Friday, 26 June 2009

Pilgrimage 2009 - From Gethsemane to St Anns

From Gethsemane we turned right onto the Jericho Road,

then left and headed up hill with a Moslem cemetary on our right, towards Lion Gate. Lion Gate is the Hebrew name, and there was some debate about whether the figures were lions or panthers. Apparently we are not the only people to wonder, but all agree that the gate was built, as part of the 'new' walls around Jerusalem by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, around 1542. Suleiman the Magnificent

Lion Gate is also known as Sheep Gate.
Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. Nehemiah 3:1

Another name for this gate is St. Stephen's Gate, because this is one place where the stoning of Stephen is recalled (there are others). There are several other names for this gate, as is the case for all the other gates.
By this time the heat, which we had first noticed as we left the coach, had increased as we approached midday. It was a slow walk.
We stopped to look at the carved lions, and took note of them (do click on the picture to get a close-up look at them - they look surprisingly modern). We saw the same design in stone a few days later at Nimrod castle.
The reason for entering Jerusalem through Lion Gate is that it is the start of the Via Dolorosa. But before we started our journey along the Stations of the Cross, we had some other places to visit.

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. John 5:2

We went through the gate and very soon turned right into the courtyard of the Church of St Ann, and the site of the pools of Bethesda (of which more in my next post). Tradition says that this is where Ann and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin Mary lived, and where she was born. A rather lovely church with fantastic acoustics has been built on the site, and that replaces previous places of worship.

Inside the church it is peaceful and decorated in a simple style, quite unusual among the places we visited. It has an air of stillness and calm.

Our group was alone in the space and we sang a round of Tallis' Canon - the final verse,

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

As we reached the last line a dove flew from above the altar straight down the line of the aisle above our heads towards the back of the church. Perfect timing!
While we were singing, another pilgrim group who had been at the church of Gethsemane with us, came into the church, and they too started to sing. They were a group of Indonesian women, in matching pink and white clothing and they sang such beautiful harmonies that I wondered if they were a choir. As the music grew I realised they were singing one of my favourite hymns, "How great thou art", but in another language. Others also recognised it, and we joined in singing the words we knew, and swelling their harmonies. I looked around to see that I was not the only person smiling broadly, with eyes leaking, wondering at the beauty and sense of immanence in that place.

One of the singers introduced herself to me in perfect English, and we shook hands. They carried on singing, and some of us stayed and bathed in the worship. After a few minutes I went exploring, and found several chapels downstairs. A Roman Catholic Mass was being celebrated at the point where tradition claims that Ann gave birth to Mary, so no photographs of that.
This statue of St Ann and her daughter Mary, in the main body of the church, was a focus for prayer, as witnessed by the number of candles.

This mosaic depicting the birth of Mary was in a side chapel in the crypt.

Outside the church I was admiring the way that the Franciscans manage to create beautiful gardens wherever they have a historic site, and the way that a mercilessly hot sun can be diffused and cooled by judicious planting, when I happened to spot this. I don't know whether the man is a priest or a monk, but he seemed to be enjoying his neck massage. His traditional-style clothing was given a modern twist by the blue 'Crocs' on his feet. She looked like a modern version of Mary Magdalene.

Outside the church of St Ann, within the same walls, is the excavation of the Pools of Bethesda.


  1. I love those pictures inside the church, you can almost feel the peace just from the photo!

  2. Thnk you. Much as I admire the complex decorations in the other churches, and marvel at the workmanship, is something in light and simplicity that calls to my soul.