About once a week, I toss aside routine and spend a day exploring the city as a tourist. Yesterday I wanted to see a new part of the city, so I walked up Mount Zion. I’ve been looking at these buildings (especially Dormition Abbey) on the skyline for months, wondering what they were. What I found amazed me as it was a microcosm of so many aspects of this crazy, complicated city, all clustered together in the same place.
Dormition Abbey is gorgeous inside and out. At 9 a.m. I was the only person in the space. The basement chapel to Mary (site of her “eternal rest”) is especially moving. There’s a book of prayers from pilgrims, asking for everything from world peace and reconciliation to good exam results and a new dog.
Next up, you go through a low arch and end up in an ancient building that holds the Tomb of King David and immediately above that the room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. David’s tomb is a holy prayer site for Jews, and was so especially from 48 – 67 when they couldn’t pray at the Western Wall.
Continuing the walk, I passed a bunch of yeshiva students and then came to this small museum (est. 1949). Unlike the new, gorgeous Yad Vashem, this place is dark, cramped, disorganized — and all the more harrowing because of it.
Mount Zion is also where Holocaust hero Oskar Schindler is buried.
My last stop was St. Peter in Gallicantu, a church clinging to the side of Mount Zion. From its porch, there’s an amazing view of the Old City and of Silwan in the valley below.
The church stands where Peter denied Jesus three times before the “cock crows.” It was intense to be at this church listening to actual roosters in the neighborhood below. Silwan is one of the poorest parts of East (Palestinian) Jerusalem. That means that the Jewish settler homes really stand out. This one had an Israeli flag, a watchtower and some really sweet playground equipment.
The church itself is gorgeous – a modern structure set on top of ancient ruins, including what is said to be Caiaphus the High Priest’s Palace.
It’s possible to climb around these ruins, including the ancient staircase which Jesus probably used to descend into the Kidron Valley on his way to Gethsemane. You can also walk down into the “sacred pit” — the dungeon where Jesus was held. Once again I was alone in this space. It was amazing. Fifth century etchings are visible on the walls and you can imagine how prisoners were lowered through the single hole into the dungeon.
I had enough time to walk over to the Western Wall, then back across town to our neighborhood before lunch time preschool pick up. It’s a cliche, but so true: Jerusalem is intense, overwhelming. Three religions, millennia of wars, conflict, passion, oppression — all within about a 1/4 mile radius. Tragedy and beauty. Mornings like this are why we came on sabbatical.