Sunday 23rd March

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Listening to a cacophony

Sunday morning worship began at 6:00am at the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre) with many churches worshipping in their own tradition at the same time.  Pictured above:

Ethiopian Coptic priests celebrating at their shrine attached to the north of the aedicule containing the tomb of Christ.

A tourist kisses the ground under an altar built on Golgotha where Jesus’ cross is thought to have stood whilst a Roman Catholic Mass is celebrated in the adjoining Chapel of the Eleventh Station of the Cross.

A Greek Orthodox priest waits whilst the Patriarch prepares to worship at the tomb – the Patriarch’s preparations took some considerable time – out of view but with much loud singing.

It is easy to hear the competing sound as an auditory turf war.  This appears to be a feature of the Holy City. But it is also the sound of people from around the world praying and maybe this helps explain what we see in the streets.

Saturday 22nd March

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Oh Dear! I had thought I could get away with posting just one picture a day but this city is too complex and the experience of walking its streets with Muslim friends is proving very demanding.  Below are just a few of very many pictures from today over which I have asked questions about how do our faiths reveal or obscure the truth of God and how we contend with one another in public space?

Saturday 22nd March

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Obscuring or revealing the Gospel?

The Church of the Resurrection, as it is called by eastern churches, or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as it is more functionally called by western churches, stands on holy ground.  It embraces two sites only 30m apart that were recognised by fourth century Emperor Constantine as the most likely places of crucifixion and burial (and of course, resurrection) of Jesus.  Both Jesus’ death and burial were on open ground outside of the city wall but now this site is enclosed and filled with religious paraphernalia. A painted ‘cardboard’ Jesus hangs from a cross adorned with a silver crown surrounded by candles.  And it seems to obscure a story of tears and loss and pain.

30m away from the gallery in which the cross stands on a rocky mound are the remains of a tomb encapsulated in an aedicule and surrounded by scaffolding and 7m high candle sticks with fluorescent light bulbs on top. It is a far cry from any form of garden but still there is a sense that this is where the events of Christ’s passion happened so crowds throng to share something of the space.

Votive lights bear testimony to real prayer being made in this place of chaos and confusion where many Christian traditions hang their symbols.

With Muslim friends we have been unpacking the Holy Land as the fifth of the Christian Gospels – but it really is quite difficult to read.

Saturday 22nd March

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Above, Muslims pray in one of two Mosques that flank the Church of the Resurrection.  This is the Omar Mosque. It is dedicated to the seventh century Caliph who overcame and took control of Jerusalem.  On entering the Church of the Resurrection he was invited by the Patriarch to pray but refused and went outside for prayer.  He made a Pact which stood for four centuries by doing so, that this Church should be protected as a place of Christian significance and never be turned into a Mosque.  In 1009 however the church was completely destroyed and the rebuilt church stands now only about half the size.  Omar’s Pact is remembered as a model of Muslim intentions for peace and this Mosque into which our party of Christians was welcomed carries the wording of the Pact engraved on its facade. (Copyright © Tim Stratford 2014)

Saturday 22nd March

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Contended Space

The pictures above are from around the Via Dolarosa.  This is one of the most ancient of Christian pilgrimage routes following the way that Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha.  The road runs through the city’s Muslim Quarter although pilgrims who follow it might never know that.  Today our Muslim guide (Dr Mustafa Abu Sway, Professor at al-Aqsa Mosque and at al-Quds University) took us into the side streets that criss cross the Via Dolarosa in which he had grown up. There he unpacked a story of being pushed into the margins even within his own sector of the city by a Christian community that owns the most prominent property and takes over the main street.

A Christian procession carrying a cross pressed all other users of the street to the side as they passed by only to be pressed to the side themselves as a car then drove up the road.

The side streets are covered with much graffiti.  Two green triangular pennants painted on a wall are a sign marking and celebrating a successful Hajj.  Muslim notions of pilgrimage clearly contend with those of Christians in the same way that Islamic calls to prayer through loudspeakers compete with the singing of pilgrims in the streets and church bells ringing.

Whose home is this?  The answer is not altogether clear.

Saturday 22nd March

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Again, just off the Via Dolorosa is the Centre for Israeli Studies. The Barbed wire and the shadow it casts on a concrete wall outside this centre before the gold of the Dome on the Rock is a familiar image of communities contending for space with one another.  There is a lot of barbed wire in Jerusalem.

Roman Catholic members of the Franciscan Order contend in another way. The Mace Bearers at the front of the procession hammer their staffs on the ground as they clear the crowds for friars on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  I hadn’t realised quite how fast they were moving and nearly ended up under their feet as I took their photograph.

Friday 21st March

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I had planned to post just one picture a day but Jerusalem seems to be a city of contrasts so today there will be two – one good and one ugly.

Friday 21st March

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The good: pictured above is Ibrahim Mogra  (founder and Principal of Khazinatul-`Ilm, Madaris of Arabic and Muslim Life Studies, in Leicester) standing on the Mount of Olives with the Dome of the Rock at Al-Aqsa Mosque behind.  This was a great day for Ibrahim who walked from here to the Mosque to join the multitudes for Friday Prayers. The Mosque stands in the Old City of Jerusalem on what I knew as Temple Mount but it is known more popularly around here as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). The opportunity to pray here for a Muslim is a real privilege as the third holiest place after Makkah (Mecca) and Madinah. He told us all he was disgusted last night after a twelve hour wait to get through airport security but today he was happy. (Copyright © Tim Stratford 2014)

Friday 21st March

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And the ugly: Whilst the Muslim members of our party joined the throng for Friday Prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque the Christian group walked on to the Pool of Bethesda. Just out of the Old City we encountered two lines of police in a stand-off with a crowd.  As we approached we realised the crowd was praying. We learned that these were Muslim men under 50 who were not allowed to approach Al-Aqsa today for Friday prayers.  we had seen some scuffles at earlier police lines but here the guns were by a crowd that simply prayed. (Copyright © Tim Stratford 2014)

Thursday 20th March

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This is Thursday 20th March

Tel Aviv Airport.  It’s a nice space to walk through.  The white British Christians did just that.  Four British Muslims spent a further eleven hours there undergoing questions with their passports withdrawn despite carrying letters of recommendation from the British Embassy.  They arrived at St George’s College at 4:00am for their evening meal well after the Christians had retired.  We have rejigged the programme this morning until they are sufficiently rested.  Pictured above, the Dean of St George’s College Jerusalem, Graham Smith, and a participant, Clive Burrows from the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham. (Copyright © Tim Stratford 2014)