Sunday, May 15, 2005

Virgin with Christ child and Jerusalem crown, Westminster Abbey, London, July 2004. Posted by Hello On Friday, in a rather large and impersonal classroom, I gave the slide-show on Israel at school. I was concerned before hand and felt even after, the overall talk didn't say everything I wanted. So here's a place to put the ideas down. Part of the problem is that religion is involved. Who could consider traveling to Israel and not be drawn to the topic of religion and Jerusalem? So, writing my ideas down will help me crystalize my thinking -- even if there's no time, not enough time for this kind of writing.

Why begin with a sculpture outside Westminster Abbey in London, when I want to talk about Jerusalem? The statue is conventional and beautiful, with a curious city floating above her head. I found this city-crown floating over hundreds of church sculptures -- saints and the virgin. Finally, in an orientation by a man who studied church architecture his entire life, finally, at Chartres Cathedral, in France, I learned the mystery behind these curious city-crowns. They represent Jerusalem and the longing of the Christian medieval world to reclaim the birthplace of Jesus from the Muslims.

For at this time, just after the turning of the millenium, powerful religious, economic and political factors fused to bring the Western Christian world in a series of brutal Crusades against the Muslim world, which at that time dominated the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, from eastern Turkey, through Palestine, Egypt, across northern Africa and up to well over half of Spain. People from every class joined the Crusades over a 200 year period, in five separate waves, the First Crusade called by Pope Innocent III, not to convert lost souls to Christianity, but to reclaim the heart of Christianity -- Jerusalem.

We cannot understand Jerusalem and the current state of Israel without understanding the history of enmity that permeates her culture.

My talk explored the story of Masada, and then returned to Jerusalem to look at three sacred spots: the Wailing Wall, sacred to Jews as a tangible reminder and place to mourn the loss of the Second Temple, which was destroyed in the year 70, and itself represented the rebuilding of King Solomon's First Temple that held the Ark of the Covenant; the Church of the Holy Sepulchure, built originally by St. Helena, sister to Emperor Constantine, in 345, and sacred to Christians as the church that marks the crucifixion of Christ (five Stations of the Cross are placed inside this church); and the Dome of the Rock, sacred to Muslims, for that golden-domed mosque built in 691 was placed where Mohammed left for his Night Journey, his footprint embedded in the Foundation Stone which rests at the center of the mosque. And yet enmity and the potential for violence permeate the culture of Jerusalem, despite the confluence of these three major religions.

Part 1 (next time) Masada. Please leave a comment if you like; I think they're working now. Beth