Thursday Matt, Baby and I went to visit the Holy Sepulcher. We had wanted to go the day before with the whole group, but in many ways it was probably better that we went quietly by our selves, even not knowing everything that we saw. It definitely bears going back to with a guide. Many of you will have noticed a blogging silence from me after Thursday. I made some unhelpful excuse whatever day I got back to my computer, but the truth is that I was profoundly undone after seeing this place. Matt will attest that I came unglued that night, on Friday, again on Saturday and that I left the Holy Land on Monday forlorn, despairing, overwrought, shaken. What other adjectives can I discover in the back of my head. I am still trying to discover what it was that undid me at that moment, in that place. I know enough to write a little here, but hopefully as the days and months go by I can discover more.
Here is the outside of the church. You come upon it suddenly through some souvenir street shops. I had added to the stress of the visit by insisting to myself that we had to do All our shopping of presents on our way out. For those of you who don't know, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is believed to be the place of Golgotha, or Calvary, the place where Jesus was crucified, and also the tomb, the place where he was buried. Many protestants rather believe that the Garden Tomb (never open when we happened to be walking by) is really the place Jesus was buried. From all I've heard, the Garden Tomb is a lovely place to go and you get a better sense of mission, the love of Jesus (etc. etc.) but historically, there is plenty of evidence that the Holy Sepulcher is where it all took place.
Here is the view looking up, right upon walking into the church. The church itself is large, dark, cavernous, rambling with no central lace of worshiping or saying mass. It is shared by Orthodox, Catholic, Armenians, Greek, Russian (I need to look this up). Every group has their own little altar.
If you look straight ahead instead of up, you see this beautiful fresco/mosaic (not sure, no guide book) of which I had a terrible time getting a good picture. There are probably nice one's online. It shows Jesus dying, being anointed, and then carried to the tomb.
As you walk in there is immediately a stone slab upon which pilgrims may lay anything they have bought that they want blessed. By virtue of laying whatever it is on the stone, it becomes holy (if you're Catholic, I guess). I let G pat her fat baby hands on it. This flat stone is where Jesus was laid as he was taken off the cross, where he was hastily anointed and wrapped for burial because of the encroaching Sabbath. If you remember the women went back to the tomb on Sunday morning because they hadn't been able to do it the way they wanted. So Jesus, broken and dead, was laid on this actual stone.
It was as I put G up onto this stone and let her pat it that I was seriously moved by the Historical Reality of the cross. This is so important to Christianity-that God really broke into history, that it is verifiable, that it is not some ephemeral spiritual weirdness. I've had this experience before, most of us have, where our heart knowledge of God finally intersects with our head knowledge of God and we Know on a whole new level.
And finally, these are little crosses carved into the walls of the church by the crusaders (so Matt tells me), a sort of ancient, spiritual graffiti.