From the Mount of Olives to Mount Zion, Jerusalem
Tomb of the Virgin Mary
The walk over the Mount of Olives starts at a bend in Jericho Road below St Stephen's Gate in Jerusalem. After passing a memorial to Israeli paratroops killed here in 1967, we come to the Tomb of the Virgin Mary (on left), which has a Gothic facade of the Crusader period (12th century). It is one of many buildings in this area dating from three different periods: Early Christian (fourth and fifth century), the Crusaders (12th century) and the 19th and 20th centuries.A flight of 47 broad marble steps leads down to the dark underground shrine. Half way down are two recesses: the one on the right contains the tombs of Joachim and Anne, the Virgin's parents, the one on the left an altar over the tomb of Joseph. At the bottom of the steps, 12m/40ft below ground level, we turn right beyond a Greek Orthodox altar to reach the rock-cut tomb of the Virgin, at the east end of a long chamber. It is flanked on the left by an Armenian altar and on the right by a medieval Muslim prayer niche. At the west end of the chamber are a cistern, whose water is credited with healing powers, and an altar of the Abyssinian Christians. The first sanctuary on this site was established in the fifth century.There is a house at Ephesus in Asia Minor in which the Virgin is said to have lived; but there is an early Christian tradition that she spent the last years of her life in Jerusalem, where she died 22 years after the death of her Son and was buried in the valley of Jehoshaphat. The tomb is also known as the Church of the Assumption, in the belief that it was from here that Mary was carried up into heaven by angels.
Garden of Gethsemane
To the left of the Tomb of the Virgin in Jerusalem is a passage leading to the Grotto of the Agony, immediately south of which is the Garden of Gethsemane with its eight ancient olive-trees (the name Gethsemane is derived from the Hebrew Gath-shamma, "oil-press"). After Christ and his disciples had celebrated the Last Supper on the day later known as Maundy Thursday he went with them "unto a place called Gethsemane" (Matthew 26,36); "and he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed ... and being in an agony he prayed more earnestly" (Luke 22, 41 and 44). The disciples slept and left him alone in this hour of agony, and soon afterwards he was arrested and taken into the city.
Church of All Nations
In the fourth century the Emperor Theodosius I built a basilica in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jeruslaem over the rock on which Christ was believed to have prayed. The ground-plan of this church is still visible on the floor of the modern church erected on the site in 1924. The present church is three-aisled like its predecessor, but on a larger scale. In marked contrast to the brightly colored façade is the dim light in the interior. The roof, formed of twelve small domes decorated with mosaics, is borne on six columns. In front of the altar is the rock on which Christ prayed, surrounded by a low grille in the form of the crown of thorns. The church takes its name from the paintings, presented by many different nations, with which it is decorated.
Church of Mary Magdalene
Turning right from the Church of all Nations in Jerusalem, we come to the Russian Church of Mary Magdalene, a magnificent building with seven domes erected by Tsar Alexander III in memory of his mother Maria Alexandrovna. The church contains the tomb of Grand-Duchess Elizabeth, sister of the last Tsarina and wife of Grand-Duke Sergius, who was murdered in 1918.
Some 200m/220yds up from the Church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem, is the entrance to a Franciscan property with the chapel of Dominus Flevit ("The Lord wept"), built in 1955 on the foundations of a church of the fifth century (a mosaic from which can be seen to the left of the entrance). In a large window above the altar is the outline of a chalice. The name of the chapel refers to the occasion when Christ, going to Jerusalem for the last time, wept over the fate that awaited the city (Luke 19,41). During the construction of the chapel, in 1953, a number of Jewish and Byzantine graves were brought to light.
Tombs of the Prophets
The Tombs of the Prophets in Jeruslaem are a complex of catacombs said to contain the tombs of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi and their disciples but in fact much later than their time. The owner of the property in which they lie opens the tombs for visitors for a consideration (which should be agreed in advance!).A little higher up, to the right, is a terrace from which there is a superb view of Jerusalem, extending over the Temple Mount and the Old City with its domes, minarets and church towers to the high-rise blocks of West Jerusalem. Below the terrace is the large Jewish Cemetery, with graves stretching back to Biblical times which suffered heavy damage at the hands of the Arabs in 1948.
Pater Noster Church
Going north from the Tombs of the Prophets in Jerusalem, we turn right into a road leading to the Pater Noster Church, built on the site of a Constantinian basilica, the Eleona church (326-333), which was destroyed by the Persians in 614. Later the Crusaders built a chapel here. In 1874 the Princesse de la Tour d'Auvergne acquired the site, then abandoned and neglected, and founded a convent of Carmelite nuns. Here she was buried in 1957, long after her death. The chapel commemorates Christ's teaching of the Lord's Prayer (Luke 11,2-4), which appears on colored tiles on the walls of the church in 80 different languages.
From the Pater Noster Church in Jerusalem a side trip can be made to Bethphage (alt. 900m/2,950ft), a short distance east, with a church commemorating the tradition that this was the Biblical Bethphage, to which Christ sent his disciples to fetch the ass on which he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Luke 19,29). The remains of a Crusader church were found here in 1876. In the 19th century Franciscan church is a stone from this church with interesting Early Gothic paintings.
Chapel of the Ascension
In the Arab village of Et-Tur, within the precincts of a mosque, is the Chapel of the Ascension. The village lies on the road from Jerusalem to Bethany, from which, according to Luke 24,50-51, Christ was carried up into heaven. In the 12th century the Crusaders built a chapel here, later converted by the Muslims into a tall domed building. The chapel was an octagonal structure with pointed arches on all eight sides and a narrow frieze round the top; the chapel was open to the sky, reflecting in its architecture the idea of the Ascension.The Arab custodian also has the key to a tomb which lies a little to the west, opposite the Pater Noster Church. To the Jews this is the tomb of Huldah, a prophetess who lived in Jerusalem in the time of King Josiah (2 Kings 22,14) and has given her name to the southern doorways of the Temple platform. In Christian tradition - and the one tradition need not exclude the other - this was the cave of St Pelagia of Antioch, a repentant sinner who lived here and died in the year 280.
Monastery of the Ascension
To the east of the Chapel of the Ascension is the Russian Monastery of the Ascension, with a 60m/200ft high tower which dominates the surrounding area (views).
From Et-Tur we return to Gethsemane on one of the paths over the Mount of Olives. A little to the south of the church at Gethsemane the narrow and unsurfaced Siloam Road (Derekh HaShiloah) goes off on the right into the Kidron valley and its southward continuation the valley of Jehoshaphat, between the Mount of Olives and Mount Moriah (Temple Mount). This area is referred to in two Old Testament prophecies, by Zechariah and Joel. In the words of Joel (3,1-2): "For behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel", and (3,14) "Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision." (Jehoshaphat means "God will judge"). The Jews expect, therefore, that the Last Judgment will take place here, and this is also the Muslim belief: a rope will extend from the battlements of the Temple over the valley to the Mount of Olives, and the righteous will cross over, supported by their guardian angels, while the sinners will be cast down into damnation.
The desire to be in Jerusalem on the Day of Judgment has led both Jews and Muslims to establish cemeteries on either side of the Kidron valley, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives and below the walls on the Temple Mount. The large Jewish cemetery dates back to Biblical times, and associated with it are the large funerary monuments to be seen along its lower edge, on the left of the road. They are attributed to various Old and New Testament figures but in fact all date from Hellenistic or Herodian times. They are not masonry-built but are almost entirely hewn from the rock, in the hybrid Hellenistic/Roman style of their period.
Tomb of Absalom
The series begins with the Tomb of Absalom, which it was formerly the practice to pelt with stones in memory of Absalom's revolt against his father David. The attribution to Absalom, however, is quite unhistorical. The square tomb chamber shows a characteristic mingling of styles, with a Doric frieze over Ionic half- and quarter-columns. Above this are an attic and a short drum topped by a pointed conical roof built up of dressed stone.
Farther south from the Tomb of Absalom is a loggia-like facade with two Doric columns and a Doric architrave. In Christian tradition this was where St James the Less hid after the arrest of Christ. In fact it is a Jewish family tomb which, as an inscription on the architrave indicates, belonged to the Bene Hezir, a priestly family of the first century B.C. Next comes the Tomb of Zechariah, with a cube-shaped chamber topped by a pyramidal roof. To the right of this is another loggia-like tomb which was left unfinished.
400m/440yds farther on is the Gihon Spring. It lies under the east side of Mount Ophel, which slopes down from the wall on the south side of the Temple Mount to the junction of the Kidron and Hinnom valleys. On it was built the "City of David", successor to the earlier Jebusite town conquered by David.
City of David
Excavations recently carried out in this area (now the City of David Archeological Garden) by a team of archaeologists led by Yigal Shiloh of the Hebrew University's Archeological Institute reached occupation levels dated to the period of the foundation of the city by David around 1000 B.C. David's city was built on terraces on the hillside, like the present Arab village of Silwan opposite it. On the four man-made terraces, which were linked by flights of steps, the excavators found the remains of buildings and a drainage system. Individual finds from later periods show that Jews returning from the Babylonian Captivity settled here and that the site was also occupied in Persian, Hellenistic and Roman times. In the Middle Ages the City of David was abandoned, since Jerusalem had moved west to the area of the present Old City and the hill which then became known as Mount Zion.
In order to bring water to their town the Jebusites dug a tunnel from the Gihon Spring. At the end of the tunnel was a 13m/43ft deep shaft through which water was drawn up in buckets. The entrance to this shaft, named after its 19th century discoverer Charles Warren, is at the south end of the Archeological Garden.
Some centuries later King Hezekiah (727-698 B.C.) ordered the construction of another tunnel from the Gihon Spring. 540m/590yds long, 4m/13ft high and 1m/3ft 3in. wide, it ran under the southeastern slopes of Mount Ophel to emerge at the Pool of Siloam. This ensured that the city could still get water even when it was under siege. It is necessary to stoop in some parts of the tunnel where the roof is low.
Pool of Siloam
The outflow of Hezekiah's Tunnel (which is still in use) into the Pool of Siloam can be seen some 500m/550yds from the Gihon Spring on the right of the road, below the minaret of a mosque belonging to the Arab village of Silwan. A Hebrew inscription found here in 1880 and now in Istanbul confirms the Biblical account of the construction of the tunnel. By the Pool of Siloam, which now measures 6m/20ft by 17m/56ft, Christ healed the man born blind (John 9,7). A church was built here in the fifth century, and some of its columns can be seen in the pool.
To the south of the Pool of Siloam extends the Hinnom valley. It is reached by returning from the Pool of Siloam to the road, continuing for another 200m/220yds and then taking a side road on the right. In Canaanite times this valley was dedicated to the worship of Baal and Moloch, in which children "passed through the fire" (that is, were offered as burnt sacrifices to the god). This cruel cult, of which there is evidence throughout Phoenician territory, extending westward to Carthage, is the subject of a series of prohibitions in the books of Moses. In spite of this the cult of Moloch was practiced in Israelite times: Manasseh, Hezekiah's son and successor, not only set up altars to Baal and Astarte but also "made his son pass through the fire" (2 Kings 21,6). The place where this occurred later came to be seen as the very essence of evil, and the name of Hinnom is derived from the Arabic word for hell, Gehenna. The hill to the northwest became known in Crusader times as the "Mount of Evil Counsel", since this was believed to have been the meeting-place of the council held by the high priest Caiaphas at which it was resolved that Christ should be put to death (John 11,47-53). Here too, near the Monastery of St Onuphrius, is the Field of Blood (Aceldama), bought with the thirty pieces of silver which the repentant Judas cast down in the Temple (Matthew 27,6-8).
St Peter in Gallicantu
From the Pool of Siloam a stepped path dating from the Roman period runs up Mount Zion. The tradition that Christ celebrated the Last Supper in a house in the upper town seems likely to be correct, and in that event he would have taken this path on his way to Gethsemane. The path leads to the Roman Catholic church of St Peter in Gallicantu ("at the place where the cock crew"), which commemorates Peter's three denials of Christ (Matthew 26,69-75). The monastic church (1931) contains Archeological finds from Jewish and early Christian times. Near the church is the so-called "Prison of Christ".
Mount Zion is an important site with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim shrines.
Tomb of David
Remains of buildings of the Herodian period have been excavated at one site on the hill. On the right of the road is the entrance to the Room of the Washing of the Feet (John 13,1-11), now a synagogue. In an adjoining building is the Tomb of David, the dating of which is not certainly established. There are three theories: it is part of a Romanesque building of the Crusader period (12th century), or of an early Christian church mentioned by the pilgrim Aetheria in 385, or of a synagogue referred to by the Pilgrim of Bordeaux in 333 as the only one in the area that had not been destroyed. (This last theory is supported by the fact that the apse faces north: that is, in the direction of the Temple Mount). In front of the apse, which is 2.48m/8ft wide and 2.44m/7ft 11in. high, is the cenotaph which is claimed to be David's tomb. It is draped in richly decorated cloths, and on it are silver Torah crowns and Torah scrolls. Jewish pilgrims pray here, particularly on Shavuot, the traditional day of David's death. To the left of this building is the Chamber of Martyrs (Martet Hashoa), commemorating the Jews murdered by the Nazis.
Leaving the Tomb of David and turning right into a narrow alley, we pass an arched doorway on the right and come to the steps leading up to the Room of the Last Supper (Coenaculum), which lies above the Room of the Washing of the Feet and the Tomb of David. The room, which was renovated by the Franciscans in the 14th century, measures 10m/33ft by 16m/52ft and has a vaulted roof borne on two Gothic columns. A block of dressed stone opposite the 16th century Muslim prayer niche is said to mark the place where Christ sat at the Last Supper.
Church of the Dormition
Farther along the alley is the commandingly situated Roman Catholic Church of the Dormition (the "Falling Asleep" of the Virgin), a neo-Romanesque building designed by Heinrich Renard and consecrated in 1908 which is served by Benedictine monks. Its centralized ground-plan betrays the influence of the Rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It has a beautiful mosaic pavement, in the center of which are three intersecting circles, symbolizing the Trinity; from this central point rays radiate outwards to the next two (concentric) circles, the first of which contains the names of the prophets Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the second those of the twelve apostles. Round the outside are the signs of the Zodiac and an inscription (Proverbs 8,25-26). In the vaulting of the apse is a mosaic of the Virgin and Child. The chapels round the central area are dedicated to the English Benedictine St Willibald, the Three Kings, St Joseph, the Forefathers of Christ and St John the Baptist. In the center of the crypt, under a mosaic dome, is a sculpture of the Dormition (the Virgin on her deathbed). Round the walls of the crypt are chapels endowed by various foreign countries. From here we can either return to the Zion Gate or keep round the outside of the walls on the west side of the Old City to the Citadel and the Jaffa Gate.