No doubt the best place to start on a religious tour of modern Israel is Jerusalem, the 3,000-year-old Holy City that houses the most revered sites for three of the world’s largest religious sects—the Western Wall for Judaism; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the Christians; and the Dome of the Rock for Muslims.
Like many of the religious sites throughout this holiest of cities, the Temple Mount—an elevated plateau in the Old City of Jerusalem—is revered by all three religions, but probably more so by Jews and Muslims, who refer to it as Haram Es Sharif or Noble Sanctuary. To the Jews, it’s the site of the First and Second Temples (the first built by Solomon in 950 B.C. and destroyed by the Babylonians 410 years later; the second built after the Babylonian exile and destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70), as well as important traditions like the creation of Adam, the first sacrifice made by Adam, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, and Jacob’s famous dream of angels and ladders.
For Muslims, the Temple Mount is the site from which Muhammad embarked on his Night Journey to Heaven. The Dome of the Rock, built in A.D. 691, is one of the earliest Muslim structures and shelters the very rock on which Muhammad stood. The Temple Mount also contains an ancient and important mosque, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, built in A.D. 720.
The Western Wall is the holiest of Jewish sites, sacred because it’s actually what’s left of the Second temple destroyed by the Romans. The adjoining Western Wall Plaza was cleared by Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967 and functions as an open-air synagogue for thousands of worshipers, with prayers going on continuously and where special services such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are also celebrated.
For the best perspective on what the original construction looked like, tell clients to go into the Western Wall Tunnels where the continuation of the Wall is clearly visible because shafts have been sunk along the Wall to show its true depth. A special walk into recently excavated tunnels alongside the Western Wall can be arranged by making an appointment with the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre—without a doubt the holiest Christian site—was built on Golgotha or Calvary (the site of Christ’s crucifixion, and encompasses Christ’s tomb, as well). The current church was rebuilt by the Crusaders after it was partially destroyed by a Muslim Caliphate in 1009, over 300 years after Jerusalem had fallen to the Muslims and the tomb itself had been demolished and covered up. After Jerusalem was re-taken in the first Crusade, the Crusaders slowly rebuilt it to basically what visitors see today—after many renovations, of course, the last and the most complete in 2000.
For most of your Christian clients, walking the Via Dolorosa—the route Jesus took from the time of his condemnation by Pilate to his crucifixion—will be the highlight of their trip to the Holy Land and it’s not something that’s new to modern times. Pilgrims since Constantine’s day in the mid-fourth century have been doing it and about the only thing that’s changed since then is the route they take and the number of stations of the cross they stop at—they’ve expanded from eight to 14, three of which are located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself.
Today’s route begins near the Lions’ Gate in the Muslim Quarter and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter, covering about 500 yards and incorporating 14 Stations of the Cross. Tell clients if they want to be certain they find all 14 stations, to join a guided walk or the weekly Friday procession.
Additional holy sites include:
- The Grotto of the Apostles, site of the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, which adjoins Mary’s Tomb where, according to tradition,the body of the mother of Jesus was brought to rest in a cave.
- The Church of All Nations or the Basilica of the Agony, at the bottom of the Mount of Olives path, situated in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus spent his last night in prayer before he was betrayed by Judas.
- The Tombs of the Prophets, on the Mount of Olives. Medieval Jewish legend says it contains the tombs of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, who lived in the sixth to fifth centuries B.C.
- Bethany, home of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. Jesus also was anointed at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany and returned there after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And, according to “Luke 24:50,” Jesus ascended into Heaven near Bethany.
For more information visit http://www.goisrael.com/tourism_eng?