The lunch in the Armenian quarter is always a good one and today was no exception and after lunch we set off on foot again to go to the Dormition Abbey. The Dormition Abbey is an absolutely beautiful place built in the early 1900s. In the crypt there is a huge sculpture of Mary in repose. Many believe that Mary did not die but simply fell asleep and was taken up to heaven, (the word Dormition means peacefully asleep). It is this that leads us to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. Here above her head are the matriarchs of the faith: Ruth the Moabite, Eve, Miriam, Yael the wife of Hever the Kenite, and Judith – the important women who have helped to shape our faith are memorialised in one amazing place. Again, I am reminded of the importance of the women of Biblical times and how they foreshadow the important work of women in Israel and Palestine today.
We have visited the Abbey on each of the Southwark Pilgrimages and yet I saw it though new eyes as our ecumenical partners sat and contemplated Mary and prayed there. It was incredibly moving to see and to remember how our different traditions place different amounts of emphasis on Mariology.
From the Dormition Abbey we went to see King David’s Tomb. Here our groups must separate into men and women as we are not allowed in together. Then used to be a statue of King David outside the Tomb and where you go into the Upper Room but sadly someone knocked King David’s nose off and so the statue has had to be taken away for repair. So, we head up to the Upper Room which is one of the possible sites where the disciples gathered and where Jesus appeared to them. It is extraordinary to think that the risen Jesus might have actually been in this room.
From the Upper Room we head down into the Jewish Quarter and past the remains of the Roman shopping centre and towards the Western or Wailing Wall. Quite often when we have visited this place we have been able to sit quietly and reflect on this extraordinary place but that was quite hard today as there were lots of young people dancing and making a great deal of noise probably, we think, to celebrate the end of Purim the Jewish Festival when the fact that Esther saved Israel is remembered. The Festival ended today in Jerusalem.
Our Pilgrims were still able to go down to the two areas for prayer at the Wall. Some of our Pilgrims has written prayers to poke into the wall and were pleased to have done this but it some felt a little disappointed by the Wall as it was much busier and more chaotic than they had anticipated.
The people at the Wall never cease to amaze me and learning more about their practice is always fascinating. I was caused to remember again that the Wall was mostly known as the Wailing Wall because to wail is to cry and people prayed at the Wall and cried there because the Temple had been destroyed twice and it had not been rebuilt in the third occasion. And of course, it still hasn’t. In the women’s section there are bookcases full of religious books at the back to help the women, young and old, to study more of their faith.
Our Guide asked us if we knew why they rocked back and forth as they prayed and none of us did and it is related to when the Priest used to go into the place of prayer by himself. As he was by himself no one would know if something had happened to him and so he had a bell attached to his robes and rocked as he prayed in order for those outside to know that he was OK. If the bell stopped making a noise then someone would go in and check on him. That is – we were told – why they rock as they pray. Fascinating.
After the Wall the Pilgrims were free to wander around the souk. To visit some of the Holy places and spend more time or simply to go back to the Hotel for a rest. Our time in Jerusalem is always busy and never seems long enough and so our Pilgrims each chose what worked for them. After dinner we had another meeting and discussed all that we had seen and done. We talked about the Wall and the Holy Sepulchre and drew it all together by once again saying Compline together.