Jerusalem, Palestine

Friday, February 8, 1929

Today I visited the Mount of Olives. I followed the road past the post office and just outside the city walls. Passed the Damascus Gate, the most beautiful gate in Jerusalem, and of the 16th century. Continuing down the hill I came to Gethsemane, once a garden or grove belonging to the family of Jesus. St. John tells us that Jesus often came there with his disciples to worship and pray, and Mary is buried there. Nearby is a grotto which Jesus used to retire with his disciples for prayer, food, and rest. It was to here that he brought back his apostles after the last supper. To the right, as I turned up the steep stony path to the top of the Mount, was the Third Church of the Agony of Our Lord, built in 1922 of graceful and ornate lines. Farther up the hill and more to the south is the Russian Church of St. Mary Magdalene, built in 1888 by the Emperor Alexander III. It is just above the Rock of Apostles, where Jesus said to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is sorrowful unto death; wait here and watch with me.” He went a stone’s throw farther, fell upon his face upon the ground, and bathed the earth with a sweat of blood. The church is of Russian design, with seven cupolas, gilded and very picturesque.

Some distance to the left is Mount Scopus, 2,737 feet. It is really a continuation of Mount of Olives and is separated by a slight depression. It was on this rocky hill that Titus camped, and it was used by most of the other conquerors of Jerusalem. Alexander the Great made his camp here after seizing Gaza. But the high priest Jaddus, dressed in his pontifical robes and accompanied by an immense crowd, presented himself with great pomp before the conqueror to appease his anger. Struck by the majesty of such a spectacle, Alexander bowed his head and went with him to the temple to offer sacrifices to the gods. From this hill looking toward the east, you see the desert of Juda extending as far as the Jordan. You can also see parts of the Dead Sea, and behind all on the horizon, the long bluish chain of the mountains of Gilead and Moab.

The Mount of Olives has three distinct hills; the first [was] called the Mount of Galilee in the 5th and 6th centuries, and in the 15th, Viri Galilaei. It is the higher. The center one is the Hill of the Ascension, and the one to the south has no particular name and contains the Tombs of the Prophets. The Hill of the Ascension is the more interesting.  Here in a small village up there is a small court 83 feet in diameter and the walls are partly in ruins. Formerly it was surrounded by three rows of columns surmounted by vaulting and forming a double portico. The stone from which Jesus ascended to heaven is in the center of the court. The crusaders turned the place into a convent for the White Friars. An earthquake destroyed part of the wall and it was replaced by the Turks. Over the stone is now an old octagonal chapel built by the crusaders. Then also there is a minaret, now partly in ruins, and a tower. There are also other chapels about and excavations show that many have been covered by time.

I followed the road along toward Mount Scopus, past the Jewish College and the new government building to a point where I had a fine view of Jerusalem. As usual, the fine morning was giving way to a cloudy afternoon and a very strong wind was blowing. Coming down the hill I entered the Damascus Gate and wandering up a street to the left found myself in the Harem-esch Scheirif or the temple area of the Mosque of Omar. I started toward the mosque, but a number of boys got all excited and tried to stop me. I had an idea of what was wrong but kept on till one boy who spoke English told me I wasn’t allowed in there in the afternoons.

The Mosque has an interesting history. In 635 the Caliph or King Omar visited the site of the temple. It had become the receptacle of all the sweepings of the town, and he began to clear it for a place of prayer with his own hands. In 670 there was there “an enormous square edifice of vile construction” built on the ruins of some old buildings and composed of beams and planks of wood supported on ancient columns. The first mosque was said to consist of 600 pillars joined together by wooden architraves. The roof was flat and the building was entered by 50 doors. Later when the Caliph of Mecca, by reason of party rivalry, refused access to all pilgrims who acknowledged the authority of the Ommiades, the Caliph of the North, Abd el Melek Ibn Merwan, determined to construct the present mosque. The Mosque of Omar, or properly Qoubbet es Sakhra, Dome of the Rock, was built in 688–692. The crusaders changed the mosque into a church, but in 1187 Saladin restored it to a mosque. It is an octagon 180 feet in diameter and 108 feet high. The base is marble. The mosque is raised on a twelve-foot platform reached by eight flights of steps. At the top of each flight is a portico formed of 3 or 4 arcades, called Maouzin. This means the scales, and according to the Musselman belief, at the last judgment the scales for weighing souls will be hung up there.

On one side of the mosque is a pleasing little octagonal Baptismal Chapel of the crusaders surmounted by a cupola (NW). By the east door there is a small dome, a fine gem of the 18th century. It is called Mehkemeh Daoud, the Tribunal of David and Qoubbet es Silselah, the Dome of the Chain. The Musselmen believe an invisible chain comes down from heaven on to this dome and will serve to find out the righteous and the sinners at the last day. They say the royal prophet delivered his judgments from here. Inside the mosque is a sacred rock where David built an altar and offered holocausts, which were consumed by the fire of heaven. Solomon built a temple on this rock.

Returning through the narrow busy bazaars to the hotel, I wrote a letter home, then turned in. The nights are plenty cold. My friend guide paid me a visit in the evening.

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