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Blindly Stumbling Through History

Please note, there are no photographs for this post as I don’t carry a camera running. I will ensure that there are pics up before the end of the week.

After another fantastic four hours of sleep (seriously body, this is getting ridiculous), I decided to don the running gear and go for a run from the hotel to the famous Jaffa Gate. The Jaffa Gate – which is a part of the walls surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem – was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538. Just inside the gate are two tombs which, legend has it, belonged to the two engineers who Suleiman put in charge of building protective walls around Jerusalem. Unfortunately for the engineers, they seem to have misunderstood Sule’s instructions and they did not include Mt Sion and King David’s tomb within the wall’s enclosure. As punishment, they were executed, but because they had done such an impressive job with the walls, Sule gave them the honour of being buried within the Jaffa Gate in the Old City.

The run to the Jaffa Gate took me along the light rail line and at 6am, there was little to no evidence of life in the city. Cruising up and down the hills, the soft beige of the Jerusalem Sandstone (the city is modelled on the Henry Ford philosophy of: you can build in any colour and form you want as long as it involves Jerusalem Stone) framed the darker paving stones of the road and gave a sense of timelessness to the markets and commerce areas that increase the closer you get towards the Old City.

As I entered through the gates, the age of the city was immediately obvious. Instead of the roughhewn sandstone that decorates the modern city of Israel, the roads and paths within the Old City have been worn smooth over the centuries. These shiny pathways had me cautiously navigating the avenues in an attempt to not fall face forward and add my own blood to the historical collection embedded within the stones.

As I blindly ran around the city streets, I soon found myself in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Originally built by St Helen (the mother of Emperor Constantine) in 330CE, the church has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The Church itself houses the most important physical sites for the Christian faith – the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and His resurrection. However, this history was completely lost on me as I began to explore what was essentially an empty building. Toddling around the passages, I was reliving my childhood fantasies of Indiana Jones styled adventures. With my sweaty runner’s face, I walked around in circles, jogged up and down stairs and had literally no idea what each altar meant (there are altars around every corner with icons, candles and prayer intercessions scattered left, right and centre). I walked into one enclave and thought it looked important so whipped out a quick Pater Noster – in English of course – to feel suitably Catholic. I then wandered down some stairs into a lower recess and was confronted by a room filled with a giant chandelier, many swinging lanterns and a massive artwork of the crucified Jesus on the wall. Obviously thinking that I had discovered something important, I walked to the side of the room to see if there was anything that I could explore behind the altar. In the far right of the room I discovered a tiny steel door set in stone that was heavily padlocked. Feeling suitably ripped off, I naturally assumed that the door had blocked me from exploring what was obviously the path to the tomb of Christ. Little did I know, but I had actually stumbled across the site in which St Helen had discovered – quite conveniently in 327CE – the true cross alongside two other crosses in a cistern. So here I was – an idiotic runner – completely alone at the site of one of the most questionable miracles, looking for a bloody tomb. I can only imagine Jesus looking down and face palming Himself as he watched me explore the back of the altar for secret passageways. How my grandfather must be turning in his grave.

After failing to discover anything super explorable, I walked back up the stairs and began my reconnoitre of the church once more. Currently, the church is undergoing a massive amount of renovation and as I walked around the building, the massive amounts of scaffolding and sheeting had me unaware of where I was within the building. Eventually I came into a larger room with a big tower of scaffold and white plastic sheeting in the centre. Not paying too much attention to what was in the room, I casually walked around the sheeting and discovered a whole bunch of monks and a few nuns looking suitably holy. The next thing I knew, an organ (I still don’t know where it was) kicked into gear and three priests entered the area. Suddenly it dawned on me that I had stumbled into an early morning mass. Moreover, it was a sung mass and it was all in Latin; what an opportunity! Here I was, wearing active wear, still covered in sweat, participating in a Latin mass in the holiest church in Christianity.

As the service progressed, the officiating priest would disappear into the plastic scaffold structure only to emerge with the various tools of the Catholic trade. At this point the sun had risen enough to reveal that the service was being conducted under a massive dome. It then dawned on me that the service was being conducted in the church’s rotunda at – what I would later discover – was the place of Jesus’ tomb and resurrection. Once again, Captain Ignorant had no idea of the significance of the place of the service he was in attendance at.

Note to future self: it might pay to do a little more research into the places I may potentially run into during forthcoming travels.

Once the service had finished, I took my extremely out of place self (who wears short sleeved activewear to a service in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the middle of winter?) back onto the streets of the Old City to find my way back to my hotel. On the return journey (which seemed to be completely up hill), the formally empty streets had opened themselves up and I ran through throngs of young women in army fatigues who jostled for sidewalk superiority with Hasidic Jews riding electric bicycles, their beards and coats flying behind them. Muslim men and women boarded trains alongside young Jewish children wearing kippah with bright modern patterns and I couldn’t help but feel suitably impressed with this city that oozes culture and faith from every pore.

On the way back to my hotel, to emphasise the erratic nature of my early morning jaunt, I managed to somehow tear my running shorts on something as I navigated my way past a series of rubbish collection points. Now, by tear, I mean that I literally ripped one half of my shorts off. So there I was, trying to look fit and confident, with my underwear showing off my chicken legs and the Nation of Israel all coming out to have a laugh. So I did the only thing possible. I tucked the ripped part of the shorts into my waist, exposed the bright aqua liner of the shorts and proceeded to run as if my pants were purchased like that and were all the rage on the catwalks of Milan. Even now, I still firmly believe that no one noticed the over-sharing of skinny upper thigh as I ran alongside the light rail full of Israelis heading off to work for the day.

Arriving back at the hotel, I had just enough time to shower and dress before I boarded the bus that was to take us to the Yad Vashem education centre. All this before 7:45am – what would the rest of the day have in store?