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?
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.
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.
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.