Discover more from Joel Bowman ~ Notes from the End of the World
A Modern Flâneur walks... the Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
~ John 14:6
By Joel Bowman
A Holy Thursday procession set out from atop the Mount of Olives, paused and wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, entered the Old City through the Lions' Gate, and followed the winding, cobblestoned route to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For centuries since that inaugural Byzantine pilgrimage, masses of the faithful and unfaithful alike have walked in the Nazarene’s final footsteps. Here, one more...
We summon our schoolboy instruction, imparted by mirthless nuns and brothers of pharisaical conscience, recalling to mind the Stations of the Cross (or Way of Sorrows, as the sisters had it). The late morning sun beats on overhead; the sky a vacant, uninterrupted blue. Entering from the Lion’s Gate, we hear over the glottal Arabic burble the voice of Pontius Pilate, from the “Ecce Homo” speech:
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.
And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,
And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.
Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!
When the chief priests and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.
~ John, 19:1-6
And thus did Pilate wash his hands. How they must have trembled. How he must have feared and dread, in heaven’s towering shadow.
By the Church of Flagellation stand men with guns and grimaces; the gathering heat hangs heavy on their shoulders. The women, skulking under Hadrian’s archways in hijabs and niqabs, avert their furtive gaze. Ahead of us, in the shimmering distance, a man stumbles on the path.
On we follow, toward Our Lady of Sorrows, between the Arc of Ecce overhead and the ancient Roman flagstones below, which the Israelites call “Gabbatha,” and where etchings reveal two Roman soldiers at play, chiseling in stone the execution of a “mock king.” How a mother must have wept, her sweet and immaculate tears washed away into the earth.
And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
~ Luke 2:34-35
Around us the crowd converses in tongues; Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek; Armenian, Russian and Kartvelian of the Southern Caucasus; Farsi, Latin and Germanic tones, all gurgling amidst the great unwashed. Hawkers peddle their wares, brass trinkets and scarves of silk and linen, oil menorahs and chess boards inlaid with mother of pearl, myrrh and frankincense and silver pendants with Roman glass in pale blue-green and faded amber.
We turn at the Franciscan Chapel, formerly called the House of the Poor Man after the Lukan tale of Lazarus and Dives. An inscription in the architrave denotes the scene, as portrayed in the Synoptic Gospels:
Simoni - Cyrenaeo
The procession met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, whom the Gnostics say suffered earthly pains in loco Lesu. It was here, they reckon, that Simon shouldered the prophet’s earthly burden, taking from him the cross to bear, until he could bear it no more. Nearby, we place our hand on the smoothed stone, imagining a figure who staggered here, and the millions who, reverent and with misty eyes downcast, have touched it since.
Up the hill we climb, the path narrowing under flying buttresses, until we come to the spot where Veronica was said to have offered the condemned her veil. The blood and sweat there imprinted give the apocryphal saint her portmanteau (from the Latin ‘vera', meaning "truth", and the Greek 'eikon', meaning "image".)
Farther along the Suffering Way, we glimpse once more a man ahead, who falters on the salty stone as a crowd of women, mourning and wailing, gather around.
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” ~ Luke, 23:29
For a third time, he falls. The sweat. The tears. On we march to the Place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha and in Latin Calvary. The site is said to have so moved the Roman Empress Helena, who journeyed to the Holy Land in 325, that her son ordered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built on its grounds that very same year.
In the damp and humid air, stale with centuries of wax and oil, the procession moves with bowed heads through the high noon darkness. The taste of wine, soured with gall, fills our mouth. Our bare skin sweats and shivers. The blood runs freely from sinners’ palms and feet.
At the Altar of the Crucifixion, where the rock of Calvary lies encased in glass, each man sees his reflection and wonders at his fate. The faithful recall their gospels...
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” ~ Luke 23:43
The faithless remember, the way is uncertain, the way is doubt, the way is open to all. Ecce via.