I began my second day in Jerusalem slightly nervous as I’d read of the dangers of walking on the Mount of Olives if alone and female – harassment, pickpocketing etc… However I took the precaution of visiting on the day the churches on the Mount were actually open and at a time when I rightly predicted most tour groups would visit and ended up spending a relaxing day slowing ambling down this not in fact very steep hill.
I began my day having got a bus to the top, not only of the Mount itself but also the high tower of the German Evangelical church of the Ascension with its Byzantine-style mosaicked interior. Continuing down the hill I ended up on the run… from nuns. Very scary Russian Orthodox nuns, whose convent I accidentally wondered into and considering they seemed to be aged around 70, they moved worryingly fast.
Luckily I soon found safer territory in the Mosque of the Ascension, a squat grey bulbous building marking the spot from where Jesus is believed to have ascended into heaven. Inside is an indentation that is apparently Jesus’ right footprint. The left was taken to the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount and eventually evolved into the footprint of Mohammed.
After this I ended up at my joint favourite church I visited on the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Pater Noster where tiled panels show the Lord’s Prayer in 160 languages including Bisiac, Samaritan, Helgolandese and Wallisian alongside more commonly spoken languages such as English, Thai, Hungarian etc. A church was first built here by Queen Helena in the 4th century on top of a cave (still visible) thought to be where Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples. The view of the Old City of Jerusalem is also phenomenal, enabling you to see the design of the Al-Aqsa mosque much better than I was able (due unfortunately to being born without one of those pesky Y chromosomes) on the Temple Mount/Al-Haram ash-Sharif itself.
Carrying on downhill, I reached the supposed tomb of biblical prophets Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi. Even if the prophets lived several centuries before this tomb complex was built, seeing this circular complex of rock-cut tombs by torchlight is still undeniably eerie. Soon I reached more modern Jewish tombs on the Mount, in never-ending rows as according to the bible the resurrection will begin here meaning it is a much sought after place of burial. Unfortunately many of the graves are now riddled with litter due to Hasidic Jews often being attacked if they come to pay respect to their relatives; the Mount of Olives being in predominantly Arab Eastern Jerusalem.
Eventually I reached the glistening golden domes of the Church of Mary Magdalene, maintained by Russian Orthodox nuns (of a distinctly more friendly sort than those I had previously encountered!). The interior glistens with icons and also contains the body, covered in a silken shroud of Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna of Russia (born Princess Elisabeth of Hesse). Sister of the last Russian empress, she herself also became a Russian archduchess and after her husband was assassinated she took holy orders. A grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, her mother died young of diptheria along with a sister, a brother died falling out of a window as a toddler, a niece died aged 8 of typhoid, multiple relations suffered from haemophilia and along-with the assassination of the Russian Imperial family she herself was later shot dead by the Bolsheviks. An incredibly tragic family.
One of my last stops on my journey back towards the Old City was the Church of All Nations next to the highly underwhelming Garden of Gethsemene – small, overgrown and speckled with the stubbiest olive trees on the Mount of Olives; although some have been dendrochronologically proven to have been witness to Christ’s arrest. The church itself was filled with dark mosaics and purple stained glass as a visual reminder of his agony in the garden.
Just down the road, is the final pilgrimage site on the Mount of Olives; the Tomb of the Virgin Mary before her assumption into heaven. Side chapels according to an overenthusiastic guide apparently contain Saints Joachim and Anne, although the tombs actually contain crusader royalty such as Queen Melisande of Jerusalem. One of the holiest sites to Christian pilgrims; you enter into a lantern infested cavern; Orthodox pilgrims placing a votive candle on each step as they descend – causing a potential fire hazard as you attempt to reach the shrine! Eventually, after an enjoyable and heavily church-filled descent of the Mount I returned to my hostel to shelter from the sun and enjoy a late lunch.
I finished my second day in Jerusalem visiting Har Hazikaron or the Mount of Remembrance, home to the Israeli military cemetery and the holocaust memorial of Yad Vashem. The museum itself focuses not only on the horrors of the concentration camps which is often rightly focused on but also the ghettofication of Jewish communities proceeding the “final solution”. In the grounds of this massive complex are also several specific memorials such as the Hall of Remembrance where an eternal flame burns over a crypt containing ashes brought from the concentration camps and the Hall of Names; centred around a hole in the floor symbolising the deceased who are not known as all who knew them died alongside them. The most moving personally was the Children’s Memorial in a darkened pavilion where one candle is reflected in a seemingly infinite number of mirrors. A rather solemn note on which to end my day.