We arrived at the bottom of Mount Tabor and I know that many of the Pilgrims were not looking forward to the trip up the hairpin bends in the mini buses to the top of the mountain to see the Basilica of the Transfiguration. Apparently some of the Pilgrims were so anxious about this that they counted the bends. I am told that there are 15! So, before we go any further I should report that we all got up and back quite safely. It is pretty steep and bendy though!
We have not attempted this trip on a Diocesan pilgrimage before because we were concerned how long it would take us to get so many people up and back. But, recently they have moved from taking people in taxis to using minibuses and it took 45 minutes to get all 80 odd of us up to the top which was pretty good going.
Sadly it was very misty and the wonderful views from the top of the mountain were not to be seen today but the Basilica itself is really very magnificent and well worth the trip. There are apparently two small chapels one for Moses and one for Elijah on either side of the church. I have been to the Basilica once before and didn’t get into either of these small chapels but I did manage one today. Our guides asked us to figure out which was which and I think that the one I saw was Elijah’s. And I have to say the thing that struck me most about the fresco was the look of surprise on his face as his offering was burnt up and the other wasn’t. It was as if he didn’t actually think that God would burn his offering. I found myself wondering how often we don’t quite expect what actually God actually does!
The main church was very busy as a very large group had just gone up to celebrate the Eucharist in it. If I am honest I am quite pleased that they went on for some while as it meant that we could get down the mountain again before they joined the queue. We were told that there were 250 of them!
The altar space being in use it was not easy to get a look at the chancel which is incredibly beautiful. There are also ruins of an earlier Benedictine Church on the site. Once again we heard the reading which told the story of the place we were visiting and prayed together. The Pilgrims were then free to wander the site until it was time to descend from the mountain top and return to our hotel.
No one really knows if this is the actual hill upon which the transfiguration occurred but Mount Tabor has been venerated as the place since the fourth century. There has been a church on the site for many years and this one was erected in 1924 by Spanish Franciscans and it is one of the biggest churches in the Holy Land. Such a building feat is extraordinary as all of the materials would have had to have been brought up the mountain.
It was good then to be back at the hotel with a little time to rest before dinner and then we were in our final meeting.
However, life is never predictable and today we have heard that the church leaders have all agreed that the Holy Sepulchre Church is to close indefinitely in reaction to the debate that is due to happen in the Knesset concerning governmental claims on church land.
It is extraordinary to think that only on Thursday morning some of our Pilgrims went with the Dean and the Bishop to the Holy Sepulchre church and now they – and any other pilgrims – could not do this. It is extraordinary that the Church Leaders have agreed together to do this but so sad that they should feel the need. So Bishop Christopher spoke to us about this at our meeting and asked us all to pray for the situation.
We were also able to review the day and all that we had seen and heard and people brought the religious artefacts that they had bought for Bishop Christopher to bless. There was a mountain of stuff on the table.
And so people have gone to their rooms to pack. We will have a dawn service and then we leave the hotel for a sail on the Lake before heading to Caesarea Maritima and our flight home.
It has been a really wonderful pilgrimage in which we have been able to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and to explore together the wonderful sights and sounds of this complicated and evocative place.
But we still have one or two more very special experiences to share – so long as it doesn’t rain – before we are back to the snow.