TO SINAI AND JERUSALEM
Jerusalem, The Gate Called Golden to the Temple
give you the end of a golden string:
Only wind it into a ball
It will lead you in at Heaven's gate
Built in Jerusalem's wall./1
had one month before entering an Anglican convent. I was renouncing an active life as a professor and scholar in an American university. I had already written books on medieval pilgrimage2 and books on medieval manuscripts;3 I wanted this last month in the secular world to be a transition and a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage about alphabets and books and about the landscapes that inspired those alphabets and books, that looked both forwards to my cloistering and backwards to my teaching. I had already pilgrimaged to Canterbury and Walsingham, to Trondheim and to Einsiedeln, to Compostela and Rome. Between the initial compiling of this book and its editing (Jerusalem: Essays on Pilgrimage and Literature, New York: AMS Press, 2000), I journeyed to Sinai and to Jerusalem. I have walked where Moses and Christ journeyed; and where Egeria, Birgitta and Margery had followed in their footsteps. Let me give this account in the present tense, in order to have you, my reader, be present at its narration:
We are to fly from Rome to Tel Aviv on El Al. At the airport I meet the four black-clad Florentine nuns, three of them biological sisters, and one named "Peregrina," "Pilgrim," of the Order of San Felipo Neri, who will journey with our pilgrimage. The immigration officials almost do not let me board the plane. Why would I be traveling with Italian pilgrims? I have to explain I have published books on medieval pilgrimage, that I know Italian, that I have lived in Italy, that I know this pilgrimage would be the closest I could get to a medieval one. I explain I am going both as a scholar of medieval pilgrimages, using the anthropological insights of Victor Turner, and as a potential religious. I show them the gold-sealed letter of introduction from my University's Chancellor and the printed list of my publications. They finally let me pass. On the plane we eat delicious eastern food, drink splendid wine We have been given travel bags with books, a Vangelo, a New Testament in Italian, its cover a mosaic from Sicily's Monreale cathedral, and a guidebook with information on all the places we will visit, the liturgical masses we will celebrate in each Holy Place, and the hymns and psalms we would likely sing. At Tel Aviv in the heat and fluster we meet Don Giuseppe Rombaldoni, our guide, a secular priest from Urbino, who is fluent in Hebrew and with a great love and knowledge of the Holy Land. We board the bus, called by the Italians the 'pullman,' and are driven to Nazareth and an Italian meal off lovely blue and white china served up by the Franciscans of Casa Nova there. Some of the Italian pilgrims find and buy in the shops marvelous spices, saffron, cinnamon, cloves.
In the morning we explore Nazareth,4 watching the Christian Arabs greeting each other, a beautiful little girl in a hand-smocked dress begging us for money to take to her mother, and a blue-eyed Arab in a burnoose selling carved olive wood (Nazareth's inhabitants are partly descended from Norman Crusaders). We see the modern church of the Annunciation, built around the grotto of the Virgin's house, then the close-by one of St. Joseph, especially its ancient baptismal architecture of a pit with seven stairs, at the bottom a representation of the River Jordan, a black stone for death, then the pool of water, the candidate descending to death, rising to new life. Caves such as the Grotto of the Annunciation are typical of domestic architecture here, the main floor of a house being so hollowed out from the cool rock, another storey added above, and a roof. Already, Don Giuseppe has emphasized that the Virgin was a child, a teenager, una ragazza, of about fourteen or less.
We then go up to Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration,5 in taxis for the last bit, for Mass and lunch, given us by the Franciscans, again on blue and white china, stop to visit Cana,6 which is uninteresting, except for the wine amphorae stored in the grotto in the church, spend some time at a kibbutz which cuts diamonds, then return to Nazareth. On our way we glimpse a camp for black African Jews wearing the yarmulke. It disturbs us to see how they are housed, in the blazing sun, in a patch of desert, in flimsy hot tin caravans. But the children run happily about and wave to us, while the mothers turn to watch us pass by, their babies strapped to their backs. We are becoming increasingly aware of who is Jewish, who Christian and who Muslim.
The next day we go out in the Pullman to the Mount of the Beatitudes,7 where we have Mass, unusually for the Roman Catholics, in both kinds, at one of the many altars shaded by palms in the beautiful garden. Birds are singing. In the fields around us are dogs, cats and goats. The perfume of lavendar is everywhere. The Sea of Galilee is at our feet. Don Giuseppe's sermon is on the need to speak first from the heart before it being uttered from the mouth. I later tell him this is why I have left the University, because I had to speak from the heart, not just the head, and it was not allowed. We pass where Magdala likely was.8 Next we go to Capharnaum,9 'Kafar Nahum' meaning place of order, of peace. We see there the later ruins of the Alexandrian synagogue built to replace that paid for by the centurion, and next to it, St. Peter's house, as they had been described in the Bible and by Egeria and other pilgrims. We go next to Tabgha,10 where we see splendid restored frescos of fish and loaves of bread, and of peacocks, and Egyptian fowls and plants. These were discovered by a German monk and are enshrined in a peaceable German monastery which observes silence. At a nearby church steps go down into the Sea of Galilee. Pilgrims, myself among them, walk into the water, as once had Christ and Peter. Next we cross the lake, coming to the Ein Gev Kibbutz where we dine on St. Peter's Fish, spiney but delicious and served up with fresh lemons, the same fish we had just seen in the ancient mosaic, a fish which only exists in the Sea of Galilee. Then we go to the Jordan River.11 Already we have felt water lapping against our feet in this dry heat. Now we renew our baptismal vows, Don Giuseppe pouring water upon our heads. I remember how pilgrims I have read of in Stephen Graham's delightful 1913 book, With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem, came here before the Revolution with their shrouds which they washed in the waters of the Jordan. We see a group of young people in white robes being totally immersed and witness the tears of emotion in their eyes.
The next day, on our way to Jerusalem, we go to Mount Carmel, important for the history of monasticism, with its roots in the Old Testament's Elijah and the New Testament's John the Baptist.12 In its church museum are old maps of the Holy Places that even say 'Ubi leones' [Here be lions]. We stop for lunch at Caesarea, seeing the Roman aquaduct along the beach against the blue green sea, which the Italians call 'Our Sea,' 'Mare Nostrum.' I am struggling to teach myself the Hebrew alphabet and to spell out "Jerusalem" from the road signs. At Ein Gev Kibbutz I had bought a tiny book of the Psalms in Hebrew and English. I am reading this, too, from cover to cover, back to front, as we approach Jerusalem, especially Psalm 122, which I will later ask Don Giuseppe to read in the Hebrew. He will do so beautifully. As we approach Bethlehem we pass Rachel's Tomb,13 and he tells us that she is the patron of all women in the Holy Places, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We see the magnificent walls of golden stone, built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the fifteenth century, and which are intact. We see the Damascus Gate. We stay at Bethlehem's Franciscan Casa Nova.
The following morning we go to the Mount of Olives, the Ileona, walking down through the Garden of Gethsemene,14 with its olive trees whose roots are carbon dated as 2000 years old.15 We go to Mass at the Church of All Nations, sitting around the sanctuary which is living rock. I take a photograph later of the pilgrims on the steps of this church. Our faces are drained, exhausted. Each of us has participated in the Agony. We look across all the gravestones in the Valley of Gehenna to the Jerusalem wall with the Byzantine walled-up Golden Gate at its center, the Dome of the Rock just beyond. Near us is the onion-domed Church of Mary Magdalen, not open to the public as it is a cloistered convent for Russian Orthodox nuns. Next we go to the part that is now outside the walls built by Suleiman the Magnificent but which had once been within those of the original Jerusalem. We have to bribe our way into the Caenaculum, the Upper Room of the Last Supper and of Pentecost.16 It is above the Jewish and Muslim shrines of the Tomb of David. The men pilgrims have to put stapled cardboard yarmulkes on their heads, Don Giuseppe lecturing to us about David, with the paper yarmulke on his head, his small gold cross pinned to his shirt. The Caenaculum itself is a Gothic room, rebuilt by the Crusaders, but likely in the right place as this was the one shrine continuously used by Christians. Now it is no longer in Christian hands. When the Pope came to Jerusalem it was carpeted so that he could not walk on its true floor or kiss it. From there we visit the Church of the Dormition of Mary.
We return to Bethlehem,17 and explore the Constantinian Church of the Nativity,
preserved from destruction because its door is too low and small to admit men on horseback
and because its depiction of the Magi had dressed them in Persian, Muslim, style. In the Grotto, approached by stairs from both sides of the altar, a magnificent Armenian service is being carried out. Nearby is the cave of Saints Jerome and Paula. Above, under trapdoors in the floor, can be seen the original Constantinian mosaics. After the service is over we go and see the star on the floor, kissing it, and are told about the Manger across from it, the shrine owned by the Franciscans while the Eastern Orthodox own the birthplace. As we talk a Christian Arab family enters, the mother carrying her newest child, the father and three other children. I ask if I can photograph them as they kneel to kiss the star. Immediately they range themselves formally in a row along the step of the altar. Alas, the photograph does not do them justice. The two Franciscan priests from Mexico and the Arab Christian family are filled with joy at that moment.
We go to Don Giuseppe. As pilgrims we are disturbed. We had been told in Rome we would see Emmaus18 and Bethany.19 They are no longer included in our itinerary. It seems we will not see Jerusalem. He reassures us. Emmaus and Bethany are too politically dangerous. Twenty-eight people, both Arab and Israeli, were killed that day in Hebron. But we will be coming back to Jerusalem. And he takes us in taxis that night. It is Friday, the Sabbath, and Orthodox Jews are walking to and from the Wailing Wall.20 On the Sabbath parents may not even carry their children. We see children carrying children beside their parents. One of our pilgrims is elderly and lame, but she comes with us. We walk from the Damascus Gate through the Arab Quarter. We are walking down narrow dark streets and through tunnels, with sudden bursts of noise as tiny tractors come at us hauling rubbish out of the city and taking up the entire width of the street. We see the Orthodox Jews walking past us in the opposite direction, fear on their faces, as they traverse the hatred of the Arabs in the streets. They are vulnerable but intensely devout. The four Florentine nuns and Don Giuseppe walk ahead of the rest. We come to a tunnel guarded by Israeli soldiers. We are checked and pass through.
And emerge into a floodlit, enormous square, the Wailing Wall at one side, on the other, high up, six revolving lanterns symbolizing the six million dead. The men go to the left hand section for men. We women enter the other enclosure to the right, first putting on dark blue skirts over ourselves if our clothing is too skimpy. There are tables there laden with Hebrew Bibles. Women are at the wall reading these books in prayer. Or they are looking after their children. A father from the men's enclosure hands his screaming daughter over to their mother. Already I had heard another father say to his daughter that today he cannot carry her. It is the Sabbath. One of the Florentine nuns asks me to ask a Jewish woman to read some of the Hebrew to her. Her gentle response is that she can only read the sacred Hebrew when in prayer. I explain her response to Sister Peregrina. I vow to learn Hebrew, to teach it to myself, on my return to England. After we leave the enclosure we watch the whole scene, where men in fur hats are dancing in joyous circles with each other, both within their enclosure by the Wall and in the larger square, and where, when they leave the Wall, they walk backwards up the slope the whole way in respect, dressed in their odd, distinctive garb. One Italian says to me that this is probably the only place in the world where no one would laugh at them.
Our elderly and lame pilgrim cannot walk further. Her husband tells our guide so. Don Giuseppe negotiates with the Israeli soldiers for the group not to have to exit through the Arab Quarter but to leave by the forbidden closer gate where he will have taxis waiting. He tells us to wait awhile, then walk in good order to the armed patrol. When we do so I, having English in common with them, have to speak with the Israeli soldiers who do not understand why we are there. No taxis can be got on the Sabbath. I explain we are to exit from the nearby gate. They say that is impossible. We must go through the Arab Quarter. The only gate here is for entering, not exiting. I ask him what is its name. One sentry says 'Garbage Gate, Dung Gate.' There is another, but it is far away in the Jewish Quarter, Sion Gate. At that moment the husband of the lame pilgrim, impatient, has fallen down a flight of stairs and is brought to us by a woman tourist, covered with blood. The Israeli soldier and I mop up the blood with water from his canteen. Mercifully, Emilio is only bruised and cut. The Sabbath can be broken with work to save a life, but not to carry a naughty child. An Arab boy then runs right past the sentry to us, telling us in Italian, 'Vieni, Come'. We know Don Giuseppe has sent him and, much relieved, we exit through the Dung Gate to the taxis. To the Jews we must have seemed totally mad. They would walk through the dangerous Arab Quarter rather than defile themselves on the Sabbath by exiting through the Dung Gate, which has always existed. The Sabbath is about ritual cleansing as well as rest and worship, all three in Judaism being interconnected.
The following day is the Feast of Saint Benedict. We are journeying into the desert, far below sea level, leaving behind the mountains upon which Jerusalem is built, stopping first for Mass at a Franciscan mission church in Jericho21 with a Victorian blue eyed, blond haired Christ, first healing the blind man, then with a sheep, then with Zachaeus in the sycamore tree, in its stained glass windows. Don Giuseppe preaches on Saint Benedict and Qumram's monasticism. In the streets of Jericho and in the fields about are shepherds and herds of goats.
Shepherd in Holy Land
It is the world of the Bible, almost unchanged by time or technology. We see, above Jericho, the Mountain of the Quarantana, of the Temptation.22 But it is in Muslim Jericho, as we are buying fruit for the journey, that our bus is stoned and a window broken. We are on our way to Qumram, increasingly coming to the desert by the intensely blue Dead Sea. At Qumram we walk through the recent excavations of the ancient Jewish monastic community, with which John the Baptist and Christ had had connections, seeing the scriptorium where the scrolls had been fashioned from parchment, from papyrus and even on copper, the refectory, the ritual bath. Across the ravine we clearly see Cave IV where so many of the scrolls were discovered stored in their pottery containers. Next is Masada,23 where, in the heat, we take a funicular to the great promontory, finding there a cooling breeze that allows us to see the Zealots' encampment, where they defied the Roman legions for three years until their mass suicide, told of by Josephus, and on the other side, Herod's vast palace with its baths and buildings. On the bus the Mexican priests are talking about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the learned Hieronomyte nun and poetess, born in 1622 who lived in Mexico City, going to the university, the Realle Universita Pontificia, disguised as a man. Our long journey takes us past the Dead Sea to the Red one where we spend the night at Eilat.
The next morning we continue into the desert, passing through customs and immigration, and traveling along the bluest Red Sea. On the bus Don Giuseppe explains that probably the real Mount Sinai was further to the north and he discusses a book written by a Jewish scholar on the matter.24 I think to myself that many of the places we have seen and will see are accepted as such by tradition and may not be factually true, but one can willingly suspend one's disbelief because the faith of so many invests even the erroneous places with holiness. Eventually we turn inland and start climbing. At one place, where Bedouin are encamped by the roadside and where the view is beautiful of mountain range after mountain range, we stop. I buy a half giode, a stone cut through at the center of which are crystals, which I will give to my grandson, from a Bedoiun woman standing by the bridge, who has a cigarette stuck in her mouth through her dark veil. She is disturbed. Is my 50 pence coin with the head of the Queen good, she asks the Arab driver? He assures her, 'Yes'. All she has to sell are shells and giodes she has gathered from the desert floor.
After many hours we reach
Sinai,25 staying at a recently-built commercial inn
that I do not like, nor, I hear, do the monks of St.
Catherine's. But from my window I paint the scene of the
rose-gold mountains of Sinai and St. Catherine's, the
monastery nestled at their foot.
I continue to struggle with the Hebrew alphabet, marveling at its history, and at its recording of religious history. I also take photographs, one in the daylight, one at evening with the moon above the mountains, one at night with the lights of the monastery twinkling in the darkness. It is beneath the moon on the hotel's balcony looking onto Mount Sinai and Mount St. Catherine that we celebrate Mass with a loaf of Egyptian bread, a bottle of the hotel's wine, a kitchen knife found from somewhere. It is Teilhard de Chardin's Mass on the World. At two in the morning we are awakened, but we were already awake, and I leave for Sinai with the able-bodied pilgrims.
We climb in the night, up flights of stone stairs, each of which is at a different grade, some almost perpendicular, each with their stones laid differently, sometimes loose, sometimes cut into the rock, sometimes gravelly, sometimes slippery and worn smooth with pilgrims' footsteps, and only rarely reasonably manageable. Our priests carry their vestments with them. Sometimes we meet Bedouin and camels on the path, in the dark, smelling the camels' presence before seeing them. We perspire and joke with each other, 'I smell like a camel!' We cannot breathe easily. My torch goes out after twelve minutes and I must climb the rest of the way in Don Giuseppe's footsteps by the penumbra of his, like Psalm 119.105's 'Thy word is a lamp to my feet.' On the mountain are many other pilgrims, whom we will get to know better with the descent.
At last we are at the top. At the Dead Sea yesterday we were far
below sea level; here we are at twice the height of Ben Nevis.
After being drenched with perspiration we are now bitterly
cold. I borrow a scarf for my shoulders. The two Mexican
Franciscans are freezing and put on their vestments. Finally
the dawn comes. As the light gradually crescendoes I take
photographs of the mountains about us and of St. Catherine's
Chapel, at Sinai's summit, drenched in the dawn light.
Then we celebrate Mass. We have forgotten our missals. So we team up with the more provident Spanish priests and their bishop and the Gospel is translated ex tempore from Spanish into Italian. The wafers almost blow away from the precarious, slanting rock and the wine threatens to tip over, but all is well. Don Miguel Angel has asked me to photograph him. I do so at the moment the Spanish bishop is reading the Old Testament lesson from Exodus, of God's Commandments given to Moses at this place. Then, when we are singing, 'Benedetto colui che viene nel nome del Signore. Osanna,' 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosannah', amongst us walks an elderly Greek woman pilgrim, propping her steps with a staff, agilely, eagerly climbing the mountain.
Finally, we descend, this time seeing the
beauty of the stairs and galleries and arches cut into the
rock, like Dante's landscape in the Purgatorio, which indeed
was modelled on pilgrim accounts of Mount Sinai.26
Our Greek pilgrim joins us. She is named 'Dionysia' and she is guiding four other elderly Greek women, likewise with staves, who are trying to find the quickest way down the mountain not to miss their liturgy at the Greek monastery of St. Catherine's. I tell her what it was we were singing as she was walking through our midst. With us as well is a Muslim family, all of them garbed in their sacred pilgrim green-blue. At the top, in the pre-dawn conversation, we have found Australians and Canadians and Germans amongst us as well as the Bedouin guides. Most have come by way of Egypt, from Cairo, the way early pilgrims came in their replication of both the Exodus and the return from the Babylonian Captivity, as in the Middle Ages Cairo was called, and believed to be, 'Babylon.' Our guide tells us the path we are taking down the mountain, had we taken it up, would have freed us from all our sins. He tells us of its gates of confession, shows us the chapel of St. Stephen and the monk's garden. In so many ways our pilgrimage blunders and counters ancient traditions; yet it also follows them. Every photograph I take on Mount Sinai is blessed with success.
We wait for ever outside the monastery. A sign says we can only enter if it is not a feast day. It is not a feast day in our Latin calendar. Perhaps it is in the Greek one. Arabs on the monastery's wall tell us to go away. We wait patiently, admiring the Bedouin camped about and their camel riding, the camels decked with gorgeously patterned red cloth with great fringes that swing with each step the camels take. At last, a monk comes out. He only speaks Greek and English, the Italians know neither, so I interpret. 'Why do you disturb us, we are praying for eight hours, it is a feast day, why do you not go away?' I ask him what feast day it is. He says it is the feast of the Twelve Apostles. I explain what he has said to the Italians, that it is the feast of the Dodici Apostoli, that we have disturbed the monks at their prayers. He relents, seeing the black clad and veiled Sisters amongst us, and says we may enter if we will be quiet, because we are not likely to be able to return another day. We cannot today see the ancient church with its icons, a mosque beside it, or the magnificent library. But we are within the walls of St. Catherine's, we see what they declare is the Burning Bush, and our Bedouin guide fills all our plastic water bottles from the monastic well, said to be that of Moses, with the clearest water.27
We return to Jerusalem by way of Eilat and Jericho. At Eilat I admire a powerful naive painting in the hotel's dining room. Within the portrait is another of an aged wise Rabbi. Beneath that portrait, at a table are seated two other Rabbis. All look right into our eyes from the frame and the frame within the frame. Our convention is that we must not paint or film people whose eyes look at the artist or the camera. I ask for information about them. The portrait within the portrait, they tell me, is of a famous Rabbi in Alexandria, the other two men, beneath its frame within the frame, are his descendants, one in Alexandria, the other in Israel, who are shown visiting each other. I ask about the human representation. That would not be tolerated in the north of Israel, they tell me, but here in Eilat the rules are not so strict. I remember Julian Jayne's book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, a book I helped get written, where he speaks of the idols of Babylon and their great staring eyes whom people then saw in visions and dreams. I recall that in the El Al plane magazine had been shown the work of another Israeli artist, who had done beautiful representations of the Mothers of Israel, including Rachel, lying in their tombs, and one of Joseph standing in his coat of many colours (which I show to Don Giuseppe, as his portrait), in none of which had he shown the eyes open, in order not to break the Law.
On our way past Jericho we stop at the place of the Good Samaritan parable where boys are riding donkeys, one Arab boy in a shelter singing hauntingly. We look over the cliffs and see an enchanting Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to St. George, nestled under the cliff on the other side. This time we are to stay in Jerusalem itself, within the Old City walls, at the Franciscan Casa Nova there. We are supposed to wait for Don Giuseppe to take us to the sights. But the Mexican Franciscan priests persuade me to come with them to the Holy Sepulchre. We are in the Christian Quarter where we do not feel the terror of the Arab Quarter of the Sabbath Evening. We use the Casa Nova map and come to the church. It is dusk.
I see first the Stone of Unction which I had read about in Russian pilgrim accounts on which they would place their shrouds. Next we turn a corner and see the Sepulchre structure. It is not that of the medieval Anastasis, which had been octagonally round, but instead it is like a miniature oblong church within the church, built in 1810.28 We wait in line, I am talking about the medieval monastic liturgical dramas I have directed, which had even been acted by Crusaders in the Holy Sepulchre itself, of John and Peter and Mary Magdalen at the tomb. Don Miguel Angel says he'll be John, Don Salvador says he'll be Peter and I can be Mary Magdalen. We first enter the Greek Orthodox vestibule with its candles and guardian monk, then four at a time we can enter the Roman Catholic shrine, kneeling at the marble clad rock of the tomb. This is what I came for, to pray for my dead brother where Death was overcome by Love. In the short time we have I pray for many people, touching the stone, which is perfumed with balm and lit by the lamps. We emerge and find at the other side the Armenian shrine with an enchanting monk covered with embroidery who lets us kiss the rock headstone itself. Above it is not Death but Birth, an icon of the Mother and Child.29 I ask his blessing which he gives me along with a crucifix and Holy Land wild flowers. Then it is the Franciscan evening service and we stand aside as the friars come, each holding a candle in the dark church and singing. Next we enter their bleak modern part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for their service. And return to Casa Nova for supper, filled with joy and wonder.
The Pilgrims in Jerusalem
Don Giuseppe takes us to the Jewish Quarter after supper as the Sepulchre is closed. We wander amidst the recently excavated ruins of Aelia Capitolina, great marble columns alongside worn smooth massive Roman road stones upon which we walk. The following day we visit the two great mosques built on the site of the Jerusalem Temple in which Christ had taught the Elders as a twelve-year-old boy, and later as a Nazarene rabbi.30 We walk upon fabulous carpets, barefoot, leaving our shoes, purses, and cameras being guarded by one of the nuns. In the great church-like mosque El-Aksa we see scholars and their teacher studying the Koran together seated on the ground. Between the two mosques in the spacious court is a large fountain with taps above seats as Muslims must wash all orifices before prayer or handling the Koran.
Carpets in the Courtyard
It is interesting that Judaism and Islam so stress cleanliness and iconoclasm while Christianity has broken from those codes. To the other two Peoples of the Book we must appear irreverent and unclean, illiterate and childish. Under the rock of the Dome of the Rock we find a group of veiled Muslim women refusing to be dislodged by the mosque officials. One, reluctantly, is led off to pray behind the womens' screened-off place for prayer. Don Miguel Angel puts his hand in the shrine for the two hairs of Mahomet's beard and tells me to smell it. It has the same balm as was used for the sepulchre stone. Later we will see the Stone of Unction gleaming from that balm. We remember the Marys, Mary Magdalen among them, with their precious ointments and spices.
In the streets we see Christian women in gorgeous hand-embroidered dresses, selling fruit and vegetables which are as beautiful against the dark walls as are their robes. We see stalls selling Russian shrouds printed with crude but powerful scenes of the Passion, though for years no Russian pilgrims could come. We see stalls selling Greek icons. We see shops selling liturgical vestments hand-embroidered with the same stitches as are on the women's dresses. The colours are exotic and glorious. The modern world has not made Jerusalem drab. And the stone with which the city is built is beautiful and white, being cut easily and then hardening with time. We return to Bethlehem for Mass in the Cave of St. Jerome and St. Paula, where the Franciscans present their image of the Holy Child for us to kiss. We have lunch there, then return to Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre, seeing the Chapel of Calvary with its two altars, kissing the empty square hole for the base of the cross. That is true of this pilgrimage, that our goals are absences, rather than presences, the round hole at the center of the star for Christ's birth at Bethlehem; the square hole for the cross at Jerusalem, even, which I did not see, the holes left at Christ's Ascension31 of the imprints of his feet within a square trough.
aaa aaChurch of the Ascension
Next a group of us pilgrims meet at a church on the Via Dolorosa to perform the Via Crucis.32 It takes forever for a cross to be delivered to us. I do not know what we are waiting for. Finally it comes and we, in turns, shoulder it down the narrow market streets of Jerusalem, standing aside when tractors come with their uproar, persevering despite the deliberate blare of rock music at one moment trying to prevent us from continuing, being yelled at in the Muslim square outside the Sepulchre to do our praying in the church. At last we lay our cross with others inside the door. We are as drained as we had been at Mass at the Church at Gethsemene. There was the Jewish pilgrimage of the forty-two Stations of Exodus of Numbers 33, remembered thrice annually, at Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Then there were the Gregorian Stations of Rome. Last of all, in the late Middle Ages, Franciscans developed the Via Crucis, the Stations of the Cross.
I rush back down the Via Dolorosa to buy stoles for the Community of the Holy Family, the Italian pilgrims helping me bargain for them, white with red Armenian embroidery, purple with white, of Jerusalem crosses. I had planned on buying one but got tempted into the bargain of two, one for festivals, the other for penitence. Then I go to the Franciscans' Library and meet with Father Sabino de Sandoli, its scholarly librarian, and we talk in Italian for two joyous hours about his books and Medieval Studies and medieval pilgrims and St. Birgitta of Sweden.33 Scholars get lonely for each other, for a common language and association of ideas and books. It turns out we were both in the Piazza Farnese in Rome last October at the Papal Mass in honor of St. Birgitta of Sweden and that we both wrote and published books on St. Birgitta's pilgrimage to the Holy Places.
We visit the lovely simple Crusader Church of St Anne, mother of the Virgin,
and the Church of the Virgin's Dormition.
After supper we pilgrims promise to be at the Holy Sepulchre in time to see it being closed for the night by the Muslim doorkeeper and keykeeper, a ritual started when Saladin gave that privilege to the same two Muslim families who still live in the Square outside the Sepulchre. (It was, in fact, Father Sabino de Sandoli who wrote the book about keys, doors and ladders at the Holy Sepulchre.) A ladder is propped up against one of the two great doors.
We hear voices inside, one like a child in a tantrum. A young Russian woman pilgrim is thrown out by the Greek Orthodox monks. She had wanted to incubate within the shrine, a practice that was frequent among pilgrims until recently.34 She is dressed in reds and purples, in peasant garb. She is screaming at the monks, telling them that Jesus defends her against them. We had earlier witnessed women's religious protest against male religious hierarchy in the Great Mosque that morning. We pilgrims stand by as if we were a Quaker group, our silent witnessing preventing possible violence. At last her sobs cease and the tumult dies down into the darkness of the night. The two Muslims can now set about their task, Franciscan and Orthodox friars and monks being within for the night to guard the Sepulchre against each other. One Muslim who is outside climbs the ladder and retrieves the key from its receptacle on the door and hands it to the other, who is inside, along with the ladder, both of which are taken in through a porthole in the second door, and the doors are finally locked, with everyone bidding each a friendly Good Night, or rather, from our Italian pilgrims, Buona Notte.
The miracle and mystery of Jerusalem is this Trinity of Religions, which are really a Unity, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, upon one sacred place, and their quasi-peaceable co-existence with each other. Each uneasily now protects the other as a way of protecting itself. Jerusalem means 'Vision of Peace.' Arabs and Jews greet each other with 'Peace (Shalom, Salaam) be unto you.' In Jerusalem one sees the three alphabets, the Hebrew, the Arabic, the Roman, everywhere. Perhaps it is time for a great Jubilee for all Three Religions at Jerusalem. Could we, both Christian and Arab, instead of jealousy, express gratitude for God's gift of Judaism, as a people, as a religion, and as a culture, to the world, coming to understand and admit our vast indebtedness to it, our borrowings and piracy from it, and could we accept and proclaim its legitimacy? Without Iraq and Israel we would not have our religion, our writing, or our civilization.
Similarly, could that tolerance and respect Don Giuseppe taught us to have for Judaism be extended by the Roman Catholics in the Holy Places to the Greek Orthodox? At present there is clearly tension between the two groups, Don Giuseppe telling us not to pay heed to the Greek Orthodox shrines as they are not "authentic," and Father Sabino de Sandoli in his otherwise enchanting book on The Peaceful Liberation of the Holy Places in the XIVth Century being opposed to the Tomb of King David and to the jealous guarding of the Holy Places by the Greek Orthodox and other groups. Ordinary people in the West are now enamored of the East and its icons, rather than with our Renaissance conventions of perspective which came about simultaneously with gunpowder and marksmanship.35 Our pilgrims instinctively turned to the splendour of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian shrines with their lamps and icons, finding the Roman Catholic ones contrastingly austere and forbidding. Our Italian pilgrims were also, despite their anti-Semitism, deeply moved by what they saw of Judaic practices. I recalled Julian, 'And Love was his meaning.' Only by Love can Law be reconciled. I kept remembering that I, being English, was a part of a recent Empire, the British, and my Italian fellow pilgrims, part of another and far more ancient one, the Roman, both of which deeply engraved themselves upon Jerusalem's topography and typography. I recalled the medieval iconography of the Resurrection where the sleeping soldiers at the Tomb could be Roman or Arab. Later they were Turkish or British. We have appropriated our religion and our alphabet from the Semitic peoples. If we do not acknowledge this history with grace we are pirates who murder those whom they plunder.
We leave before dawn the next day for our plane from Tel Aviv to Rome. Once again I have to prove my right to be with Italian pilgrims and have to show my gold-sealed letter and list of publications about pilgrimage. The letters of those documents come from the distant past, from the Phoenician alphabet, adopted next by the Greeks, then by the Romans. On the plane I teach the young girl, the youngest member of our pilgrimage, whom Don Giuseppe had always had read either the Prayers of the People or the Old Testament Lesson, the Hebrew alphabet. One teaches because in so doing one learns. aleph represents ox and the numbers one and a thousand, beth represents tent and the numbers two and two hundred, gimel represents camel and the numbers three or three thousand, daleth represents door and the number four, heh represents whistle and the number five, vau represents nail and the number six, zayin represents weapon and the number seven, chet represents fence and the number eight, tet represents coiling and the number nine, yod represents hand and the number ten, kaph represents palm of the hand and the numbers twenty and five hundred, lamed represents ox-goad and the number thirty, mem represents water and the numbers forty and six hundred, nun represents fish and the numbers fifty and seven hundred, samech represents support and the number sixty, ayin represents eye and the number seventy, pe, represents mouth and the numbers eighty and eight hundred, tsadi represents fishhook and the numbers ninety and nine hundred, koph represents coif and the number one hundred, resh represents head and the number two hundred, shin represents tooth and the number three hundred, tau represents sign and the number four hundred.36
Each reading now, whether from the Old Testament or from the Gospel, is filled, flooded even, with memories for me, visual memories of the Biblical places, memories of street signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English alphabets, scripts and languages, memories of the perfumes of lavendar and balm, memories of the chants in Italian, in Latin, in Greek, in Armenian, in Arabic, in Hebrew, memories of Galilee, Jericho, Jordan, Sinai, Golgotha, Bethlehem and countless others. I suspected this would happen. I had not expected that it would be this intense and deep an experience. In my books I note that pilgrimage shapes a world in which beggars are equal with kings, women with men. Egeria, Paula, Birgitta and Margery were such pilgrims in flesh and blood, even if Chaucer made fun of us with his fictional Wife of Bath. To go on pilgrimage to the Holy Places, as well as remaining in one's cell in Britain, is like the pearl of great price, to attain which it is wisdom, as I did, to sell all that one has.
I am noughtLet me end with the Psalm I remembered at the Temple's Wall:
I have nought
I seek nought
But sweet Jesus in Jerusalem.37
The steps leading to the gates surrounding
the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Temple
I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord!' Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! Jerusalem is built as a city which is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. There thrones for judgement were set, the thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! 'May they prosper who love you! Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers!' For my brethren and companions' sake I will say, 'Peace be within you!' For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.38Notes
This is the final chapter of Jerusalem: Essays on Pilgrimage and Literature (ISBN 0-404-64164-4), AMS Press, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Bdg. 292, Suite 417, 63 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11205 USA.
1William Blake, Jerusalem,
in The Complete Writings, ed. Geoffrey Keynes (London:
Oxford UP, 1966), p. 716.
2 Julia Bolton Holloway, The Pilgrim and the Book: A Study of Dante, Langland and Chaucer (New York: Peter Lang, 1987, 1989, 1992); Equally in God's Image: Women in the Middle Ages, ed. Julia Bolton Holloway, Joan Bechtold, Constance S. Wright (New York: Peter Lang, 1991).
3 Brunetto Latini, Il Tesoretto, ed. and trans. Julia Bolton Holloway (New York: Garland, 1981); Saint Bride and her Book: Birgitta of Sweden's Revelations (Newburyport: Focus, 1992); Brunetto Latini: An Analytic Bibliography (London: Grant and Cutler, 1986); Twice-Told Tales: Brunetto Latino and Dante Alighieri (New York: Peter Lang, 1992).
4 Luke 2.39-40,51-52; the Synagogue's remains may be seen which are on the site of the original Synagogue the Holy Family would have frequented and where Christ had read the words from Isaiah 61.1-2, Luke 4.16-30, Matthew 13.54-58, Mark 6.1-6; the Holy Family's settlement in Nazareth was part of a Jewish political movement to expand into a Gentile region, similar to today's Jewish settlements.
5 Matthew 17.1-9, where Peter, James and John see Christ with Moses and Elijah, and desire to make tabernacles for each.
6 John 2.1-11; Italian guidebook notes the wedding couple were likely relatives of Mary.
7 Matthew 5.6.7; Luke 6.17-49.
8 Its Arab name is Migdal; Luke 7.36-50.
9 Matthew 4.13; John 2.12, Christ goes to Capharnaum; Mark 1.21-28; Luke 4.31-37, Christ heals the demoniac on the Sabbath; Matthew 8.14-15; Mark 1.29-34; Luke 4.38-41, Christ heals the mother-in-law of Peter and other infirm; Matthew 9.1-8, Mark 2.1-2; Luke 5.17-25, Christ pardons and heals a paralytic; Matthew 9.9-13; Mark 2.13-17; Luke 5.27-32, Christ calls Matthew; Matthew 8.5-13, Luke 7.1-10, Christ heals the Centurion's servant; Matthew 9.18-19-19.23-26, Mar 5.21-24, 35-43, Luke 8.40-42, 49-58, Christ resurrects Jairus' daughter; Matthew 9.20-22, Mark 5.25-34, Luke 8.43-48, Christ heals the woman with issue of blood; John 6.22-71, Christ speaks of the Eucharist in the Synagogue; Matthew 17.24-27, Christ pays the Temple tribute for himself and for Peter with the coin in the fish's mouth; Matthew 18.1-35, Mark 9.33-50, Luke 9.46-50, 17.1-4, Christ preaches on humility and tolerance; Matthew 11.20-24, Luke 10.13-15, Christ prophesies the Galilean cities' ruin.
10 Matthew 14.13-21; Mark 6.30-44; Luke 9.10-17; John 6.1-13.
11 Joshua 3-4; II Kings 2.1-18; Matthew 3, Mark 1.1-11, Luke 3.1-21, John 1.19-42.
12 I Kings 18.16-40, 41-46; II Kings 4.8-37; Elijah will also journey to Mount Sinai.
13 Genesis 35.16-20. Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin.
14 Matthew 26.36-46; Mark 14.32-42; Luke 22.39-46.
15 Later, I shall give the blessed olive leaves I received at Gethsemane to clerical abusers for their healing. See http://www.umilta.net/chronicle.html
16 Matthew 26.17-30; Mark 14.12-26; Luke 22.7-39; John 13-17, preparation for Passover and Last Supper; Luke 24.36-49, John 20.19-29, Christ appears to Disciples; Acts 1.12-2.4, Pentecost.
17 Luke 2.1-7; Matthew 2.
18 Luke 24.13-35.
19 Matthew 21.17, Mark 11.11-12, Christ spends night in Bethany; Luke 10.38-42; John 11.1-44, Christ with Mary and Martha; John 11.1-44, Raising of Lazarus; Matthew 26.6-13, Mark 14.3-9, John 12.1-8, anointing of Christ by Mary.
20 Don Giuseppe explains that Jews do not call it the 'Wailing Wall,' but the 'Western Wall.'
21 Joshua 6, taking of Jericho; Matthew 20.29-43, Mark 10.46-52, Luke 18.35-43, healing the blind man; Luke 19.1-10, Christ and Zacchaeus; Luke 19.11-27, parable of talent, reference to voyage of Archelaus to Rome.
22 Matthew 4.1-11, Mark 1.12-13, Luke 4.1-13.
23 Josephus, The Jewish War.
24 Emmanuel Anati, Har Karkom: Montagne sacra della peninsola Sinai (Casa Editrice Jacabook).
25 Exodus 19-34.
26 Carol V. Kaske, "Mount Sinai and Dante's Mount Purgatory," Dante Studies, 89 (1971), 1-18; John G. Demaray, The Invention of Dante's Commedia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974); Peter Brieger, Millard Meiss, Charles S. Singleton, Illuminated Manuscripts of the Divine Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), II.358, London, British Library Add. 19,587, etc., and Vatican, Codex Urbinate.
27Egeria's Travels, in its multilated manuscript, begins with Egeria on the summit of Sinai and likewise speaks of the Burning Bush and the well with Moses' water at this monastery, whose church was constructed by St. Helena and whose walls were built by Justinian and repaired by Napoleon. See http://www.florin.ms/beth.html
28 In Prague, when I arrived there in the evening I saw a church modeled on this medieval Santo Sepulcro filled with people; see Karl Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), I.239-450.
29 Julia Bolton Holloway, "Verbal Icons: Paradigms of Death and Birth," Studies in Iconography 11 (1987), 95-110.
30 John 2.20; Luke 1.5-25; 2.22-50; Matthew 4.5-7; Luke 4.9-12; Matthew 21.12-13, Mark 11.15-17, Luke 19.45-46, John 2.13-25, John 3.1-21, 5.14, 7.14-53, 8.2-59, 9.1-41, 10.22-39, Matthew 21.12-16, Luke 21.37-38, John 12.20-50, Matthew 21.23-24.2, Mark 11.27-13.2, Luke 20.1-21,6, Mark 15.38, Luke 23-45, Acts 2.46, 3.1-4.3, 5.12-26, 42, 21.26-35.
31 Luke 24.50-52, Acts 1.6-12.
32 Matthew 27.31-32, Mark 15.20-22, Luke 23.26-32, John 19.17.
33 Sabino de Sandoli, The Peaceful Liberation of the Holy Places in the XIVth Century (Cairo: Franciscan Center for Christian Oriental Studies, 1990); Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Keys, Doors, and Doorkeepers (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1986); Viaggio di Santa Brigida di Svezia da Roma a Gerusalemme, 1372 (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1991). In this last book, p. 64, he gives drawings of the Scandinavian kings, Saint Olav of Norway and King Canute of Denmark and England, which were painted on pillars in the Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem.
34 Ronald C. Finucane, Miracles and Pilgrims: Popular Beliefs in Medieval England (Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977); Jonathan Sumption, Pilgrimage: Image of Mediaeval Religion (Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975).
35 Thomas J. Steele, Santos and Saints: The Religious Folk Art of Hispanic New Mexico (Santa Fe: Ancient City Press, 1982), pp. 5-6.
36 Karl Feyerabend, A Complete Hebrew English-Pocket Dictionary (Berlin: Langenscheidt, n.d.).
37 Walter Hilton, Scale of Perfection; Augustine Baker, Holy Wisdom, in both texts, one from the fourteenth, the other from the seventeenth century, endlessly repeating the 'Pilgrim's Prayer'.
38 Psalm 122. Of David.
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