, year after year, millennia after millennia.
I was pleased and grateful that my day concluded in seeing iconography that depicted the feminine depicted in a movement of joy and celebration. My heart was lifted and I felt rejuvenated – like a cool breeze on a hot day, or like shawarma on an empty stomach.