The final trip before our summer break was imaginatively titled “Jerusalem: Hashlamot”. I was trying hard to think of a good translation for this. Literally it means ‘Jerusalem: filling in the gaps’. But perhaps a better phrasing would be ‘Jerusalem: miscellaneous’. So, what was this all about? We’ve had many trips in Jerusalem that have been themed by historical period: First Temple, Second Temple, Roman/Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader. Also several Christianity themed trips. But the problem is that there is just so much to visit and see in this city, that not everything fits into the trips that belong with that theme. So, this was a day completely without theme, with various sites that we needed to see but had not yet managed to reach.
Our day began at the Church of St Etienne. The property of Dominican monks, it is on the site of a 5th century Byzantine church that is believed to have been the Church of St Stephen. According to tradition, here were brought the bones of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, although now they are long gone. The modern church is built more or less on the outlines of the Byzantine, with the objective of showing how a Byzantine church would have looked. It even contains original mosaic flooring. We were guided by the most amenable Pavel, a monk in the Dominican order, who carefully explained to us the history of the church and the architectural features.
Attached to the church is a very well respected school for bible and archaeology. Visitors are not normally allowed inside (researchers can request access to the library); we were treated to entry together with a glance at some of the more interesting books in the collection, including ones used by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda when he came here to work on creating the modern Hebrew language.
A short walk away was the Armenian Ceramics Workshop. Our guide told us how these master potters arrived in Israel. On taking control of the area in WWI the British were dismayed by the state of the Dome of the Rock which was in remarkable disrepair. They brought three families from Turkey to help refurbish the outer ceramics, and later to make the beautiful street signs around the Old City. In this workshop the tradition continues; it is possible to see the ceramics under production and marvel at their beauty. There is, of course, a shop for those who wish to purchase.
Also close by was St George’s Cathedral, the seat of the Anglican Bishop. It is a beautiful church with a lovely wooden roof (very unusual in Israel) and a grand organ. Our guide told us about the history of the Anglicans in Israel and at the end of our visit pointed out the British seal hanging on the wall. This was the seal of the Mandate government; it was relocated to this church in 1948 when the Mandate ceased to exist.
Back to the bus we went and a short drive took us to the City of David. We had been here before, but this time we were to go through ‘Hezekiah’s Tunnel’, an impressive feat of engineering. Inside this tunnel was discovered an inscription from the First Temple period explaining how workers dug the tunnel from each entrance, meeting in the middle by using a technique of sounding to find each other. Indeed, in the middle of the tunnel it zig zags extensively, perhaps as they tried to find each other.
The tunnel’s purpose was to divert water into the city via a hidden route, in case of a siege. It is possible to walk the 533m down the tunnel, but the water still flows; hence we left it for the summer. Wet feet and shorts are much more pleasant at the end of July than in February!
This was it for me. The rest of the group continued on to walk up a Roman period sewage tunnel to the 2nd Temple period excavations in the south and west of the Temple Mount. Because I missed a couple of trips, which I had to catch up with other groups who have slightly different content for their trips, I had fortuitously already visited these sites (see the blog here), so our course coordinator (who had been my guide for the previous trip) told me to go home early.
A nice way to finish the year! Although I am already looking forward to the resumption of our trips in September. For now – a bit of time to catch up on all my notes from class and begin preparations for the final exams…