Tuesday, June 2, 2015


After his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was taken before Caiaphas and other high priests of the Sanhedrin to be tried. It is generally agreed that the site of Caiaphas's Palace was where there is now a church known as St. Peter in Gallicantu. Gallicantu is Latin for "cock's crow," referring to Peter's three denials of his connection to Jesus that were followed by the crowing of a rooster.

Three different churches have existed on this site, beginning with a Byzantine shrine built in the 5th century. It was torn down in the 11th century during Muslim rule. The church was rebuilt by the Crusaders in 1102 and given its current name. However, when Jerusalem changed hands again, it fell into ruin. It wasn't until 1931 that the present Catholic church was built.
Close-up of the mosaic seen in the arch above and a second one from another side of the church:
The first caption reads "The contempt of Caiaphas," and the second one says something about being held in a deep pit. Beneath the church there are caves from the Second Temple period where Jesus may have been held after his arrest. (More on the caves later.)

The church is on Mount Zion, a broad hill just outside the city walls. The Temple Mount is clearly visible in the distance:
The Kidron Valley separates St. Peter's from the Mount of Olives:

We met in the church courtyard for another lecture by Michael Wilcox. 

The doors on the main entrance show the moment during the Last Supper when Jesus (in blue) tells Peter (in red) that he will deny him three times before the cock crows:
The Latin inscription over the door translates: "May the Lord keep thy coming in and thy going out." Unfortunately, I don't have any photos from the interior, but there is a good one here.
Behind the church is the series of aforementioned caves that I at first thought might be tombs but which are actually cellars, water cisterns, baths--and, perhaps, holding cells for prisoners:

The best part of the site is this ancient stairway that connects the Kidron Valley and the Palace area. It has been dated to the time of Christ and is most likely the route Jesus would have traveled each time he went to the Mount of Olives. It also would have been the path the soldiers took to bring him back to his trial before Caiaphas. It is what our guide called "an A site," or one that is highly likely to be what it purports to be (a rare occurrence in Jerusalem):

Looking from above towards the Kidron Valley:
A beautiful bas relief on the wall next to the stairs depicts Jesus and his eleven disciples descending these stairs to cross the Kidron Valley on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane:
Another shows him being brought back up the stairs to be tried before Caiaphas, the disciples with torches replaced by guards with whips, ropes, and spears:

As Peter was waiting for Jesus to arrive, three different people questioned his connection to the captive, and each time Peter denied knowing Jesus. It was at this point, just after Jesus had faced Caiaphas and his accusers, that Jesus turned and looked at Peter, who must have felt that compassionate gaze burn into the depths of his soul. 
There is a statue in the courtyard showing Peter being confronted by two women and a soldier. Note the rooster at the top of the column:

Non novi illum = "I do not know him"
After being shifted back and forth between the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod, Jesus was sentenced to crucifixion, and in the morning, he started carrying his own instrument of death to the place where he would die, which seems to me to be very calculated psychological torture along with the physical torture. 

It is believed that Jesus entered the old city through the Lion's Gate, known as the Sheep Gate at the time:
Close-up of the lions that are on either side of Lion's Gate,
placed there in 1517 by Suleiman the Magnificent

On the right behind that wall just after passing through the gate is the Church of St. Anne and Pool of Bethesda:
Pressing forward through another entryway of sorts . . . 
. . . we found ourselves on the Via Dolorosa, or "Way of Sorrow," the winding path Jesus supposedly took while carrying his cross. It is about 2000 feet long, not quite half a mile. It's not that far--unless the traveler was carrying a cross, which weighed about 300 pounds. Jesus could have been carrying just the crossbeam, a more common punishment, which would have weighed "only" 75 to 125 pounds.
The current path was established fairly recently in the 18th century and superseded other paths. Along the Via Dolorosa are nine of the fourteen Stations of the Cross, the same stations in the same order as are often depicted in Catholic churches all over the world, even as far away as Mobile, Alabama.  The final five Stations are in the church at the end of the ancient cobblestone road (a Middle Eastern Emerald Palace of Oz), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Ilon, our fantastic Israeli guide, piloted us through the maze:
The Via Dolorosa is a narrow, cobblestone pedestrian street lined with tourist shops. It didn't take much imagination or squinting to erase those fine emporiums . . .

. . . and transform the faces in the crowd into jeering, weeping, curious, or oblivious bystanders.

The mix of ancient stone architecture, aggressive merchandising, a pastiche of cultures, the sounds of bells and muezzins, and the culinary smells create a sensory whirlwind.

I don't think Jesus and the Roman soldiers needed these directions, but we sure did, especially when we walked this route by ourselves a second time the next evening:

Look carefully at the photo below and you'll see the first and second Stations of the Cross referenced. #1: Jesus being condemned to death in the Antonia Fortress (no longer standing but noted on the blue door on the left), and #2: Jesus takes up his cross (see "2nd Station Foundation" on The Palace sign):
Nearby is the Ecce Homo Convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion. Ecce Homo, the understated Latin words Pilate used in introducing Jesus to the crowd, translate as "Behold the man!" Some believe that it was near this spot those words were uttered, although there is some dispute about that (and, in fact, about all the other Via Dolorosa sites).
The flooring in the convent was laid by Hadrian using large stones from the nearby Antonia Fortress, which was destroyed in 70 AD.
There are some (okay, a LOT of) wonderfully bizarre contrasts on the Via Dolorosa. For example, I noticed some ancient inscriptions on a light switch and outlet on the wall in one of the hallways of the Ecce Homo Convent:
We continued on our way, passing this side alley with its ingenious combination of steps and ramps for walkers and carts:
Station #3 is where Jesus stumbled the first time:
Station #4 is where Jesus encountered his mother:

Station #5 is next to a Franciscan church marked by the Franciscan symbol of two crossed arms and the Franciscan cross. This is where Simon of Cyrene was told to help Jesus carry the cross:
On the right side of the door to the Franciscan church is this spot many believe Jesus touched to steady himself. His hand left a mark in the wall, which has been caressed and kissed by thousands of pilgrims
A young woman solemnly holds a crucifix in front of Station 6, the place where, according to an apocryphal story, a compassionate woman named Veronica offered her veil to Jesus to wipe the sweat off his face. He used it and returned it to her, imprinting his likeness on the cloth and imbuing it with miraculous properties.
I do not have a photo of Station 7 (Jesus falls a second time), and all I got for Station 8 (Jesus speaks to the mourning women of Jerusalem) was the sign on the Greek Orthodox monastery that marks the spot:
Neither did I get a photo of Station 9: Jesus falls a third time. I would like to have been better prepared, perhaps with a map of the locations, but on the other hand I'm really glad this hasn't become a glitzy tour, something like the Hollywood tour of famous people's homes. There is a quiet simplicity about most of the stations that I find very appealing.

The ritual of the Stations of the Cross is not part of my own religious background, but I can see how it adds meaning to a pilgrim's journey to Jerusalem. Rather than a quick walk through the Old City on the Via Dolorosa, visitors are reminded to stop and contemplate the events that may have transpired here or near here on the final day of Jesus's life. The physical reminders do a lot to deepen the experience.
The Via Dolorosa ends with the Muristan, the Persian word for "hospital," which is what used to stand on this site. In 1903 the street, part of the Christian quarter of the city, was converted into a shopping district and now has about 70 stores and restaurants. I think its curved gate is especially beautiful.

Just across from this gate is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most sacred--and most confusing--sites in all Christendom and the subject of my next post.


  1. I love that you got so many pictures of the stations of the cross. I, too, understand the religious experience of walking and contemplating this path.

    AND....I need to relabel the picture I stated was Veronica who is really Mother Mary. Good thing we went to the same place so that I can figure out what I saw!

  2. I like your following of the time-line and some beautiful language about the mix of cultures, smells, sounds and architecture. What an amazing place.

  3. Such an interesting post! I remember hearing about Via Dolorosa for the first time when someone came and sang that song in church; it was very dramatic. Amazing to see the walkway where Jesus walked, carrying his cross. We are reading that section now in the New Testament (again--we are now in John) so this has special relevance.