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In to Golgotha from Sheep gate
Walk I made to Golgotha from Sheep gate was rewarding than a walk I did for any other reasons. Gospel of John 19: 17 reads, He went out bearing His cross to the the place of skull which in Aramaic is called Golgotha and there they crucified Him. I had an opportunity to walk the same road where Jesus Christ went with His cross and fell three times as He could not bear the weight of the cross.
Golgotha is not a big mountain as many of us imagine; it used to be a rocky hill out side the city walls of Jerusalem where executions of people under law were carried out and for this reason bones and skulls of human being were commonly seen here, so the name the place of the skull.
Golgotha is located out side or inside the city?
In AD1453 history became upside down when Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople- Turkey) was conquered by Sufi Muslims of Ottoman Empire. Not only Constantinople all states in western Asia, southern Europe and northern Africa ruled by Roman Empire in the east were annexed to Ottoman Empire.
Thus Jerusalem became totally under Muslim control and during 16th century new city walls were built on the remains of the ancient walls of Jerusalem by Ottoman Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent. He brought Golgotha or Calvary inside the city walls of Jerusalem as we see today, otherwise Golgotha used to be out side the city as said in the Bible.
The walled city of old Jerusalem is presently, divided in to four quarters among Muslims, Christians, Armenian Christians and Jews; Golgotha is now located in the Christian quarter and Temple mount where Solomon's temple once situated is in the Muslims quarter.
Sheep gate is known by its name for the reason there used to be a sheep market at the city gate and a pool situated on to the right side of the gate was used for cleaning sheep before they were taken to the temple for sacrifice. This gate is also known as the Stephen's gate because Stephen the first Christian martyr was stoned to death just out side this gate in the valley of Kidron. But Suleiman the Magnificent, builder of the new wall and gates liked to call the gate as Lion's gate.
When you enter the old city of Jerusalem through the sheep gate Temple Mount is located on to the left so this gate used to be one of the main entrances to the temple and Jesus Christ must have entered the city and the temple through sheep gate when He came to Jerusalem. You very much urge to enter the Temple Mount, place where the temple of God once situated and its architect was none other than Yahweh the God himself. The place is now occupied by two famous Muslim monuments Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque and the site is not opened for the public, particularly to the Jews after the six days Arab Israeli war in 1967.
Pool of Bethesda
The pool used for cleaning the sheep is the pool of Bethesda where sick and the crippled used to assemble on its bank waiting for the movement of the water, for an angel went in to the pool at certain time and stirred the water. Then who ever stepped first in to the pool was made well of what ever disease he had (for the miracle Jesus performed at the pool read Gospel of John, Chapter 5)
The remains of Bethesda pool is excavated and preserved here. Beside, a 10th century church built in the name of Annie, mother of Virgin Mary situates here. It is believed St. Annie lived here in the locality. We attended the morning mass in the premises before we started our walk.
Seat of Judgment the Praetorium
Leaving Bethesda we walked through the narrow gullies of Muslim quarter so as to reach a secondary school close by; used to be the court from where Jesus Christ was judged by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and the place is said in the bible as Praetorium (Matt 27: 2-26).
The area is part of Antonia fortress built by Herod the King of Judea named after his Roman friend Mark Antony military General of Julius Caesar. Antonia fort was built for the security of Jerusalem temple and a garrison of military men used to live in its barracks.
When St. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and brought over to the fortress (castle, barrack and fortress in different versions of bible) as ordered by the centurion, Paul gave his speech is explained in Acts 22. The fort was destroyed in AD 70 and a Franciscan monastery is now situated here; the secondary school Al Omaria is a portion of the ruined fortress.
Via Dolorosa or the way of the cross is a popular tourist attraction in Jerusalem today and this is the traditional way through Jesus Christ carried the wood of the cross to the place of execution, Golgotha, after he was judged by Pontius Pilate. The route of Via Dolorosa begins at Antonio fortress close to sheep gate and ends at the Church of Holy Sepulcher covering almost 500 meters. Unfortunately Via Dolorosa can prove a difficult place for contemplation as it travels through busy streets lined with snack bars and tourist shops. Pilgrims in good hope follow the steps of Jesus to Golgotha stopping at 14 stations along the way.
Stations of Via Dolorosa
- Judgment seat of Pontius Pilate known as Praetorium where Jesus was condemned to death.
- The monastery of flagellation where Jesus was given the cross.
- The spot where Jesus fell under the weight of the cross for the first time.
- Where, Mary mother of Jesus came out of the crowd to see her son.
- Simon the Cyrene was taken out of the crowd by the Roman soldiers to help Jesus to carry the cross.
- Recalls tradition of Veronica stepping up to Jesus and wiping His face.
- Where Jesus fell for the second time.
- Place where Jesus consoled the women of Jerusalem.
- Where Jesus fell for the third time.
- Jesus stripped of His garments.
- Jesus nailed to the cross.
- Place where Jesus died on the cross.
- Spot where Jesus body was taken down
- The tomb of the Jesus
Out of the 14 stations of the cross (watch the tube) stations 1 to 9 are located on the streets of Jerusalem and 10 to 14 are in and around the Church of Holy Sepulcher.
Church of Sepulcher
Church of Holy Sepulcher originally built in 330 AD by Queen Helene, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine commemorates the hill of crucifixion and tomb of Christ's burial. Though not looking pretty, the massive church embraces with in its walls the hill of Golgotha and the traditional tomb of Jesus Christ. Golgotha, also known as Calvary used to be a sloppy mountainous quarry; church was built on the slopes by demolishing the rock where a pagan temple of Aphrodite (Venus) had existed at the time. During making of the church Queen Helene discovered from the site, the tomb of Jesus and the cross used for hanging Him. Ever since, the site remained the paramount pilgrimage center for Christians as well as for others even though there were very many atrocities against it.
Last five stations of Via Dolorosa
Last 5 stations of Via Dolorosa are located with in the complex of Holy Sepulcher Church. Station 10, where Jesus' garment was stripped is a Franciscan chapel at the entrance which remained closed so we could not enter there. As the main entrance was crowded we entered the landing area of Sepulcher Church through the Ethiopian Church and took the winding steps on to the right to reach the heights of Golgotha.
Here, you first come to an Altar where Jesus was nailed to the cross (Station 11 of Via Dolorosa). Further, you move on to the key place where portion of original quarry of Golgotha was split through the center at the time Jesus died on the cross is opened here on either sides of the Altar and in the center located the point where Jesus' cross was raised (station 12 of Via Dolorosa). Pilgrims from all parts of the world go down on the knees to touch the hole in the rock where the cross was fixed.
Behind the Altar there are life size icons depicting Jesus on the cross, mother Mary and St. John who baptized Jesus. We had to wait a while because a Greek Arch Bishop with his clergies was conducting a prayer session at the Altar. After spending our time in grief we came down from the richly decorated heights of Golgotha to the main landing area in side the Church where Jesus body was taken down from the cross for anointing (station 13 of Via Dolorosa).
If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9, 26)
Anointing stone is also known as the stone of Unction is the place where Jesus' body was laid after being removed from the cross and prepared for burial. For the protection, after the fire took place in Sepulcher Church, a polished stone is placed in 1810 AD over the original stone. Pilgrims kneel to kiss the stone or rub the stone with scented oil and then wipe it with a cloth to take home. The stone is placed in memory of Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of Sanhedrin who shown favor to Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea the man who donated his own freshly cut tomb for the burial of Jesus. There are 8 oil lamps always remained lit above the stone are gifted by Armenians, Copts (Egyptians), Greeks and Latin (Roman Catholics).
Rotunda and the Aedicule
Rotunda is the round structure at the western end of the Sepulcher complex, having the larger of the two domes of Holy Sepulcher located above it. In the rotunda there is a chapel called the Aedicule which contains the Holy Sepulcher meaning the tomb of Christ.
The Aedicule has two small rooms first one contains the angel stone believed to be the fragment of the larger stone that covered the tomb. A narrow corridor leads you to the second room which contains the tomb itself (station 14 of Via Dolorosa)
We remained over 2 hours in queue, 6 personnel abreast to enter the Aedicule such was the crowd on that day. To the rear of the Aedicule another tomb was excavated lately and it is believed to be the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and Syrian Orthodox Christians celebrate their liturgy here on Sundays.
Churches and Chapels inside Holy Sepulcher
Main church (Catholicon in Greek) of Holy Sepulcher is a crusader construction; situated to the east of the Rotunda. In the main hall (Nave) of the Catholicon you find a center point (transept crossing) where four directions meet - south and north wings of the church, the main Altar in the east and of course the nave in the west. Similar style church construction I saw is Notre dam Cathedral in Paris and St. John Cathedral in England and in India St. Philomena's Cathedral in Mysore.
The smaller dome of the two domes of Holy Sepulcher is located directly above the transept crossing and there is a compass stone right in the center on the floor at the transept crossing known as the Omphalos or the naval of the world, once thought to be the center of the world.
There is an Iconostasis positioned in the east of the transept crossing separating the Altar and the Nave of the Church. Iconostasis is a permanent screen carrying Christian icons on it, there are doors generally three, for the priest to enter the Altar and conduct the mass. In place of Iconostasis the movable curtains are used by Orthodox Christian Churches in many parts of the world including India.
- Chapel of St. Helena
Chapel is a 12th century Armenian Church in the lower level of the Holy Sepulcher Church and if you go another 22 steps down below from the chapel of Helena there is a Chapel of the Invention where the true cross was discovered.
There are convents, Monasteries and more than a dozen of chapels inside the huge complex of the Holy Sepulcher. You need more than a day to explore the entire Sepulcher Church. We spent almost seven hours for this walk starting from sheep gate until Golgotha and in exploring Holy Sepulcher Church.
Rights in the Sepulcher and rival claim of Calvary
Lion's share of the Holy Sepulcher Church ie. Golgotha, Catholicon and many chapels inside are held by the Greek Orthodox. Greek and Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) patriarchates are located in the complex itself. In addition, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Ethiopians and Syrian Orthodox have their rights in the church. However Anglicans and Protestants have no permanent presence in the Church of Sepulcher so I believe the claim of Garden tomb, the rival burial ground, in the neighborhood has been projected by the British lately.
Garden tomb according to archaeological evidences has very little in their favor whereas church of Sepulcher has heavier claims as the actual location of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. Garden tomb was not identified as the tomb of Jesus until the 19th century.
The place is not far from the church of Sepulcher; it contains an old tomb carved out of solid rock and a cistern with water in it. The rocky mountain has a rock formation with eye sockets and nose bridge in the middle resembling to a skull.
Even otherwise what it matters; salvation does not hinge on a particular location but on the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Orthodox Easter in Holy Sepulcher and Holy Fire
Easter in Holy Sepulcher and Holy fire (watch the tube) celebrated by Greek Orthodox Church on the day before Easter Sunday is a miraculous event and it has been consecutively documented since 1106 AD. People from all over the world, Orthodox Christians in particular, reach Holy Sepulcher to attend the miracle of Holy fire every year.
The event is considered a light miraculously emitted from the tomb of Jesus Christ is lit by the Greek Patriarch and passed on to the crowd of believers attending the ceremony. The light is reached in special lanterns every year by special flights to orthodox churches in Greece, Russia, Belarus, Cyprus etc before the commencement of their Easter service and it is being received with honors by state leaders at the respective airports.
I have not participated the event, but I am attaching the link as an additional information for my readers also including the pictures taken from one of these sites.