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Jerusalem for Christmas


View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.

===Ozac 2011===

It should be remembered that in 1964, and up until the Six Day War in 1967, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the territory between it and the River Jordan, were still part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It is therefore treated as such in the journal, as Israel at that time was through the Mandelbaum Gate and on the other side of No Man's Land. We did not visit Israel, as having an Israeli visa in our passports would have precluded us from visiting many of the Arab countries.

Monday 21-12-64

We left Amman this afternoon on the two o’clock bus for Jerusalem and took about two hours to get there. The bus ride was through mountainous country of great beauty and I quickly decided that Jordan is on a par with Nepal in that regard. Villages I could see on the mountain sides were quaint, clean and ‘biblical’. Occasional church spires and domes added to the scene. The mountains are not wooded, the only trees being pencil pines and such planted in the villages. The valleys are deep and the mountains are steep. We suddenly saw a big body of water. I knew instantly it was the Dead Sea though I had not expected to be able to see it today. It was visible for many miles of the journey - the first real indication of being in the land of Christ. The bus descended rapidly into the Jordan Valley and crossed Allenby Bridge, over the River Jordan, at the traditional site of the Baptism of Jesus. Further on, away to the right, at the foot of a mountain, I could see the town of Jericho, oldest on Earth, still inhabited after 9000 years. Another half an hour and I was in Jerusalem. We passed the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives to the right, with the Church of All Nations by the roadside at the base of the Mount.

Church of All Nations and the Mount of Olives

Church of All Nations and the Mount of Olives


Around to the left and up a hill and the bus stopped at the entrance to the Old City. We walked through the Damascus Gate, took the right fork, walked up the narrow street and quickly found the El Arab Hotel, which I am delighted with. It is a very old building, typical of the post Roman buildings throughout the city, clean, and with excellent views of the Old City from windows and roof. I could not wish for better. I really feel I am living in ancient Jerusalem. The rest of the afternoon we wandered about and acclimatized ourselves. The Via Dolorosa with its marked Stations of the Cross is close by, as is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We visited an Australian priest, Father Stockton, at the Church of the Flagellation, and from the roof, which has commanding views of the city and surrounding areas, he pointed out the more important places.

Jerusalem, the Old City

Jerusalem, the Old City


He showed us over the Church of the Flagellation, with its original paving from the fortress where the early stages of Christ’s Passion took place, and told us where we could get passes for midnight mass at St. Catherine’s in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. He is most helpful. Jerusalem is wonderful. One of the better and more unexpected things about it is that everything is in such close proximity to everything else. The Via Dolorosa is but a few hundred yards in length and the Stations are quite close together. Calvary is now within the city walls and the Holy Sepulchre is not 50 yards from it, within the same church. I now have the city in proper perspective and can start tomorrow on a sure footing. The narrow, often covered, streets and bazaars are full of odd contrasts. Shops situated in stone cave like recesses of old buildings have modern lighting, refrigeration etc. and sell modern goods. It is like a thriving city amidst an old ruin, which I guess is exactly what it is. Jerusalem has probably seen more history and been ruled over and warred over by more peoples than most other cities could ever expect to be. It is a wonderfully atmospheric place and my theatrical nature will be fully satisfied here. There is less commercialism than I had expected - no really hypocritical exploitation. Along the Via Dolorosa are many souvenir shops selling such obvious things as rosaries and crucifixes, and some even selling crowns of thorns, but they fall well out of sight when you are not really concerned with them. The shopkeepers do not force themselves upon you as in so many cities I have visited, and anyway, I think most people would expect to be able to buy such things here, and usually do. I know I will be, to send home to Mum. Maybe not a crown of thorns! Ade is big dealing the commercialism as I knew he would, but I won’t let that affect the meaning that the visit should have for me. Father Stockton has loaned us an excellent guide book and I might get away by myself to visit some of the more important places.

Tuesday 22-12-64 and Wednesday 23-12-64

Second and third day in Jerusalem - I have just about seen all the places of real interest to me: the Mount of Olives with its Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension; the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, with the Rock of Agony; the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, and her birthplace, beneath the superb crusader church of St. Anne; the Churches of the Condemnation and the Flagellation; the Garden Tomb, or Gordon’s Calvary; the Dome of the Rock; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with Tomb and Calvary, plus relics in the church and flagellation stone; the city walls, with their many interesting gates etc.; the Via Dolorosa with the Stations of the Cross.

Third Station on Via Dolorosa

Third Station on Via Dolorosa


We went and had a look at the Mandelbaum Gate, the crossing point between Jordan and Israel, with No Man’s Land in between.

The Mandelbaum Gate

The Mandelbaum Gate


I have bought a rosary for Mum and had it blessed and touched the holy places with it. Everywhere I have been is thoroughly interesting, with plenty of character, sometimes beautiful in simplicity, sometimes elaborate to the point of tastelessness. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a shocking mess and a disgrace to Christianity. The holiest shrine in Christendom and it is falling to bits.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem


If the British had not stepped in and filled the place with supports and scaffolding it would be a heap of rubble by now. The various religions who run the church just cannot agree on its reconstruction or repair. On the other hand, the places run by individual orders or religions are for the most part well kept and well presented. For example, The Lithostrotos, or fortress where Christ was imprisoned and condemned, has been excavated down to the pavement and is beautifully kept, and the church over it is excellently built without concealing any of the ruins. The old and new have a very commendable unity. I have not been moved as much as I thought I would be by this birthplace of Christianity. So far, I still feel a bit untouched by its significance, as if it were just another lot of monuments, interesting though they be. It is the city itself I appreciate more than any of the ‘Holy Places’.

American tourists have arrived in their hundreds and are walking the city on conducted tours. They are just as typical as ever and the souvenir shops are responding as could be expected. I have finally succumbed and bought a complete Arab outfit, but don’t know how the hell I am going to carry it. I have my ticket for mass tomorrow night in Bethlehem and we have an invitation to spend Christmas Day with an Australian U.N. family that we ran into yesterday and had dinner with last night. They are thoroughly Australian. We were getting the low-down from them on the Arab-Israeli situation here - it is apparently worsening. There was some excitement today when there was a clash on Mount Scopus, the Israeli enclave within Jordan that overlooks the city. Every Wednesday, escorted by the U.N., a convoy of Israeli buses goes up to the Hebrew University there with fresh supplies and a change of guard. Apparently the guard was changed alright, but at about 2 pm we were down near the Church of the Flagellation in view of Mt. Scopus when we heard shots, and saw a smoke screen thrown up on the hillside below the university. We did not think anything of it at first, but about 15 minutes later firing began again, quite heavily - rifle and machine gun fire. Obviously there was trouble up there, so we went down to the St. Stephen’s Gate to have a look. About half a dozen smoke shells had been thrown up by then and the firing was very heavy indeed. Unfortunately our film had run out so I got no photos of the conflict. About 4.15 we could see three white figures moving up the hill - they must have been U.N. observers. The firing had stopped by this time and it did not recommence. We heard on the Israeli news tonight that three Israeli policemen had been wounded, one seriously, and that the trouble had begun over the violation of some previous agreement for olive picking by some Arab women; the violation being by the Jordanians. Who knows? The locals all seemed to take it very seriously however, and you could feel a certain amount of tension around, though business went on as usual in the city. At least today’s clash showed me that all is not as quiet in the Arab world as it often seems from outward appearances.

Watching Mount Scopus

Watching Mount Scopus

Posted by Ozac 03:48 Archived in Jordan Tagged christmas jerusalem holy_land

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