The Holy Week and Easter in Jerusalem
The Christian celebration of Easter gives us the opportunity to take a look at the events that took place during the Holy Week, and at its related sites in and around Jerusalem. These sites are well known to the many Christian pilgrims and visitors who come to the Holy Land. Here is a short chronology of these events, as described in the New Testament, and the related sites that can be visited. To do the actual visit of these sites, you would normally follow their location rather than visiting according to the chronology.
BETHANY - THE TOMB OF LAZARUS
Jesus arrives to Bethany, a village East from the Mount of Olives, to visit one of his followers, Lazarus, who fell ill and actually died before Jesus arrived. The site is identified today with the Arab village of Al-Elzariya, which reminds the name Elazar. There, was found a cave which is believed to be the burial cave where Jesus raised Elazar to life again. Traditionally this miracle occurred at the beginning of the Holy Week, meaning on a Sabbath day. Jesus could not enter the city on that day so remained outside its border. Bethany is indeed located outside the city limits. To visit Bethany, you need to grab a local taxi and then back to the Mount of Olives to continue your visits from there.
BETHPAGE - PALM SUNDAY
Jesus sent disciples to find a colt that he would ride to enter Jerusalem. Tradition says it took place in the village of Bethpage, which was on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, and is located on the city border of Jerusalem for Sabbath compliance. Today a Roman Catholic church (Franciscan) is at the site, which is where the pilgrim walk takes place on Palm Sunday to enter Jerusalem, as Jesus did. The church was built in 1883 by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi who designed many buildings in the Holy Land at the request of the Custodia della Terra Sancta (Franciscan).
DOMINUS FLEVIT - "THE LORD WEPT"
On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus reached the slope going down from the Mount of Olives to the Kidron Valley. There you get a good view of the Temple Mount. The scriptures mention that the Lord wept, by foreseeing the destruction of the Temple and of the Holy City (by the Romans in 70 CE). Today, a beautiful church has been built by Barluzzi in 1955. The church is a must-see for all Christians visiting Jerusalem because of the beauty of the church and its symbolism, the panorama to the Temple Mount, the display of the ossuaries found on site during its construction: they date from the Second Temple period. This finding is not unusual in the Mount of Olives which has always been a burial site for Jews over many generations. Worth of mention: this church is one of the rare ones which does not face towards the East: this is because Barluzzi wanted to focus on the actual event, the sightseeing towards the Temple Mount which is located West from the church.
LIONS' GATE - ENTRANCE TO JERUSALEM
The walk from Bethpage to Jerusalem enters the Old City from Lions' Gate. At the time of Jesus, the Second Temple city had a gate called Sushan (named after the Persian city of Suse, in the East). The Lions' Gate dates from the Ottoman period but is the only one which allows today an entrance to the city from the East.
HULDAH GATES - ENTRANCE TO THE TEMPLE
According to the Gospels, Jesus came up to the Temple and expelled the merchants and money changers who operated there. You can see remains of two entrances to the Second Temple to commemorate the event: either at the level of Robinson Arch or on the steps leading to the Huldah gates. Both are accessible from the Davidson Center (near Dungs' Gate). I usually prefer to take people on the site of the Huldah Gates because the steps there are the original steps on which all Jews, including Jesus and his disciples, walked on to go up to the Temple courtyards. There is also a related story of astronaut Neil Armstrong that can be narrated on these steps.
Another option to narrate the event is to look at the model of Jerusalem in the Museum of Israel: there you have a reproduction of the Second Temple and of all the city at the time of Jesus.
BETHESDA POOL - HEALING OF THE PARALYTIC
Close from Lions' Gate is the very interesting site of Sainte Anne church. It belongs to the French Government (as a gift from the Ottoman Empire for the French support during the Crimean War) and is operated by the Catholic group of "Les Freres Blancs". Beside the Sainte Anne beautiful church built at the time of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, there are the Bethesda Pools, one of them dating from the First Temple era. At the time of Herod, these pools were no longer used as reservoirs of water for the city. The Romans changed the site into a cultic place with smaller pool nearby for their pagan god of healing, Asclepius. So the narrative of the New Testament mentioning the healing by Jesus of a paralytic there makes sense: it was, in these times, a place where the sick used to come in hope of a miraculous healing. You can see the Bethesda pools today and the smaller ones used in Roman times.
SILOAM POOL - HEALING OF THE BLIND
During the Holy Week, Jesus returned each night to the Mount of Olives or to Bethesda with his disciples. One day he came down to the pool of Siloam. This was a very important pool for Jewish pilgrims to purify before going up to the Temple and offer sacrifices. Remember that the Holy Week, in the time of Jesus, occurred in the week before the Jewish festival of Passover. Jerusalem was crowded with pilgrims who came there for the festival. In the pool of Siloam, Jesus saw a blind man and cured him. This pool can be visited today within the complex of the City of David (in its most Southern point). In the time of the Byzantine Empire, people believed that the pool was the one located at the end of the Hezekiah Tunnel, and they erected a church there. It was a mistake: the real pool was discovered in the recent years in the correct location.
ROOM OF THE LAST SUPPER - THE CENACULUM
The term Cenaculum in Latin, or Cenacle in English, means Supper Room. But it is also known evolved into Coenaculum which means Upper Room. Both terms describes a room on the upper floor above the Tomb of King David in Mount Sion where, according to Tradition, the Last Supper of Jesus took place. There is some confusion about the meaning of this supper: could it be the Passover Seder night when Jews eat the unleavened bread (the Matzah)? Nonetheless, this is the last supper that Jesus took with his disciples before being crucified. It would have occurred on a Thursday evening because the crucifixion took place on the next day, Good Friday. The room can be visited today, and has Medieval/Crusader architecture, but no religious ceremony may take place: this is because, after the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187, the room was changed into a mosque (a minhab can be seen on the Southern wall of the room).
GETHSEMANE - THE AGONY OF JESUS
After their supper, Jesus and his disciples walked back down from the city towards the Kidron Valley (which is the way to the Mount of Olives). There they stopped in the Garden of Gethsemane (it means Oil Press in Hebrew) among olive trees and a cave. The disciples slept in the cave (this cave can be visited today and is a Franciscan site) while Jesus could not find the sleep because he was tormented by the next events he foresaw. On the site, Barluzzi built the magnificent Basilica of the Agony, also known as Church of All Nations (the ones who contributed to its construction in 1924). Inside the church, you can see artwork representing the events that took place here: the agony of Jesus on the rock (located near the apse of the church), his arrest.
You can also see a garden of very ancient olive trees: the oldest ones were measured to date from the time of the Crusader Kingdom. Nearby is also the cave with Tomb of the Virgin Mary, a site built by the Byzantines and enlarged by the Crusaders.
CHURCH OF ST PETER IN GALLICANTU - REJECTION OF JESUS
After his arrest, Jesus was taken back towards the city. On the Eastern side of Mount Sion, next to the very steps leading to the Kidron Valley (they date from the Second Temple era and therefore were used by Jesus on his way up and down to/from Mount Sion), is the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. The name reminds the event narrated in the Gospels when Peter denied knowing Jesus after his arrest. Jesus had foretold it will occur before the "cock's crow" (gallicantu). The site belongs to the Assumptionist Fathers (French, Roman Catholic) and is worth the visit where you can see: 1- the fore-mentioned steps, 2- the modern church, 3- the underground caves where, it is assumed, Jesus was kept in and interrogated by Caiaphas before being handed over to the Romans, 4- a large model of Byzantine Jerusalem, 5- excellent panorama on the Kidron Valley and the surroundings.
VIA DOLOROSA - FROM TRIAL TO CRUCIFIXION TO RESURRECTION
Back into the city, Christian visitors usually follow the stations of the Via Dolorosa. They start with Station 1 where the trial of Jesus took place at the hands of Pontius Pilate. Traditionally this was done in the Antonia fortress, seat of the Roman garrison, which doesn't exist anymore. But the Muslims later built a school over the remains of this fortress. It is located in front of the Ecce Homo convent which was built by a French Jew converted to Christianity, Ratisbonne, in the end of the 19th century and given to the Sisters of Sion for their convent.
The stations of the Via Dolorosa will be the topic of a future blog post. The circuit ends at the Holy Sepulcher with the crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on "the third day" (Easter Sunday).
For another blog post related to the Holy Sepulcher, click here.
Hopefully this short post will help visitors design their tour of Jerusalem in the Holy Week. Licensed tour guides will also be happy to advise you and guide you with many explanations on these sites. In a future blog we will discuss the sites related to other Christian events.
Wishing you a happy Easter and a wonderful time in Jerusalem.
Licensed Tour Guide
Albert Tours - April 2017