Old City Jerusalem, Church of St. Anne and the Jerusalem Hostel


Today I left Rachel’s for the Jerusalem Hostel.  However, I will be returning in two days for Shabbat at Rachel’s insistence.  I am looking forward to meeting her husband and two sons, as well as experiencing my first Shabbat.

I was able to check into the hostel earlier than I planned and they had no problems with me changing my reservation.  Probably because rooms for Shabbat are in high demand.

After getting myself settled into my room and meeting a couple of my new roommates (a woman from Nigeria and a girl from Tennessee), I set off for the Old City to retrace some of yesterday’s steps.  Jerusalem is a very walker-friendly city and their public transportation system is rather good, too.  The Jerusalem Hostel is right on Jaffa Road, one of the main streets in the City Center.  I was less than 15 minutes to either the Jaffa Gate or the Damascus Gate, depending on where I wanted to enter the Old City.  I headed towards the Jaffa Gate since it was closer to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

As I was entering Jaffa Gate, I was asked if I wanted a tour.  I politely replied with, “No, thank you.  I took a tour yesterday.”  Then the guy wanted to know if I had taken it from “those guys”, pointing to the group I had used yesterday.  I said, “Yes” and then he proceeded to try to guilt trip me on giving money to the Israelis and not the Palestinians, to which I replied, “Look, I don’t care about your politics, but I am planning to spend three days in the West Bank.”  He really rubbed me the wrong way.  I feel like I am just one big dollar sign to these people and it’s starting to wear thin.

I continued through Jaffa Gate and found the Church of the Holy Sepulchre pretty easy.  I took some pictures around the outside before heading in.  As you enter, there is a rock that tradition says is the place Christ’s body was prepared for burial.  People like to kiss it, touch it, rub rosaries and other religious artifacts on it.  It’s considered a very special place.

Just to the right of it and up some really steep stairs is the main attraction.  This is the traditional site of Golgotha, the place where Christ was crucified.  There is an altar and underneath it is a rock you can touch.  It’s a very popular attraction and I sat there for a bit waiting for the crowds to thin out before taking my turn.  While I was waiting I was able to read a little bit of scripture and try and center myself a bit for the day.

I continued to wander around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, choosing to skip the tomb of Jesus that the Greek Orthodox and the Coptics both fight over and have separate chapels for.  The line was crazy.  I spent a good hour or so there before deciding I had been there long enough.  I set off to find the place we had lunch at yesterday.  The food was really good and the prices very reasonable.

After a few wrong turns, I finally found it.  I sat down and then struck up a conversation with two tourists from California.  They invited me to join them, so I did.  It was a mom/son duo who were heading to the Temple Mount when they opened later in the afternoon.  I finished my lunch after they left, then set off to find the Church of St. Anne, my most favorite church in all of Jerusalem.  It’s located in the Muslim Quarter very close to the Lion’s Gate.

I still managed to make a few wrong turns (which is very easy to do in the Old City!) and was almost there, when I asked some tourists going the opposite direction if I was heading the right direction.  They said, “Yes” and I replied, “Thanks!” before the woman asked me, “Do you mind if I ask why you want to go there?”  I said, “Sure, because it’s my favorite church in Jerusalem and the only one that asks for money and I don’t mind paying to see it.”  Apparently my answer was compelling enough for her and her husband to walk with me the rest of the way to the church and sit down and have a discussion about our trips.  They were from Philadelphia and had been seeing Israel on their own and were having similar difficulties of getting to Mass and finding they were missing out on things by not being a part of a group.  I shared with them my experiences of doing the Camino and being on pilgrimage as well.  We talked for a bit, then we decided to go in and see the Church of St. Anne.

This church is run by the White Fathers, a French order of priests with a mission to Northern Africa.  St. Anne was Jesus’ grandmother and Mary’s mother.  This is also the site of the pools of Bethesda.  There is a really neat archeological site here, and then the church.  The reason this church is my favorite is because it is so plain.  There are two statues in the whole place and a small cross at the front of the church behind the altar.  That’s it.  It has these lovely vaulted ceilings with huge arches and the most amazing acoustics.

When I was there in 1995, I remember very vividly our group having a nice meditative time while two of our pilgrims played their flutes and one of our pilgrims played a miniature harp.  It was one of the most memorable moments for me on that trip, which is why I had to come back.

I sat in the back of the church and a group from Singapore got up and started singing a song.  It was “How Great Thou Art” but it was in their native language.  It was so beautiful.  Then a group from South Africans got up and sang “Kumbaya” and even though I think that song is kind of hokey, they did an amazing job.

I looked over and saw my friends from PA and gave them the “thumbs up” and got it back.  It made me feel good that I could help fellow pilgrims out.

After the crowds thinned out a bit, this lone guy got up and sang this beautiful song, I am not sure in what language it was, but it sounded Arabic, perhaps a call to prayer.  He had such a lovely voice, I wish he would have sang longer.

I hung out for a bit longer, then finally decided it was time to head back to the hostel for a nap.  I had been neglecting my afternoon ritual!  I went through the Damascus Gate and found my way back to the hostel without any difficulty.  I took a short nap, then went out to explore the area a bit more.  I went to the souk but got there too late to try one of the places Rachel had recommended I try that is a favorite with the locals.  Instead, I tried some gelato.  I had lemon/mint and grapefruit/basil.  The lemon/mint was out of this world!  The grapefruit/basil was good too, but the lemon…..oh, the lemon!  I think I may be hooked.