Friday, 4 September 2015

Holy Land: Sacred Pilgrimage: Part VII–Up the Mount of Olives

world-map israel


With my Scotland trip out of the way, I’ve started this week to prepare a little for Cuba. This preparation involves a Learn Spanish CD on loop in the car and reading a few books on the country. The first of these is ‘Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know’ by Julia E. Sweig who is, apparently, an academic in Washington, USA.


To be honest, as a beginner’s guide to recent Cuban history and politics I’m enjoying it and finding Ms. Sweig’s writing to be balanced and fair. She is there to inform, not persuade which, for this stage at least, is exactly what I want. So folks, for an intro to Cuba, check this book out. Also, it seems to be part of a series so maybe some of the others are worth reading too? I’ll let you know in time.

Whatever the case, I just love the photo on the front cover. Handmade flag flying proudly. Brilliant.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Links to other parts of the travelogue:

Sacred Pilgrimage

Part 1: Tel Aviv

Part 2: Ash Wednesday in Jerusalem

Part 3: Bethlehem with a Baby

Part 4: Exploring the Old City

Part 5: Hebron

Part 6: The Armenian Quarter

Part 7: Up the Mount of Olives

Part 8: Further explorations of Jerusalem

Part 9: The Lord’s Day

Secular Pilgrimage

Part 1: A Bus to Beersheva

Part 2: An Introduction to Kibbutz Living

Part 3: A Pioneering Vision

Part 4: The Silence of the Desert

Part 5: Living for the Moment

Part 6: Tearing down the Wall!

Part 7: Beautiful (?) Beersheva

Part 8: The Volunteers




We were booked to go on a tour of Masada, the Dead Sea and Jericho, but there was still rain in the air and a fearsome wind had whipped up and so the prospect of sunbathing and climbing around mountaintop fortresses was no longer so tempting and instead we agreed to spend the day in and around Jerusalem, seeing some more of the many sights of the Holy City.

The evening before in the hotel we had got chatty with a newlywed couple from London, Aijaz and Sameera.[1] Aijaz had been born in the UK but was of Gujrati heritage whilst Sameera was from India itself. And both were devout Muslims with a beard (him) and hijaab (her) to prove it. We decided to spend the day with our new-found friends and as they wished to climb the Mount of Olives, we tagged along, for although I’d done it before, the views from the top are worth seeing again and again and besides, it’s an important place of pilgrimage in its own right, with Gethsemane at its foot an on its slopes the places where Christ taught the Lord’s Prayer and where He ascended into Heaven after the resurrection.

So, out of the Old City, across the Valley of Kidron and then up the Mount of Olives we walked, two Muslims, one Christian, a Buddhist and one too young to have a clue about anything deeper than Iggle Piggle in the Night Garden.[2] During our hike up the hill I got talking to Aijaz who was an intelligent and interesting chap and jolly good company. It was also fascinating for me to see what one of a different Abrahamic faith made of it all, although I doubt not that he toned down some of his opinions on Christianity and Israel for my benefit.

The climb up was taxing, particularly with a baby on one’s back, but invigorating. At the top we were met by some Palestinian kids who pestered us until Sameera appeared in her hijaab at which point, surprised that we were travelling with Muslims, they gave us some olive branches and ran off, We made our way over to the famous viewpoint over the Old City where we snapped each other’s photos in the blustery wind before retiring to the adjacent Seven Arches Hotel for a well-earned cup of tea and a warm.

clip_image002Me on the Mount of Olives, Christmas Day, 1997

ISRAEL04The same scene twelve years later, with a family in tow…

Warming up inside, we swapped more stories. Aijaz and Sameera seemed well-suited to each other and shared a mutual passion for pilgrimage. Both had already been on the Hajj and this trip – although they did not say so explicitly – was to clear up all the other major Islamic shrines. They’d flown into Istanbul where they’d been blown away by the Blue Mosque and Aga Sofya, before journeying on to Damascus and the Umayyad Mosque, and then Israel. Aijaz said that they’d half-expected not to be let in because of their faith, but despite a grilling there’d been no major problems at the Allenby Bridge and so here they were, (they were not so happy mind, when I told them that one tends to get more problems trying to leave Israel rather than enter it). For Friday Prayers they’d tried to go to the Dome of the Rock, but only Sameera had got in and Aijaz had had to pray in the Al-Aqsa instead as the two mosques are sex-segregated and who uses which alternates each week. I told them that we’d been unable to visit either, (probably because fo the Friday Prayers), the day before but that I’d been in both of them ten years before and had been very impressed with the Dome.

All this talk of the Dome of the Rock, which stood gleaming in the sunlight before us, got us onto the hottest topic in all of the Holy Land, that being the Temple Mount. For Muslims like our friends from London, it is holy because it is the place from which the Prophet Mohammed ascended into Heaven during his Night Flight, but what they did not know is why it was so sacred to the Jews. I explained about the Temple in ancient days, how it was the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the focal place of the whole Jewish faith, God’s dwelling on earth, until the Romans had destroyed it in 70AD from which point on the Jews had been forbidden to rebuild it or indeed even enter the site. This line of thought naturally followed on into a discussion about the current desires amongst some quarters of the Jewish community to rebuild it and the consequences that such an action might have including the demoltion of both the Dome and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. “Imagine that the Sikhs came in and knocked down the Ka’aba and then built a gurdwara on the top of it just because Guru Nanak visited there once,” I said. “That’s how the Jews feel about the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount. The whole point of the Wailing Wall is that they are exiled from their Ka’aba and what’s more, in many ways it’s just due to bad timing. If Israel had come into being a hundred years earlier, they could have knocked down the Dome and no one would have been able to do very much about it. After all, both the Dome and Al-Aqsa were converted into churches during the Crusader times and Aga Sofya and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus were both built as churches before being converted into mosques. Then it was common to either knock down other people’s temples or convert them into one of your own; now however, it’s just not possible; it would start World War III!”

“I understand now,” said Aijaz, “but tell me, what about the Christians, do you want the Temple Mount as well?”

“Oh no,” I replied, “we have the Holy Sepulchre. The Temple Mount is holy because Jesus visited it, but what you have to understand about Christianity is that the Temple represented the Old Covenant, but when Christ came he changed all that.”

“So where is the New Covenant then?”

“The New Covenant is in no particular place, for the Tomb was empty. The New Covenant was Christ, He is the New Covenant!”

clip_image006On the Temple Mount with Pepi Kovatcheva, Christmas Day, 1997

Next part: Further explorations of Jerusalem


[1] Not their real names. Not that I’m protecting their anonymity or anything, I just forgot to write down their names at the time which is a shame since I’d have liked to have kept in touch.

[2] To be fair to him though, In the Night Garden can be viewed on several levels and is said to have been influenced by Zen ideas. A good pub quiz question might be, ‘Where does Iggle Piggle live?’ because the answer is not the Night Garden. Iggle Piggle only ever visits the Night Garden at night during his sleep, for Iggle Piggle is none other than the child who is dreaming in bed, yet as every episode shows a different child going off to sleep, then we can see that Iggle Piggle in fact represents all of us, whilst the Night Garden symbolises another state of being, a Pure Land perhaps? Like I said, In the Night Garden is deep stuff man…

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