After having posted photos previously from both the Jewish and Muslim quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City, it’s only fair that I complete the set with these photos my Mum took from the Christian neighbourhood.
Unlike the palpable tension that divides the Jewish and Muslim neighbourhoods, the Christian neighbourhood seems far more at peace with its marginal position in the Old City – despite its importance in Christianity, the Christian population here is negligible. Of course it was not always like that. For centuries Jerusalem has drawn Christian pilgrims, crusaders and conquering powers alike to this holiest of cities – and they haven’t always had a peaceful influence on the city.
Nowadays the Christian presence in the Old City is relatively benign; the odd heated moment more likely to be between the myriad of Christian orders than anyone else. Greek Orthodox, Roman-Catholics, Ethiopian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and the Coptic Orthodox (I’m sure I am missing a few) all vie for space and privilege in the few square kilometres that mark out the Christian neighbourhood.
This no more evident than in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; an ancient church constructed on the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion and later resurrection. The close proximity of the different churches and the magnitude of the religious importance given to the sight has often allowed for ongoing tensions between the different churches to flare up every once in a while.
On a hot summer day in 2002, the Coptic monk who is stationed on the roof to express Coptic claims to the Ethiopian territory there moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, and eleven were hospitalized after the resulting fracas.
In another incident in 2004 during Orthodox celebrations of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a door to the Franciscan chapel was left open. This was taken as a sign of disrespect by the Orthodox and a fistfight broke out. Some people were arrested, but no one was seriously injured.
Aside from visiting the churches and monasteries, Christian pilgrims could of course opt to follow the final steps of Jesus by walking the “via dolorosa” – crucifix optional. No seriously, it is indeed possible to rent a reasonably sized crucifix and relive the path taken Jesus, though probably without the pain of flogging and final crucifixion. Come Easter the streets are likely to be filled with thousands of pilgrims re-enacting, crucifix in hand, Jesus’ final journey. Maybe they’ll do a mass sing-a-long to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” a la the Life of Brian…