The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is an overwhelming place, where some overwhelming events are said to have occurred: Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the place is always packed with Christian pilgrims in deep contemplation and prayer. (And of course a ton of tourists also). It’s very moving to be in the presence of such faith. Yet compared with Bethlehem, I find this church less spiritually moving than kind of strange.
This ladder has been leaning up against the church facade since 1854 because no one can agree about its removal. Inside, the church is sliced and diced between the Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and the Armenian Apostolic Churches. And then the Syriac, Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches got the leftovers: some shrines and chapels, and a monastery on the roof.
I had read about the Deir es-Sultan, the rooftop Ethiopian monastery, and wanted to visit for a while but it is super hard to find. The Lonely Planet directions include finding an unmarked stairway and an unmarked door. Last week I finally had a child-free hour in the Old City and set out to finally get up on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre.
I wasn’t expecting that hanging over the stairway would be this set of outlandish promises and diverse services…but next time I see Mike’s Center, I will know I’m on the right track. Practically next door to the Ninth Station of the Cross, I guessed at the correct door to pry open, and stepped out into a different world. Tiny clay huts — nuns’ and monks’ cells — clustered together. It was silent, calm. Eventually a nun emerged to wash some dishes and didn’t look too pleased to see me, so I walked through to another part of the monastery. (Maybe Lonely Planet had steered me way off the beaten path and I was in a private living space). Here there were a few other visitors and I thought it was OK to take pictures.
I think I find this roof-world more spiritually moving than the (gorgeous, historical) chaos below in the church proper.