Jerusalem: A Spiritual Journey Remembering Jesus

Israel Ministry of Tourism
by Sandy Thorn Clark

This recently restored Galilee boat is authenticated to be from the time of Jesus. Discovered in 1986, it took fourteen years to successfully prepare for public display. See

Ah, Jerusalem.

It's a magnet for religious fervor, an addiction for its inhabitants and its visitors, and the shining gem in the jewel case of Israel.

The Talmud, which comprises all Jewish law, says that when 10 measures of beauty came upon the world, "nine were taken by Jerusalem - and one by the rest of the world."

For Christians, Israel is the Holy Land - the place where pilgrims can trace the footsteps of Jesus Christ from his virgin birth in Bethlehem to his early life in Nazareth and baptism in the Jordan River; from his preaching and miracles in the Galilee region to his crucifixion and resurrection at Golgotha in Jerusalem.

There is little wonder that Jerusalem is the holiest city in the Holy Land.

Christian pilgrims have too much to visit and absorb in a 10-day or two-week visit, but there are popular holy sites in Jerusalem that become must-sees. Those include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Via Dolorosa, the Garden Tomb, and the Mount of Olives.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the spiritual heart of the Christian Quarter in the Old City. According to Empress Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, Christ was crucified, laid in his tomb, and resurrected here. Ownership of the church, which Helena ordered built, is divided among six Christian denominations (Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic and Abyssinian churches), which means continued bickering and unresolved maintenance issues. An Ethiopian monastery is on its roof.

Tourists should not expect the huge dark and depressive church to be a reverent site; instead, there is chaos, confusion, noise, and flashbulbs popping, disrespecting the deserved sanctity of the complex of shrines, tombs and ornamental relics. However, such commotion and irreverence does not mean that many visitors are not moved to weeping and raw emotion.

Viewing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre prompted Mark Twain to write in his book "The Innocents Abroad": "When one stands where the Savior was crucified, he finds it all he can do to keep it strictly before his mind that Christ was not crucified in a Catholic Church. He must remind himself that the great event transpired in the open air, and not in a gloomy, candle-lighted cell, upstairs, all bejeweled and bespangled with flashy ornamentation in execrable taste."

The church is the most prominent stop on the meaningful Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa, the fabled path that Jesus was said to have taken to his crucifixion. Most historians and archaeologists debunk the authenticity of the tourist attraction, now bustling with hawkers selling everything from crucifixes to instant cameras. Instead, experts suggest Jesus may have followed a path very similar to it.

Regardless, that doesn't discourage thousands of Christian pilgrims from retracing the spiritual and symbolic route of suffering. The 14 Stations of the Cross include Condemnation, the courtyard in which some claim is the site of the Praetorium, where Jesus was sentenced; Taking up the Cross, where Jesus was scourged, mocked, crowned with thorns, and given a cross to carry; Jesus Falls, where Jesus supposedly fell under the weight of the cross; Meeting Mary, where tradition claims Jesus saw his mother; Simon Helps Jesus, where Simon is said to have taken the cross from Jesus to help him; Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus, where a woman named Veronica is believed to have wiped the face of Jesus; Jesus Falls Again, where believers say Jesus fell again; Speaking to the Women, where Jesus urged the women of Jerusalem to weep not for him but for themselves and their children; Jesus Falls Again, where Jesus fell for a third time; Disrobing, Crucifixion, Death, Descent from the Cross, and Laid in the Tomb, all in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In the late 1800s, British General Charles Gordon rejected the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the burial place of Jesus and established the Protestant site as the Garden Tomb. He argued that according to Jewish custom, the grave had to be outside the city walls and - at least at the time of his visit - the Holy Sepulchre church was inside the Old City. During his trip, while lodged in East Jerusalem, he looked out of his hotel window and spied a piece of land that looked like a skull, which is how Golgotha is described in the gospels. When a rock hewn grotto was found on the spot, Protestants believed they had located Calvary. Today, English volunteers care for a quiet and quaint garden area with a view of the skull and tomb - a time-honored spot for pilgrims to reflect, often after prayer and communion.

One location that isn't controversial is the Mount of Olives, recognized as the place where Jesus and the disciples came on the night before his arrest and trial. The site called Gethsemane is assumed to be on the slope.

Christians in search of their Jewish roots should not visit Jerusalem without stopping and tucking a prayer request in the pale stones at the mesmerizing Western Wall, the holiest shrine in all Jewish civilization, and visiting haunting Yad Vashem, the world's leading Holocaust memorial. Both will bridge understanding between two devout religions.

Christians and Jews alike find that all roads on their spiritual journey lead to Jerusalem, the heart and soul of Israel.

For more information on travel to Israel, please contact the Israel Ministry of Tourism by calling 1-888-77-ISRAEL, visiting or e-mailing

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