Thursday, August 2, 2018

World's Sacred Places: Part 1


THE WORLD'S SACRED PLACES: PART 1




The Vatican

     I was reading "Finding Magic: A Spiritual Memoir" by Sally Quinn, a Washington Post  journalist. In a chapter about her three week trip around the world called, "Great Faiths: A Journey to the World's Sacred Places,"  she reports how this gave her the opportunity to see the sacred places of many world religions.  As I read the chapter I thought, "I've been those places, only it didn't take me three weeks, it took me 40 years."

     Quinn had been to the Vatican in Rome before and had a private tour of the Sistine Chapel.  This time she felt that the Vatican was one of the least spiritual places she had ever visited.

    On my three visits over the years, I felt much more awe of the Vatican than Quinn.  Much of it was related to the art work of Michelangelo.  As the first visit that my wife and I took was off season , we practically had the Sistine chapel to ourselves. We had time to admire, discuss and appreciate the famous ceiling. 

     The second time we were there was in high season and we were pushed through with a mob and hardly had time to let the ceiling come into focus.

    On the third visit the temperature was hottest on the date for 200 years and the crowd in line was slow as they were passing screening.  I could feel my energy draining out.  The inside of the Basilica was cool: the crowds were properly awed by the sheer size of the place and its profusion of art. People were lined up to rub St. Peter's foot and guides were lecturing in a diversity of languages. 



Michelangelo's Pieta



   Michelangelo's Pieta was back on display. When I saw the statue of the young-looking virgin Mary holding the body of crucified Christ, we could get close enough to study it well.   A vandal had damaged it and it was now back on display behind a transparent bulletproof shield.  I didn't have the same sense of intimacy, but it remains impressive.  I found the experience energizing and as I left the Basilica I was almost trotting with new energy.



Where Jesus was laid to rest after being taken off the Cross




    In Jerusalem Quinn found the different Christian groups fighting over the right to scared space disheartening.  The wailing wall had men's and women's spaces with curtains put up between the men and women's sides with a bat mitzvah going on the men's side.  The women had brought chairs and were standing on them tip-toe trying to see the celebrating of the most scared day of the boy's life.  Quinn found this short shift of women appalling.  

    On the other hand,  I found the equality between the Muslim men and women we were working with in Palestine was very different from what we had experienced in some of other Muslim countries we had been in. They interacted freely with each other and our team members regardless of sex.

    I was there during a tense period when very few Christians were coming to visit.  This is site sacred to three great religions, Christianity, Islam and Hebrew. 

    Most of the religious sites were still open and our knowledgeable Muslim guide was able to give us a leisurely tour of them, including the 14 stations of the cross.

    The Via Dolorosa, or Way of the Cross, is the path Jesus followed carrying the cross from where Pontius Pilot condemned him to Calvary where he was crucified.  We saw where his body was laid out and the tomb where his body was placed. 

    The last five stations are within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest shrine to Christians. It also has the Chapel of Mary Magdalene, where Christ is said to have revealed himself after the resurrection.

    The Temple Mount area in old Jerusalem has a number of sites holy to Jews and Muslims.  Jews and Muslims traditionally see it as the place where Abraham offered his son in sacrifice.  On this site Solomon built the first temple almost 3,000 years ago.

    Twice the temples built on this site have been destroyed .  The remains of one of the walls is called the Western Wall by the Jews and is known to outsiders as the Wailing Wall.  Because of the danger of suicide bombers, we had to go through a security check to enter the area. The worshippers at the wall saying prayers could occasionally slip a piece of paper  with a prayer on into a crevice.

     Next to the wall is the third-holiest place in the world for Muslims, the Dome of the Rock, a shrine.  The Muslim belief is that Muhammad made his ascent into heaven from here. I found the golden dome beautiful both during the day and at night as it reflected the light around  it.

    In a second story I continue with a discussion of religious sites in India and the Far East.



I and a colleague stand in front of the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock



Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

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