Day 1 - Via Maris
The first day of touring started with walking around the ancient Port of Joppa (also spelled Jaffa or Yafo) where Peter stopped by the House of Simon the Tanner. At this house, the apostle Peter received a vision from God which led him to promote the message of Christ to non-Jews. After this vision, Peter traveled to Caesarea and baptized a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. While in Joppa we also crossed the Wishing Bridge, which has zodiacal symbols on it and climbed to see the view from Abrasha Park. This park also has an archway on it that is carved to show Jacob's Dream, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and the Fall of Jericho. You will notice in several photos that there is a lot of blue. Blue is often used in Middle Eastern cultures to repel evil.
We followed in the steps of Peter to Caesarea Maritima where we were taken to the National Park. It was here we saw the amphitheater and hippodrome as well as the palace ruins where Paul was put on trial.
My fellow pilgrims and I then traveled to Mt. Carmel, the site where the Prophet Elijah defeated the Priests of the Canaanite god, Baal. Today, the Discalced Carmelite Order runs a monastery on Mt. Carmel which is an impressive building that overlooks the Jezreel Valley or Valley of Megiddo (Greek: Armageddon).
Another bus ride and we arrived at Tel Megiddo, the site of ancient Megiddo. There is archaeological evidence that dates Megiddo back to the Neolithic era. This place held such prominence as it sits along an important trade route that connected Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. After walking around the ruins, we descended the 180 steps (8-9 floors) into the water tunnel that would have fed fresh water to the ancient fortress.
The last place we visited that day was Mt. Tabor which is the site of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The Transfiguration (also called the Metamorphosis) is where we see the divine and mundane meet in Christ in witness of the Apostles Peter, James, and John. On Mt. Tabor is found the Church of the Transfiguration which is run by the Franciscan Order. I received one shock when I saw the Grand Captain General of the Grand Commandery of DC walking by. He was apparently there with a tour sponsored by the Episcopal Church.
We then traveled to Nof Ginosar, a comfortable kibbutz along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Day 2 - The Land of His Ministry
After going through the museum about the Ancient Boat of Ginosar, we took a boat ride on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. Once back on land, we traveled to the Mount of the Beatitudes where Christ gave the Sermon on the Mount. Atop this mount, is the Church of the Beatitudes. It was a beautiful area and interesting being on a hill that is still below sea level.
The rest of the day we visited Korazim (one of the villages cursed by Jesus), Magdala (possible birthplace of Mary Magdalene and an important fishing village in Christ's time), and Capernaum (hometown of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John). The day ended with a drive to Yardenit (Little Jordan) where I was baptized in the River Jordan. While not exactly the spot where St. John baptized Christ, it was still one of the highlights of the trip and my life.
Day 3 - Iter Hierosolym
Some of our plans from Day 2 were changed because of how busy some of the sites were so we made a quick trip to the Church of the Multiplication before going to Cana to see the Church of the Wedding where Christ turned water to wine, His first miracle. We then made our way over to Nazareth where we walked to the Church of the Synagogue and the Church of the Annunciation. The Synagogue Church was said to have been a synagogue that Christ studied and preached. The Basilica of the Annunciation was built over the ruins of the house of the Virgin Mary and where she received the message from the archangel Gabriel that she would birth the Son of God. This church was amazing and it was amazing seeing the blend of old and new architecture in one structure.
We then traveled down to the ruins of Beit She'an, much of which has only been recently discovered and excavated, before we traveled through the West Bank to Jerusalem. Before checking into the hotel, we visited the Garden Tomb which is an alternate site to where Christ was buried and resurrected; the primary site for this is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Day 4 - Primum et Ultimum Dierum
We visited the Church of St. Peter Gallicantu first thing in the morning of the fourth day of touring. This church commemorates Peter's three denials of Christ when the latter was arrested. This church is also said to be the site of the house of the High Priest Caiaphas.
On our way to the Cenacle or Upper Room (Room of the Last Supper), we passed the Dormition Abbey. The Upper Room is said to be where Christ held the Last Supper with his apostles and where the apostles gathered after the events following the Last Supper. The Dormition Abbey marks the spot where the Virgin Mary died. Beneath the Upper Room is the Tomb of King David. While it is debated whether or not it is the actual tomb, it was likely selected as Jews were restricted from entering the Old City for a time; for a few years in the 20th century, it was the holiest place for Jews.
At this point, we had to leave our guide behind as he is Israeli and could not enter Bethlehem with us which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Inside Bethlehem, we went to the Fields of the Shepherds and the Church of the Nativity. The Fields were where the angels announced the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds and also where Ruth gleaned grain in the fields of Boaz. While at the Fields of the Shepherds, we also visited the Chapel of the Shepherds' Field (also called the Church of the Angels) where we sang "The First Noel" and "Angels We Have Heard On High."
The Church of the Nativity is actually three different churches operated by the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church. All three churches have access to the cave or grotto which all three agree is the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
After a short walk and bus ride, we went to the New Bethlehem Store which is run by the Nisan Brothers who specialize in olive wood carvings.
Day 5 - On Our Own
Being Sunday, we started the day with a church service at the Seventh Station of the Cross where a small chapel exists. Station 7 is where Christ left Jerusalem and the remnants of the old gate are where the chapel was built and is today maintained by the Franciscans.
A small group of us made it over to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where, after a 2-hour wait, we made it into the Shrine that houses the tomb that held Christ's body after his Crucifixion and Death. This, by far, was the highlight of the trip for me. While not as grand in appearance as some cathedrals and churches in Europe, without this holiest of places and events that occurred there, places like St. Peter's Basilica in Rome would not exist.
After lunch, a few of us wandered the Old City of Jerusalem and the four quarters that compose it (Christian Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Jewish Quarter, and Armenian Quarter). I was disappointed to hear that Zedekiah's Cave was closed due to construction as this cave was where the stone for the Temple of Solomon was quarried.
Day 6 - Via Dolorosa
This day began with a visit to the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall). This wall is a small remnant of the wall that once surrounded the Jewish Temple. Due to the restrictions placed on the Temple Mount, the wall is the holiest place in Judaism where Jews can still pray. While I was there, it was packed full of Orthodox Jews praying. It is common practice to leave notes with prayers in the cracks of the Western Wall. Twice a year, a Rabbi collects the notes and buries them on the Mount of Olives.
We then made our way to the Temple Mount where Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock now sit where King Solomon's Temple was once. Al Aqsa is said to mark where Muhammed was transported from Mecca to Jerusalem in one night. The Dome of the Rock is said to be the place where Muhammed ascended to heaven. This same rock, the Foundation Stone, is said to be where Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac, where Jacob had his dream, where the Ark of the Covenant resided in the Holy of Holies in King Solomon's Temple, and the Axis Mundi.
We then proceeded to the Lions Gate and St. Anne's Church. St. Anne's had great acoustics and several groups sang many hymns in their native tongue. This church is built next to the ruins of the Pools of Bethesda (Hebrew for "mercy") and over the ruins of what is believed to be the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. The church is dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of Mary.
We then started the Way of Sorrow with the Churches of the Condemnation and Flagellation which serve as the First and Second Stations of the Cross. Traveling through the Old City we traveled to each Station of the Cross before ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which holds the last stations within its hallowed walls.
Day 7 - In the Wilderness
This morning we made our south to Masada, the ancient fortress built by Herod the Great (great in that he built great structures, not great in his deeds). While you can walk to the fortress ruins, it is more expedient to take the cable car as you are going from -33 meters to 257 meters. This fortress was also besieged by the Romans in 73 AD and marked the end of the First Jewish-Roman War. Masada today serves as one of the locations for the swearing-in ceremony for the Israeli military.
After a quick lunch, we toured Qumran and learned about the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The day ended with a swim in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is around 34% salt while the ocean is between 3-5% salt. This abundance of salt allows the body to float. It was weird, but fun to be so buoyant. After showering off, a few of us had a beer at the Lowest Bar in the World.
Day 8 - A Legacy of Agony
This day was a somber day as we went to the Israel Museum where we saw a scale model of Jerusalem during the 2nd Temple and the Shrine of the Book that houses, among other documents, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient manuscripts of canonical books of the Old Testament, apocryphal texts, and extra-biblical texts, some of which date back to the 2nd century BC. The Aleppo Codex is a 10th-century AD manuscript of the Hebrew Bible.
Next on our tour, was the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. I toured the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC when I was 16 and this memorial was just as moving. It was sobering to see such evil that was perpetrated by the Nazis and their allies. Both those who committed these atrocities and those who today deny that they happened are some of the purest forms of evil we have in our world.
In the afternoon, we went to the Church of All Nations or Church of the Agony then to the Garden of Gethsemane. The current Church is built on the ruins of two previous Christian churches that were built to commemorate Christ praying in the Garden before his arrest. The Garden of Gethsemane was an ancient orchard of olive trees where Christ underwent agony and then where He was arrested by the Romans. My tour group was able to spend time in a private section of the Garden and have a moment of reflection.
Day 9 - Lehitra’ot Israel
The previous day was cut short because of the long lines of other tourists, so this last morning in Israel, we visited the Ascension Chapel and Pater Noster Church on the Mount of Olives. The church is said to be the place where the Savior ascended to Heaven. The chapel is simple, but holds a stone that contains a footprint marking the spot of His Ascension. The chapel today is under Islamic control, but it is open to tourists and for Christian use. The Pater Noster Church sits on a cave or grotto where Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer. The church sits next to the ruins of the Byzantine Church of Eleona. On the walls of the church are translations of the Lord's Prayer (Pater Noster) in 140 languages. Eusebius wrote this of the cave: “in that cave the Saviour of the Universe initiated the members of his guild in ineffable mysteries”.
To get one last look at the Old City, we went to the Haas Promenade Overlook (due south of the Old City).
Going to the newer part of Jerusalem, we had lunch at the Machaneh Yehuda Market.
As we were technically on the Pilgrimage an extra day, our hosts took us to the Abu Gosh - Saxum Visitor Center. This center gives visitors the ability to tour through history using timelines, maps, interactive screens, models, recreations, and video mappings.
We then made our way to Tel Aviv where we had a group dinner before going to the airport for home. Once I landed back in Idaho, I made for southern Idaho as the next day Idaho College SRICF was going to meet. By the time I made it home on Saturday evening, I was exhausted.
This trip was truly once in a lifetime and I am so thankful for the opportunity to walk where the Savior walked. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone, whether a Sir Knight, a member of the clergy, or otherwise to go on this Pilgrimage.