Friday, April 4, 2014

A Walk North of the Old City of Jerusalem

Damascus Gate
Having lived in Israel for over forty years, I am constantly amazed that I can still discover new places, cultures, and religions about which I know very little. There are magnificent buildings, churches, and gardens I have not previously explored. There are shops I have not visited and restaurants where I have yet to eat.

The solution to this is to continue to travel around Israel and learn even more about the country, its history and traditions.

This time my wife and I took a walk north of the Old City of Jerusalem, along Nablus Road in the eastern part of the city. This is the Arab, Palestinian half of Jerusalem, a bustling commercial hubbub rarely visited by Israelis, yet there is much to see, including a cave where many Christians believe Jesus was buried after his crucifixion.

The first stop was at the St. Paul's Hospice, built by German Catholics in 1910 to accommodate pilgrims to the Old City's holy sites. The building formerly housed the Schmidt School, a Palestinian girl school. Inside the building was a special room dedicated to Kaiser Wilhelm II.

St. Paul's Hospice

We climbed to the roof of the hospice for an amazing view of the Old City from the north. The gray dome in the center of the picture is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Damascus Gate seen from a rooftop across the street

The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount is seen from a distance

While most Christians believe that Jesus was buried at the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Old City's Christian Quarter, there is an alternative site, outside the walls. The Garden Tomb is a Christian holy site believed to have been the garden of Joseph of Arimathea, in which Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. It is maintained by an independent British charitable trust, the Garden Tomb Association.

Our volunteer guide at the Garden Tomb welcomed us, saying that Jesus "could have been buried" at the site, but that they were "not dogmatic about it." In any case it didn't matter, he said, because according to their belief, "Jesus has risen."

The Garden Tomb, possible burial site of Jesus

The garden is a beautiful, serene oasis in a very busy section of East Jerusalem. The hill with skull-like features, possibly Golgotha of ancient days, is today behind the East Jerusalem Central Bus Station.

Our next stop was at St. Stephen's Basilica, also known as Basilique Saint-√Čtienne. The French built this Catholic church in 1900 on the site of a Byzantine Church from 460 CD. According to tradition, Stephanos was the first Christian martyr. The compound includes a research institute with an extensive collection of old books and maps.

Basilica of Saint Stephen

As regular visitors to the Old City, my wife and I are quite familiar with Armenian ceramics and pottery. Little did we know that many of these beautiful works of art come from a small shop on Nablus Road - The Armenian Ceramics. The artisans are from Jerusalem, with origins in Armenia. Much of what is on sale in the Old City is factory made, but here we saw the real thing, which we found to be quite expensive.

Palestinian Pottery, producers of handmade Armenian ceramics and pottery

Armenian ceramics

Armenian ceramics - beautiful, fine details

Our next stop was at the Jerusalem Prayer Center, located in a 120-year-old building that was once part of the American Colony of Jerusalem. Baptists have owned the building for the past 40 years. The hosts inside were very welcoming, and eager to share their story.

Our host welcomed us to the Jerusalem Prayer Center

We continued to St. George's Cathedral, an Anglican (Episcopal) cathedral established in 1899. This church serves a very small community in Israel. We met Hosam, the deacon of the church, who was busy switching fabrics from white to purple, as the church was going into the purple period before Lent, a period of expectations. Hosam told us that he was originally from the Israeli Arab village of Shfaram, and he also serves as secretary of the Jerusalem churches organization and sits on many committees promoting dialogue between Jerusalem's different religions.

St. George's Cathedral

Pillows in St. George's Cathedral were donated by various churches in England.

Hosam told us that had been invited by the Queen of England to a garden tea party, but said that he had declined the offer. "I don't have the time."

Inside the St. George's Cathedral compound there is a guesthouse and a very pleasant garden, where we encountered a very unusual fruit tree.

Fruit tree in the St. George's Cathedral garden.

Recognize the fruit? It's not a lemon. This is an etrog tree. The etrog, or yellow citron, is used by Jews as one of the four species during the week-long holiday of Sukkot.

We had never before seen an etrog tree. There's always a first time! Just another amazing discovery on our walk north of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Related Stories:

Ethiopian Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem

Coptic Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem

Catholics in the Old City of Jerusalem

The Gates of Jerusalem 

A Visit to Mount Zion


  1. Thanks for this post. It makes us long to come back again and explore with you! Susan and Ron.

  2. Another amazing post! Thank you! Your vibrant descriptions make me feel like I was walking there with you. I especially liked the photos of the Armenian ceramics - beautiful. And, an etrog tree? Who knew! I knew of them from sukkot, but I thought it meant ...tree...or fruit...? Cool that you found one.

    Evelyn, from AW

  3. Fabulous post. Thank you. Hope to walk in these places too!

  4. Thanks.Lovely to walk through with you, the etrog - what a funny looking fruit -( reminds me of Gordan Ramsey's face!) I've read about this fruit from various Jewish sources. Your first experience of seeing the etrog fruit on the tree reminds me of when I went to Bosnia and saw my first vineyard - to top it off, the owner filled my bags with grapes and kissed me on both cheeks!
    (see my true story about seeing the sun spin)

  5. The mural on the wall in the Jerusalem Prayer Center is just stunning. Great post. Thank you so much for sharing--especially with pictures. Simply amazing. :)