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We had the morning to ourselves today. I found out shortly after posting yesterday that the Aedicule of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is used for mass every morning from 4:30 to 7:30, which shot through my plans of an early-morning expedition to avoid the crowds. This was, in many ways a blessing, though, as I really did need a morning to catch up on sleep–at least somewhat.
I grabbed a quick breakfast to meet up with several others from the group at Razzouk’s at 8:30 to pick up my one necessary souvenir for the trip (pictured above).
The Razzouk family, a lineage of Coptic Christians, have been tattooists for over seven-hundred years, starting in Egypt and later making their way to Jerusalem. The Copts have a long tradition of tattooing a cross on one or both wrists as a clear sign of commitment to faith–members of the Coptic Christian group in Egypt are currently being persecuted, and their distinctive tattoos make them an easy target but also stand defiantly in acknowledgment of their faith despite the risk such a stance brings. Not only this, but the Razzouks have a long history of specialty in pilgrimage tattoos. Combine that with the fact that the shop is named one of the 5 best places to get a tattoo in the world, the history of pilgrimage tattoos (in general) going back to the middle ages and the fact that I’d long thought that, if I ever got a tattoo, it’d be a symbol of my faith, and I was sold.
It doesn’t hurt to have companions in the adventure, and even K got her own tattoo, one she designed herself after a time of prayer. The current representative of the family, Wassim Razzouk, demonstrated great kindness in opening on a Sunday morning to fit our hectic schedule. So, six of us went in to receive the indelible commemorative mark of our pilgrimage.
After deciding to get a tattoo in the first place (before the trip), I agonized over what kind of cross to get. I was immediately attracted to the Jerusalem cross, but weary of its crusader connotations, as very little about the crusaders matches either with my theological understanding or the identity and witness I want to present to the world. This conundrum forced me to resort to my basic instinct (not the movie): research.
Traditionally, the Jerusalem cross is attributed to the crusader, Godfrey of Bouillon, the “Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre” (he apparently rejected the title of “king” out of piety), who ruled Jerusalem after its capture in 1099 in the First Crusade. It has even been theorized that the symbol had been part of Godfrey’s family’s heraldry since before the crusades ever started. Additionally, the Jerusalem cross did not become part of the symbol for the crusader kingdom until the 13th century, long after Godfrey had died.
The Jerusalem cross was used by various European nations even after the ultimate failure of the crusades (whatever success may have actually looked like) and is still used by the Franciscan Custodians of the city’s holy sites.
After grasping the history, I looked to uncover more about the meaning of the cross. Many meanings have been assigned to the device: the five wounds of Christ, Christ and the four Evangelists, Christ and the four Gospels, Christ and the four corners of the Earth (a la Matthew 28). I would not consider myself Evangelistic under the meaning of word as a category of doctrine and belief, but I do belief in spreading the Gospel. I tend to believe that God’s love for all people will eventually bring them to paradise (through Christ’s redemptive act) and, regardless of what limits one believes in on the extent of salvation under Christian doctrine, I certainly believe that following the path of Christ is the only true way to sanctification and right relationship with all things in existence.
I can get on board easily with any of the other meanings commonly attributed to the Jerusalem cross, and can even add a few of my own: Christ and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a personal favorite. Additionally, the Jerusalem cross (as a tattoo) has for centuries been a sign of pilgrimage for Christians of all denominations and doctrines.
With this understanding, I decided to get my first (and probably only) tattoo.
This afternoon was taken up with a New Testament walk of the Old City of Jerusalem. We spent time discussing the likely location of the Upper Room, the appearance of Christ to the disciples after the Resurrection, and the start of Pentecost. Jack argues convincingly that the Pentecost must have quickly moved to the southern steps of the Temple Mount, as that’s the only space in 1st Century Jerusalem that was likely able to accommodate a crowd of the size described in scripture. We sat on the southern steps of the Temple Mount, where Jews would have ascended to the top of the Temple Mount during Jesus’s time, while we talked. We passed through the Hurva Square, where the rich and powerful–particularly the Sadducees–lived in palatial homes that would have rivaled modern American homes in size and splendor. There’s much to be said about the Sadducees of Jesus’s day and what we can learn from them in our own spiritual practice (mostly by not emulating them), but I’ll save that for a later date.
After all of this, we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Our group passed into the old cistern known as St. Helena’s Chapel, where St. Helena (the Emperor Constantine’s mother) reported finding pieces of the True Cross. There, we held a short worship with scripture reading, sermon, prayer and a song. I found the experience quite moving. From there, we went our separate ways to explore the Church. K and I opted to head upwards to the described by the church as Golgotha, the highest point of the 1st Century quarry (that still exists) that would have been near the place where Jesus was crucified if not the place. Our timing was good, as we didn’t have to shuffle shoulder to shoulder through a line for very long and the brief prayer against the rock (rather, against the glass that protects the rock) was an awesome experience.
Tomorrow, we head to Bethlehem and some sites in that area. Bethlehem itself is divided by a wall separating Jewish-Israeli territory from Palestinian territory. We will be able to cross through this barrier relatively easy, but I again expect the present tragedy of this place to intrude upon its sacred history.
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