Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This is a Holy Place!

Today the director of our program, Talia, took us on a walk in one of the old Christian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. I don't think I'll ever get used to just walking along and then suddenly running into a place I've read about dozens of times in the Bible - it is so surreal to be here and see it in person. The following pictures are ones I took today as we walked through the "holy" neighborhood of Ein Kerem.

Ok, these pomegranates aren't exactly holy, but they are certainly a staple around here. Apparently the season is almost over, so we are just catching the end of it... I am planning on stocking up. Isn't the color just beautiful?
This picture is of the gates of the church that was built on the place where it is said that Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist (see Luke chapter 1). Importantly, no one is exactly sure where this actually took place. This particular place (as most Christian monuments in Jersualem are) was "chosen" by Helena, the mother of Constantine. She apparently traveled to Jerusalem and had visions or dreams as to where different early Christian events took place, and designated them as such. In the middle of the 6th century, Christian pilgrims identified the neighborhood as the likely home of the family of John the Baptist. Over time, sections of the town became recognized at least traditionally as the places of holy events, and most of them are now marked by a church or monastery.
This is a picture of me standing in front of the John the Baptist church. This view is from the home of a local tile artist, who we visited with for a few minutes during our site seeing.
This picture is of a fountain that has been created from a spring from where Mary (mother of Jesus) supposedly drank. One interesting note - the monument to Mary's spring was originally some sort of Christian monument, perhaps a church. However, after most of the Christians were forced out of Jerusalem (I forget the years), the place (as were most Jewish and Christian holy sites) was converted into a Muslim mosque. Though you can't see it in this picture, right above the fountain there is a minaret, from which the Muslim call to prayer takes place.

For ages, this fountain (and spring) were renowned for the quality and freshness of their water. However, in recent times, the water has been contaminated by sewage, and is no longer drinkable. If you look closely, you will see trash along the bottom of the fountain. The red Hebrew graffiti on the wall says something to the effect of: This holy water runs into the sewage.

This phenomenon of holy or religious sites being defiled by trash seems to be a theme in this neighborhood. Check out this sign, which reads: This is a Holy Place; Keep it Clean! -- and the pile of trash underneath it. We saw this sign on the road between Mary's spring and the Church of the Visititation (see next pictures).

The Church of the Visitation: This church is built over the traditional home of Elizabeth and Zacharias, and is built in memorial of Mary's visit to Elizabeth while the two women were pregnant with Jesus and John the Baptist, respectively. (See Luke 1:39-49.) The prayer that Mary is said to have uttered ('My soul exalts the world') is from Luke 1:46-56, and on the walls of the complex it is recorded in over 41 languages (thanks Lonely Planet).

A monument to the pregnant Mary and Elizabeth:

Another shot of the church:

Just in case anyone forgot:

Here is a group shot of of the Jerusalem Program outside of the Church of the Visitation.

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Victor said...

I'd love for my family to see this country.

Jennifer said...