Walking through the streets of Jerusalem crowded with believers of several faiths, you know you’re in a holy place. During my visit, I wanted to stay in the heart of the old city so that I could experience this energy and spirit. My early morning walks with mothers taking their children to school and evening strolls among the prayerful were everything I had hoped for. While in Jerusalem, I stayed at a guesthouse for pilgrims run by an order of nuns which was located on the Via Dolorosa (or the Way of the Cross). Besides being a welcoming home, the convent had a surprisingly beautiful but quirky church and a basement of archaeological remains dating to the Roman occupation of the city. What more could I ask for?!
The Franciscans and Catholic pilgrims heading down the Via Dolorosa for the Friday afternoon Stations of the Cross. Note the aptly named alley (“The Nun’s Ascent”) and the public entrance to the Lithostrotos at the right.
Besides seeing the amazing architecture and artistic decorations of the church itself, visiting religious sites always gives me the opportunity to learn about cultural practices. Major destination churches teach me what it means to be a pilgrim by watching how people interact with the place. Maybe more so than regular tourists or travelers, pilgrims understand the personally transformative aspect of their trip and want share it with others after they have returned home.
Candle holder just after the Chapel of Golgotha within the Holy Sepulchre. These thin beeswax candles are an important part of Orthodox worship.
The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is a holy place for all Christians and as a result, you have a lot of unique worship practices and customs coming together there. Still, everything is rooted in a deep faith and desire for connection to the divine in the church, no matter what language was spoken. Whether through prayers or “making” souvenirs, I also saw a deep commitment from all pilgrims to bring the holy experience back home with them.