After lunch we continued to walk through the Old City and made our way to the Dormition Abbey and to the Upper Room. We were also able to see the Tomb of St David. The Dormition Abbey is a beautiful church built over the spot where Mary, the Mother of Jesus, fell asleep. In the church there are modern mosaics and the one of Mary above the altar is stunning and then in the Crypt there is a representation of Mary asleep. A representation is hardly an adequate description of the beautiful figure laying in repose. Above her in mosaics are depicted several of the matriarchs of the Jewish faith – those who are not always remembered as the patriarchs. We see Eve, Esther, Ruth, Judith and Miriam. All around the place where Mary lays there are altars and places to pray. It is incredible to see so many women depicted in one place.
Back up from the crypt there is a café which is reputed to have wonderful coffee and cake. Most of us were not in need of food having just had lunch, but the thought of coffee was very enticing. The thing is, though, on a Pilgrimage there is often not time for that little rest and this was the case as we moved from the Dormition Abbey to the Tomb of King David. Here we were given a foretaste of what would happen when we arrived at the Western Wall as we viewed the tomb with men to one side and women to the other.
On the same site as the Tomb of King David is the Cenacle: the place of the Upper Room which the Dean described as the ‘womb of the Church’ for it was here disciples gathered with Mary after Jesus’ death and it was from here that the disciples were sent out. It is a time for us to reflect on the way in which from such a comparatively small area and from a comparatively small room so much began. For here the disciples saw the risen Lord and from here Christianity spread throughout the world.
As we leave these visits we begin our journey to the Western Wall. Walking along the ancient walls of the city we were able to see St Peter of Gallicantu in the distance and experience again the sense of the vastness of this troubled and beautiful area. We make our way down into the plaza before the western wall we realise that a lot of work is going on as there are cranes and heavy building equipment everywhere. Every time I have visited his site I have been struck by how close together everything is and how here, as we face the wailing or Western wall. at the back of where we are is so much that reflects and is special to the other two great Abrahamic faiths. For me it is as if this place beings all the complexity of the situation together.
The area is packed as usual with a mixture of orthodox and other Jewish men and women, young (sometimes apparently very young) Israeli soldiers and police. I was particularly struck by one young police women who was a sergeant who did not look old enough to have left school! (I confess to reflecting after that this might have said more about my age than her!) But having seen her I was especially struck by the contrast between how she was dressed and her role and the young Jewish women who were praying in their part of the area in front of the Western Wall. It brought to mind the difference that exists even within the Jewish community between the religious and more secular Jews.
I have visited the women’s area of the Western Wall a number of times now and always reflect on the fact that it is not only much smaller and therefore more crammed but looks less well equipped too. For instance the tables at which the men stand to study the Torah and pray are so much bigger for the men than the women and the chairs look so much newer. But be that as it may the first time I visited the area I was deeply moved but whilst I have always enjoyed going there I have not felt as moved again. I had begun to think that it was the newness that had made it so special but this time I was again moved by the intensity of the atmosphere and its prayerfulness. As I looked around I realised that just as he first time I had visited it there were a lot of young women praying and some comforting each other in this safe space. It was clear that these young women had a deep faith and I realised that yet again it was this that moved me as I reflected on the wonder of faith growing and deepening again in the younger generations. I was reminded too of the seemingly endless number of young orthodox Jewish men that we had seen on the Mount of Olives the day before and realised that Orthodox Judaism at least seems to hold onto the young and I couldn’t help but wonder what we Pilgrims might learn about passing on our faith as we reflected on this.
Our visits for the day done we were led back to the hotel by our Guides or went off to explore other sights and sounds that were not on the official programme. The journey back to the hotel via the souk is full of sounds and smells which are so different to that which we experience in London that that in itself seems like yet another special site to visit.
After Dinner we had our meeting again and reflected on all that we had seen. And it was very clear that whilst everyone was very tired it had been a day which had moved people in many different ways and one which would take quite a long time to process