Monday, 8 June 2009

Pilgrimage 2009 - Faces of Jerusalem

This isn't about people; it's about the way that the city holds history in the very stones, recycled by each generation. So many groups have claimed and conquered this city, so many have tried to knock down the walls, and so many have built them up again, using the same stones.

Roman pavements are still visible, deep below ground at Lithostrotos, and also at ground level in the souk, and chariot wheel tracks are visible in the Via Dolorosa. The same style of stonemasonry, with its exquisite accuracy, is visible at the Western Wall as at Nimrod and Sepphoris; similar piles of unsculpted stones have been piled speedily in particular places to repair damage. I saw a man carrying a dressed stone through the souk; it was the size of two house bricks, and for some reason I assumed it would be used as door stop. Was that stone also being 'recycled'?

Other damage has been caused by millennia of visitors; we all want to leave our mark, and these pilgrims marks at the Armenian church are one example. For those earlier visitors, surviving a pilgrimage was worth marking; the joy of finally reaching the destination after months and years of hazardous travel is something we can only imagine today - even for those afraid of flying.

Game boards for chance and lots, scratched into limestone pavements by Romans, remain as evidence of their visit. Centuries later, young children still play marbles over the same area. Among the tension, fear and mistrust that characterises this key place in the passageway through the fertile crescent, I find that one small demonstration of continuity oddly reassuring.

And lest we take too narrow or too recent a view of the history of political, religious and ethnic tensions in this place, a close up of the wall at Sion gate shows shot damage sustained over centuries.

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