We arrived a day early so that we would all have a chance to get over jet lag (Jerusalem is +7 hours from Lancaster). I thought that we might all sleep in, spend the day on Saint George’s campus, and maybe take a nap. These were all nice ideas but our excitement took over as soon as we woke up!
At breakfast it was decided that most of our group was going to go to The Israel Museum, founded in 1965 as Israel’s national museum (more to come soon from the group that went). Rob and I decided to introduce you all to Saint George’s campus (see the post below from earlier today) and then go into the Old City.
We walked just 3 blocks from Saint George’s to the Damascus gate, which opens to a narrow market that leads to the heart of the Old City. There is no real way to describe the experience of being in the market but I will try my best since we didn’t take any pictures in that area. The Damascus road began as an open air market that quickly descended into what felt like a stifling tunnel surrounded by people and shops. The road was about the width of 3 people, and it was packed with people doing their regular shopping. The stores sold everything from toys to shoes to meat to clothes to candy, and everything in between. (In a butcher shop window I saw a skinned animal that still had the fur on it’s fluffy tail…clearly this image has stuck with me.) With the constant movement of people in all directions, we didn’t stop to go into any of the shops.
Just when it seemed like we were never going to see the light of day again, we took a right off of the Damascus road and found ourselves on the edge of the Christian Quarter. We hadn’t realized until that point that all of the signs had been in Arabic and were now in Greek, Russian, and English. The shops no longer sold the staples of everyday life but were filled with icons, creche sets, rosaries, and other Christian religious items. As we began to wonder into the heart of the Christian Quarter, we heard this:
After a bit of shopping we stopped to have lunch. We picked this place for two reasons. 1) It had pictures of the menu items. 2) It had two gigantic fans underneath the awning, which made for wonderful outdoor eating. During lunch we spoke with the chef who was from Fresno, CA (the world is small).
Little did we know that we were so close to one of the most important sites to Christians all over the world – the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. So even though we will be going there two times as part of our course, we decided to go in today as well.
After taking in as much as I could for this first visit to the Holy Sepulchre, it was time to return to Saint George’s to cool down and take a nap before our program officially began with Eucharist. I will leave the details of our opening evening for someone else to share, except for this… our opening hymn that captures how I (and I excpect the other pilgrims as well) feel: