Pennine Pilgrims in Jerusalem 2011

When booking the pilgrimage, earlier in the year, the convent had wanted us to name our group, and we had created the name “Pennine Pilgrims”.

And so these six “Pennine Pilgrims” arrived on Monday night, 12th September 2011, at Ecce Homo Convent, on the Via Dolorosa in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. There was a cold buffet prepared for us, as we were not going to arrive in time for evening meal.

Then, sat out on the terrace overlooking the city of Jerusalem, a birthday party!! A small birthday cake carried in the luggage all the way from England, complete with candles and song, for it was David’s birthday!!

Tuesday morning. It was the first morning for a large English-speaking pilgrimage group staying in Ecce Homo for a one month Biblical course. We attended their inaugural Mass in the convent’s Basilica, celebrated by Fr Fergus, a very tall Franciscan priest whom we readily spotted at other occasions during the week.

We strolled along to the Jaffa gate to gather leaflets and information from the Israeli Tourist Information Centre and from the very friendly and informative lady in the Christian Information Centre. Close by we discovered Mrs Finn’s café in the lovely courtyard of Christ Church, which says it is the oldest Protestant Church in Jerusalem. It was to be our  venue several times during the week, though we did not discover who Mrs Finn is, or was. Through the dining room of the Church’s hostel we found two superb models, reconstructing the Temple of former times.

From noon onwards, Mrs Finn’s serves simple snacks, but we returned to Ecce Home and ate a sandwich lunch on the terrace.

Tuesday afternoon. We went through a checkpoint to visit the Western Wall (sometimes referred to by non-Jews as the Wailing Wall). Separate areas of the Wall for men and women – see photographs.
We then walked on into the Jewish quarter of the Old City, but were too late for a conducted tour of the new Hirva Synagogue. Its illuminated dome is a new feature of night time Jerusalem from the terrace of Ecce Home convent.

Some of us then walked right up the Mount of  Olives to the  Chapel of the Ascension, in Muslim care. Five shekels to enter, and not inspiring. We looked at the Jewish cemeteries on the way down. Many of the tombs have a few little stones placed on top. Someone we asked explained that they are placed there by people visiting a tomb, as an indication that someone has visited.

After supper we relaxed and planned, on the terrace at Ecce Homo. (Regarding supper – as we found last year, they do have a little difficulty in understanding what vegetarians eat!)

Wednesday was 14th September, Holy Cross Day. Well, of course, that is a major feast in Jerusalem, the “Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross”.
In the morning we attended Solemn Latin Mass, lots of lovely Plainsong, in the Calvary, the chapel “up above” inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Christian quarter of the Old City. The ceremonies concluded with a procession down into the body of the Church, near the Stone of Anointing, and Benediction with the Relic of the True Cross.

Latin Mass was followed by the compulsory indulgence of apple strudel and cream on the terrace of the Austrian Hostel, which is a stone’s throw along the Via Dolorosa from Ecce Home convent.

That was just a snack!! So we returned to Ecce Home for a sandwich lunch again on the terrace.

Wednesday afternoon. We called at “Mike’s Taxis” (taxis, coaches & laundry!!) to confirm the pickup for the airport for the following Monday. Mike is a friend of Fr  Michael from  his several pilgrimages, and we were welcomed with glasses of chilled freshly crushed orange juice. With amusement we watched the patient daily line-up of feral cats which someone in the taxi office feeds.

Then we climbed up on to the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the Ethiopian monks have their cells. Down below in the Church we went on a general exploration, including queuing to go inside the Tomb of Jesus.

At 5pm we took part in the candlelight procession around the altars in the Church, led by the Franciscans, candles and booklets provided.

Earlier, we had discussed among ourselves the sculpture above the altar of St Mary Magdalene. Now, after the Procession, we resolved its symbolism by a discussion with an Italian Franciscan priest who didn’t speak English, neither did we speak Italian. But it worked! And he pointed out to us, and explained one by on, the relief sculptures of the gospel events concerning St Mary Magdalene, which are above and behind her chapel. People sit below these reliefs, waiting for the Procession to start, so it is easy to miss them, which we had! He let us keep one of the booklets of the Procession, and also one of the booklets for the earlier Mass for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. David has these if anyone would like to borrow them.

Back to Ecce Homo for evening meal followed by brew and chat on the terrace. Just like last year, we had a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to sing “The Holy City”! And this time we didn’t even have Maria, a piano, and half the music, so the attempt was far worse!

Thursday morning. Early (-ish!) we set out along the Via Dolorosa to do the Stations of the Cross by ourselves. We didn’t carry one of the wooden crosses that you often see groups carrying, because the guy who acts as sort of custodian was trying to rip us off, and would not take what we thought was a reasonable fee, so we wouldn’t pay on principle. It was good to do the Stations in this quieter, reflective way.

Afterwards we somehow found ourselves again in Mrs Finn’s courtyard café (how did we manage that?) for coffee. We were there rather a long time, so we stayed for our lunch there. A lively wedding was taking place inside Christ Church. When it finished, we spoke to Angelica, a young member of the congregation, who explained that the church is now the home of the community of Messianic Jews – Jews who accept Jesus as Messiah, but keep many Jewish customs, and keep the Jewish Sabbath, not Sunday, as their main day of communal worship, which is in Hebrew. (Helen Shapiro and her husband are Messianic Jews, for information).

We returned for a while to the terraces at Ecce Homo, before walking out of the old city to the Garden of Gethsemane with its centuries old olive trees, and the Basilica, the Church of the Agony, also known as the “Church of All Nations”, containing the spot on which, according to tradition, Jesus prayed in his agony.

We took a taxi uphill to Dominus Flevit, the “Teardrop Church”, a modern Franciscan church built to commemorate the tears of Jesus when he drew near to Jerusalem and wept over it.

Some of us took a taxi, one hand on wheel, a coffee in the other hand, back to the Lion’s Gate into the Old City. The rest of us went walkies a long way along the Kidron valley, past the Pillar of Absalom, at one point dodging stones thrown at us from kids high above in what we thought was a Palestinian shanty town.. Then we climbed up long flights of steps to emerge on the Plaza of the Western Wall. This was late afternoon, and large crowds were gathering for the evening swearing-in ceremony of new recruits to the Israeli army. The reading tables of the Plaza were piled high with machineguns and Bibles.

We returned to the convent for tea and terrace, from which were heard occasional firework parties.

Friday. Eileen’s daughter-in-law, Elaine, and family, were on a Mediterranean cruise. Today they had planned to visit Jerusalem to meet a friend, Vincent, a Burnley “boy” who is British Consul in Jerusalem, and also to meet up with Eileen, Maureen and Monica. Whilst waiting, they visited the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. They spoke to a young couple who were hunting for white T-shirts to buy, in order to have garments to ceremonially tear at their first visit to the Western Wall, as a lament for the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

Eventually, the meeting happened, and all went to the Embassy for a posh lunch.

Karen, Bob and David went to Masada for the day. The Jerusalem tramway had recently been completed, but the electronic ticketing system was not functioning, so our journey from outside the Damascus gate to the central bus station was free. We had been advised at the Information Centre to arrive at the bus station very early, because buses often leave ahead of schedule!

The nearly 100km journey to Masada was South, along the Western coast of the Dead Sea, stopping just once at Ein Gedi (oasis, spa, nature reserve and kibbutz) and taking about one and three quarter hours, cost about 70 shekels return. Now we were in the rocky desert wilderness, an experience of its own.

At Masada we briefly explored the visitor centre, and used the intense heat of the day to justify taking the cable car up to the mountain fortress. The alternative is the “snake path”, on which we did see a very few people, including one guy pushing a cycle up the path!! The temperature there that     day was 44 deg Centigrade.

The fortress – its situation; its views; its history as Herod’s Summer palace and later its use as last outpost of resistance against the Roman occupation; its extensive ruined buildings; its water cisterns excavated into the mountain to collect every drop of rain in Springtime; the earthworks built up into the mountainside by the Romans to break the siege 2000 years ago, and still in place – all was fascinating.

On another occasion we might think to have our mobiles switched on, or at least some sort of plan for meeting up after going our own ways! But we did manage to find one another in time for the last bus back to Jerusalem.

Saturday. We intended to walk along the ramparts early, before it became too hot up there. But, en route to the start we were diverted by the sounds from the Armenian Cathedral of St James. So we found ourselves inside for the beautiful Orthodox Liturgy, sung by a choir of about sixty seminarians from the Armenian Orthodox seminary opposite the cathedral.

Close by we then discovered Vic’s Ceramics, where we browsed briefly with an intention to return.

We were not so far from Mrs Finn’s, so we found ourselves there yet again. The messianic Jews were conducting their Shabat service.

On to the ramparts, rather late morning, from the Jaffa Gate leftwards (South), a slow stroll along, leaving at the Zion gate, the one before the Dung Gate, our intended destination – too hot to proceed in comfort.

From there we walked to the Church of St Peter Gallicantu (St Peter of the Cockcrow). We thought there was a café there, but we were wrong. Three of the party walked back from there to Ecce Homo; the other three of us gazed at the Separation Wall, visible from outside the Church, and then we headed for the rooftop walk over the souqs (starts from the junction of St Mark’s Road with the Roman cardo). We got lost and were shown the way back to familiar territory by a young lad. We gave him a tip, and he pressed for more!

Back to Ecce Homo for evening meal.

Then a visit down into the basement of Ecce Homo to see the water cistern, which has emptied since last year (as a result of some other cistern being opened, but it is not known which one); and also to see the Lithostrotos, the Roman pavement.

And the evening ended, as usual, with us sat on the terrace.

Sunday morning. After breakfast at its earliest, 7am., we walked to the Western Wall Plaza and  on to the Temple Mount, which has to be vacated by tourists by 8.30am. A stroll around, to appreciate its size and to see, from the outside, the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque.

We returned to the Ecce Homo Basilica for Sunday Mass, in Spanish, at 9.30am for a Spanish group from outside who had arranged for the Mass.

In the afternoon we took the tram from outside the Damascus Gate to its terminus at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum.

After a spot of lunch in its restaurant, we spent a long, emotive afternoon weaving to and fro in its zigzag layout.

We returned to Ecce Homo only just in time for evening meal.

On this final evening of the pilgrimage, some of us sat out on the top terrace very late with our thoughts in the dark, looking over the city.

Monday, the final day. We had to clear our rooms early, and store our cases.

We  revisited Vic’s Ceramics for a few gifts to take home. Then (of course) to Mrs Finn’s for a lazy coffee; a browse around the Franciscan and the Messianic Jews’ bookshops nearby; and to the Austrian Hospice for lunch on the terrace. This last was in memory of Carole – with us, we were sure, in prayer. She had so much looked forward to this return pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Retrieving our luggage, we were met on time by our booked taxi at the Lion’s Gate; thence to Tel Aviv. Recognising our group as Christian pilgrims, the airport security seemed to go out of their way to obstruct us. Another recognisably Christian group we spoke to encountered the same peculiar conduct.

In Manchester it was raining. True to form, David’s sense of direction deposited us in the wrong car park!

Tuesday supplement. Except for Karen, happy back in Sainsbury’s, the rest of us met in Louie’s for coffee; and subsequently, 4th October, at Karen’s for apple strudel in memory of Austrian strudel on the terrace.


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