Within two hours I had encounters with the physical monuments of all three great monotheistic faiths. First, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the most revered site of all Christiandom. The place is really strange. It is dim and crypt-like. I was early enough to avoid the tour groups, and had the church almost to myself, except for the dark clothed men sitting in dim corners that were probably keeping a furtive eye on me. They appear to have been left there centuries earlier, and nobody bothered to tell them their shift was over. There’s a density of stuff in the place—icons, incense burners, crucifixes, paintings, and it’s all dim. I think the Dark Ages have not ended here yet. There isn’t the usual sense of uplife and awe of a great cathedral whatsoever in this place. It feels all withdrawn and remote, a space of deep interior sensation.
On the way to the Temple Mount I climbed up the ramp past the worshipers at the Western Wall. This Jewish spiritual life is demonstratively alive and outgoing, the opposite of the recessive mode of my last stop. I paused to watch from the overhead vantage point.
I stepped onto the Temple Mount. It was like crossing a threshold to another universe. The bustle of Jerusalem, and the fervent worship of the Western Wall was beyond and far away. This was a peaceful grove of trees, and a broad plaza of stone from the center of which rose the blue and gold Dome of the Rock Mosque. There were multiple tour groups, but enough room that I could listen in for a moment to glean some learning, and then retreat into my solitude. I did have to shoo away a persistant, small gray-haired man who wanted to be my guide, and who could not remember that I had declined his services three times in the previous hour. But besides that, I felt this to be a place of peace and repose. Young Moslem women in head scarves, always in groups of three, strolled the garden, and boys bounced soccer balls against the plaza walls. Here, finally, I felt I could photograph from a place of centered awareness, which I could not begin to do at the beginning of my tour. I left feeling fulfilled and content.