Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Pilgrimage 2009 - The Garden Tomb

Gordon's Calvary, a site claimed as Golgotha, is at the back of the Bus Garage ("the most calamitous bus station"); this is behind a street market and smells of diesel and rotten vegetables. The heat from the bus engines and exhausts adds to the general oppresive heat, and the street is single file, so there is often a traffic jam with hooting, shouting and gesticulating.
Behind this modern chaotic place is a rocky cliff face, with a moslem cemetary on the top. There have been rock falls over the years, so the photograph of Golgotha, 'the place of the skull' that was taken a century ago shows a slightly different face to that which we can see now.
Right next to the modern transport terminus is the Garden Tomb.
On our first evening in Jerusalem we walked round there and took some photographs of the locked door and wall. I was eager to see inside, and very pleased when we finished our first day of pilgrimage with a visit inside the walls.
The Garden is well maintained and quite beautiful, filled with mature trees that provide shade and filter the noise, and also many brightly coloured flowers.
I have to say that walking into the garden and seeing a grave with a tomb that was contemporary with the story we were exploring was fascinating. There was a rolling channel in which the stone would have been placed (roll away the stone), but although the excavations have revealed the tomb, the actual stone hasn't been found.

Memories of the ossiaries on the Mount of Olives at Dominus Flevit (see previous blog) came flooding back, along with the 75lbs of myrrh and aloes that Nicodemus brought with him when he helped Joseph of Arimethia to bury Jesus. It didn't take a huge leap of imagination to understand why they were needed in that climate. However today it all looks very clean and tidy.
This is the grave that is attributed to Jesus. (Don't forget you can click on any photo to see a bigger picture)

No-one is saying that this must be the place that Jesus was buried, although there is an evidence trail that suggests it as a possibility. But again, this is one of at least two sites claimed for history; the other one is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and has none of the peace and serenity that is found in the Garden Tomb. This site gives us a way into the story of Jesus' death and burial, and another place to sit and consider, and ponder and pray, but ultimately, wherever we look for the tomb, we are faced with the reality of the Easter message, "He is not here, He is risen."

We experienced one of life's delightful co-incidences when we met our guide. As I chatted to him near the entrance, I discovered that he was part of a group chaired by Bishop John Taylor, a retired Bishop of St Albans, and that he knew our churchwarden etc etc. Small world... Ken was interviewed by Ian Pearce of Three Counties Radio about the Garden Tomb and his clear and faith-affirming commentary can be found (for a short while) on the Three Counties Radio Pilgrimage site. It's definitely worth listening to!
[Just a short summary of his points:
1. Crucifixion at crossroads of a busy thoroughfare - used as a warning.
2. Next door to man-made tomb (not a cave).
3. Graves on right hand side of entrance (Mark)
4. Rich man's tomb so expect a large weeping chamber.
5. Two graves, only one has been used - info about how graves were cut.
6. One grave has been cut for someone's feet.
7. Rolling stone entrance.
The garden was purchased and occupied in 1894 - no church building was to be placed there, no-one to pay to come in, available for a variety of traditions.]
If you want a place of peace, this is a gentle counterpoint to the Bus Garage, the souk and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre..


  1. Thanks for all of these photos, I have pilgrimage envy!

  2. It was the kind of experience that takes time to percolate; more than a holiday. I hope that I will go back.