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Ch. 5: The City of Christ


Modern Jerusalem--The Site of the City--Mount Zion--Mount Moriah--The Temple--the Valley of Jehosaphat--The Olives of Gethsemane--The Mount of Olives--Moslem Tradition--Panorama from the Summit--The Interior of the City--The Population--Missions and Missionaries--Christianity in Jerusalem--Intolerance--The Jews of Jerusalem--The Face of Christ--The Church of the Holy Sepulchre--The Holy of Holies--The Sacred Localities--Visions of Christ--The Mosque of Omar--The Holy Man of Timbuctoo--Preparations for Departure.


"Cut off thy hair, O Jerusalem, and cast it away, and take up a lamentation in high places; for the Lord hath rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath."--Jeremiah vii. 29.

"Here pilgrims roam, that strayed so far to seek
In Golgotha him dead, who lives in Heaven."

~John Milton.


Jerusalem, Monday, May 3, 1852.


Since travel is becoming a necessary part of education, and a journey through the East is no longer attended with personal risk, Jerusalem will soon be as familiar a station on the grand tour as Paris or Naples. The task of describing it is already next to superfluous, so thoroughly has the topography of the city been laid down by the surveys of Robinson and the drawings of Roberts. There is little more left for Biblical research. The few places which can be authenticated are now generally accepted, and the many doubtful ones must always be the subjects of speculation and conjecture. There is no new light which can remove the cloud of uncertainties wherein one continually wanders. Yet, even rejecting all these with the most skeptical spirit, there still remains enough to make the place sacred in the eyes of every follower of Christ. The city stands on the ancient site; the Mount of Olives looks down upon it; the foundations of the Temple of Solomon are on Mount Moriah; the Pool of Siloam has still a cup of water for those who at noontide go down to the Valley of Jehosaphat; the ancient gate yet looketh towards Damascus, and of the Palace of Herod, there is a tower which Time and Turk and Crusader have spared.

Jerusalem is built on the summit ridge of the hill-country of Palestine, just where it begins to slope eastward. Not half a mile from the Jaffa Gate, the waters run towards the Mediterranean. It is about 2,700 feet above the latter, and 4,000 feet above the Dead Sea, to which the descent is much more abrupt. The hill, or rather group of small mounts, on which Jerusalem stands, slants eastward to the brink of the Valley of Jehosaphat, and the Mount of Olives rises opposite, from the sides and summit of which, one sees the entire city spread out like a map before him. The Valley of Hinnon, the bed of which is on a much higher level than that of Jehosaphat, skirts the south-western and southern part of the walls, and drops into the latter valley at the foot of Mount Zion, the most southern of the mounts. The steep slope at the junction of the two valleys is the site of the city of the Jebusites, the most ancient part of Jerusalem. It is now covered with garden-terraces, the present wall crossing from Mount Zion on the south to Mount Moriah on the east. A little glen, anciently called the Tyropeon, divides the mounts, and winds through to the Damascus Gate, on the north, though from the height of the walls and the position of the city, the depression which it causes in the mass of buildings is not very perceptible, except from the latter point, Moriah is the lowest of the mounts, and hangs directly over the Valley of Jehosaphat. Its summit was built up by Solomon so as to form a quadrangular terrace, five hundred by three hundred yards in dimension. The lower courses of the grand wall, composed of huge blocks of gray conglomerate limestone, still remain, and there seems to be no doubt that they are of the time of Solomon. Some of the stones are of enormous size; I noticed several which were fifteen, and one twenty-two feet in length. The upper part of the wall was restored by Sultan Selim, the conqueror of Egypt, and the level of the terrace now supports the great Mosque of Omar, which stands on the very site of the temple. Except these foundation walls, the Damascus Gate and the Tower of Hippicus, there is nothing left of the ancient city. The length of the present wall of circumference is about two miles, but the circuit of Jerusalem, in the time of Herod, was probably double that distance.

The best views of the city are from the Mount of Olives, and the hill north of it, whence Titus directed the siege which resulted in its total destruction. The Crusaders under Godfrey of Bouillon encamped on the same hill. My first walk after reaching here, was to the summit of the Mount of Olives. Not far from the hotel we came upon the Via Dolorosa, up which, according to Catholic tradition, Christ toiled with the cross upon his shoulders. I found it utterly impossible to imagine that I was walking in the same path, and preferred doubting the tradition. An arch is built across the street at the spot where they say he was shown to the populace. (Ecce Homo.) The passage is steep and rough, descending to St. Stephen's Gate by the Governor's Palace, which stands on the site of the house of Pontius Pilate. Here, in the wall forming the northern part of the foundation of the temple, there are some very fine remains of ancient workmanship. From the city wall, the ground descends abruptly to the Valley of Jehosaphat. The Turkish residents have their tombs on the city side, just under the terrace of the mosque, while thousands of Jews find a peculiar beatitude in having themselves interred on the opposite slope of the Mount of Olives, which is in some places quite covered with their crumbling tombstones. The bed of the Brook Kedron is now dry and stony. A sort of chapel, built in the bottom of the valley, is supposed by the Greeks to cover the tomb of the Virgin--a claim which the Latins consider absurd. Near this, at the very foot of the Mount of Olives, the latter sect have lately built a high stone wall around the Garden of Gethsemane, for the purpose, apparently, of protecting the five aged olives. I am ignorant of the grounds wherefore Gethsemane is placed here. Most travellers have given their faith to the spot, but Dr. Robinson, who is more reliable than any amount of mere tradition, does not coincide with them. The trees do not appear as ancient as some of those at the foot of Mount Carmel, which are supposed to date from the Roman colony established by Titus. Moreover, it is well known that at the time of the taking of Jerusalem by that Emperor, all the trees, for many miles around, were destroyed. The olive-trees, therefore, cannot be those under which Christ rested, even supposing this to be the true site of Gethseniane.

The Mount of Olives is a steep and rugged hill, dominating over the city and the surrounding heights. It is still covered with olive orchards, and planted with patches of grain, which do not thrive well on the stony soil. On the summit is a mosque, with a minaret attached, which affords a grand panoramic view. As we reached it, the Chief of the College of Dervishes, in the court of the Mosque of Omar, came out with a number of attendants. He saluted us courteously, which would not have been the case had he been the Superior of the Latin Convent, and we Greek Monks. There were some Turkish ladies in the interior of the mosque, so that we could not gain admittance, and therefore did not see the rock containing the foot-prints of Christ, who, according to Moslem tradition, ascended to heaven from this spot. The Mohammedans, it may not be generally known, accept the history of Christ, except his crucifixion, believing that he passed to heaven without death, another person being crucified in his stead. They call him the Roh-Allah, or Spirit of God, and consider him, after Mahomet, as the holiest of the Prophets.

We ascended to the gallery of the minaret. The city lay opposite, so fairly spread out to our view that almost every house might be separately distinguished. It is a mass of gray buildings, with dome-roofs, and but for the mosques of Omar and El Aksa, with the courts and galleries around them, would be exceedingly tame in appearance. The only other prominent points are the towers of the Holy Sepulchre, the citadel, enclosing Herod's Tower, and the mosque on mount Zion. The Turkish wall, with its sharp angles, its square bastions, and the long, embrasured lines of its parapet, is the most striking feature of the view. Stony hills stretch away from the city on all sides, at present cheered with tracts of springing wheat, but later in the season, brown and desolate. In the south, the convent of St. Elias is visible, and part of the little town of Bethlehem. I passed to the eastern side of the gallery, and looking thence, deep down among the sterile mountains, beheld a long sheet of blue water, its southern extremity vanishing in a hot, sulphury haze. The mountains of Ammon and Moab, which formed the background of my first view of Jerusalem, leaned like a vast wall against the sky, beyond the mysterious sea and the broad valley of the Jordan. The great depression of this valley below the level of the Mediterranean gives it a most remarkable character. It appears even deeper than is actually the case, and resembles an enormous chasm or moat, separating two different regions of the earth. The khamseen was blowing from the south, from out the deserts of Edom, and threw its veil of fiery vapor over the landscape. The muezzin pointed out to me the location of Jericho, of Kerak in Moab, and Es-Salt in the country of Ammon. Ere long the shadow of the minaret denoted noon, and, placing his hands on both sides of his mouth, he cried out, first on the South side, towards Mecca, and then to the West, and North, and East: "God is great: there is no God but God, and Mohammed is His Prophet! Let us prostrate ourselves before Him: and to Him alone be the glory!"

Jerusalem, internally, gives no impression but that of filth, ruin, poverty, and degradation. There are two or three streets in the western or higher portion of the city which are tolerably clean, but all the others, to the very gates of the Holy Sepulchre, are channels of pestilence. The Jewish Quarter, which is the largest, so sickened and disgusted me, that I should rather go the whole round of the city walls than pass through it a second time. The bazaars are poor, compared with those of other Oriental cities of the same size, and the principal trade seems to be in rosaries, both Turkish and Christian, crosses, seals, amulets, and pieces of the Holy Sepulchre. The population, which may possibly reach 20,000, is apparently Jewish, for the most part; at least, I have been principally struck with the Hebrew face, in my walks. The number of Jews has increased considerably within a few years, and there is also quite a number who, having been converted to Protestantism, were brought hither at the expense of English missionary societies for the purpose of forming a Protestant community. Two of the hotels are kept by families of this class. It is estimated that each member of the community has cost the Mission about £4,500: a sum which would have Christianized tenfold the number of English heathen. The Mission, however, is kept up by its patrons, as a sort of religious luxury. The English have lately built a very handsome church within the walls, and the Rev. Dr. Gobat, well known by his missionary labors in Abyssinia, now has the title of Bishop of Jerusalem. A friend of his in Central Africa gave me a letter of introduction for him, and I am quite disappointed in finding him absent. Dr. Barclay, of Virginia, a most worthy man in every respect, is at the head of the American Mission here. There is, besides, what is called the "American Colony," at the village of Artos, near Bethlehem: a little community of religious enthusiasts, whose experiments in cultivation have met with remarkable success, and are much spoken of at present.

Whatever good the various missions here may, in time, accomplish (at present, it does not amount to much), Jerusalem is the last place in the world where an intelligent heathen would be converted to Christianity. Were I cast here, ignorant of any religion, and were I to compare the lives and practices of the different sects as the means of making my choice--in short, to judge of each faith by the conduct of its professors--I should at once turn Mussulman. When you consider that in the Holy Sepulchre there are nineteen chapels, each belonging to a different sect, calling itself Christian, and that a Turkish police is always stationed there to prevent the bloody quarrels which often ensue between them, you may judge how those who call themselves followers of the Prince of Peace practice the pure faith he sought to establish. Between the Greek and Latin churches, especially, there is a deadly feud, and their contentions are a scandal, not only to the few Christians here, but to the Moslems themselves. I believe there is a sort of truce at present, owing to the settlement of some of the disputes--as, for instance, the restoration of the silver star, which the Greeks stole from the shrine of the Nativity, at Bethlehem. The Latins, however, not long since, demolished, vi et armis, a chapel which the Greeks commenced building on Mount Zion. But, if the employment of material weapons has been abandoned for the time, there is none the less a war of words and of sounds still going on. Go into the Holy Sepulchre, when mass is being celebrated, and you can scarcely endure the din. No sooner does the Greek choir begin its shrill chant, than the Latins fly to the assault. They have an organ, and terribly does that organ strain its bellows and labor its pipes to drown the rival singing. You think the Latins will carry the day, when suddenly the cymbals of the Abyssinians strike in with harsh brazen clang, and, for the moment, triumph. Then there are Copts, and Maronites, and Armenians, and I know not how many other sects, who must have their share; and the service that should be a many-toned harmony pervaded by one grand spirit of devotion, becomes a discordant orgie, befitting the rites of Belial.

A long time ago--I do not know the precise number of years--the Sultan granted a firman, in answer to the application of both Jews and Christians, allowing the members of each sect to put to death any person belonging to the other sect, who should be found inside of their churches or synagogues. The firman has never been recalled, though in every place but Jerusalem it remains a dead letter. Here, although the Jews freely permit Christians to enter their synagogue, a Jew who should enter the Holy Sepulchre would be lucky if he escaped with his life. Not long since, an English gentleman, who was taken by the monks for a Jew, was so severely beaten that he was confined to his bed for two months. What worse than scandal, what abomination, that the spot looked upon by so many Christians as the most awfully sacred on earth, should be the scene of such brutish intolerance! I never pass the group of Turkish officers, quietly smoking their long pipes and sipping their coffee within the vestibule of the Church, without a feeling of humiliation. Worse than the money-changers whom Christ scourged out of the Temple, the guardians of this edifice make use of His crucifixion and resurrection as a means of gain. You may buy a piece of the stone covering the Holy Sepulchre, duly certified by the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, for about $7. At Bethlehem, which I visited this morning, the Latin monk who showed us the manger, the pit where 12,000 innocents were buried, and other things, had much less to say of the sacredness or authenticity of the place, than of the injustice of allowing the Greeks a share in its possession.

The native Jewish families in Jerusalem, as well as those in other parts of Palestine, present a marked difference to the Jews of Europe and America. They possess the same physical characteristics--the dark, oblong eye, the prominent nose, the strongly-marked cheek and jaw--but in the latter, these traits have become harsh and coarse. Centuries devoted to the lowest and most debasing forms of traffic, with the endurance of persecution and contumely, have greatly changed and vulgarized the appearance of the race. But the Jews of the Holy City still retain a noble beauty, which proved to my mind their descent from the ancient princely houses of Israel The forehead is loftier, the eye larger and more frank in its expression, the nose more delicate in its prominence, and the face a purer oval. I have remarked the same distinction in the countenances of those Jewish families of Europe, whose members have devoted themselves to Art or Literature. Mendelssohn's was a face that might have belonged to the House of David.

On the evening of my arrival in the city, as I set out to walk through the bazaars, I encountered a native Jew, whose face will haunt me for the rest of my life. I was sauntering slowly along, asking myself "Is this Jerusalem?" when, lifting my eyes, they met those of Christ! It was the very face which Raphael has painted--the traditional features of the Saviour, as they are recognised and accepted by all Christendom. The waving brown hair, partly hidden by a Jewish cap, fell clustering about the ears; the face was the most perfect oval, and almost feminine in the purity of its outline; the serene, child-like mouth was shaded with a light moustache, and a silky brown beard clothed the chin; but the eyes--shall I ever look into such orbs again? Large, dark, unfathomable, they beamed with an expression of divine love and divine sorrow, such as I never before saw in human face. The man had just emerged from a dark archway, and the golden glow of the sunset, reflected from a white wall above, fell upon his face. Perhaps it was this transfiguration which made his beauty so unearthly; but, during the moment that I saw him, he was to me a revelation of the Saviour. There are still miracles in the Land of Judah. As the dusk gathered in the deep streets, I could see nothing but the ineffable sweetness and benignity of that countenance, and my friend was not a little astonished, if not shocked, when I said to him, with the earnestness of belief, on my return: "I have just seen Christ."

I made the round of the Holy Sepulchre on Sunday, while the monks were celebrating the festival of the Invention of the Cross, in the chapel of the Empress Helena. As the finding of the cross by the Empress is almost the only authority for the places inclosed within the Holy Sepulchre, I went there inclined to doubt their authenticity, and came away with my doubt vastly strengthened. The building is a confused labyrinth of chapels, choirs, shrines, staircases, and vaults--without any definite plan or any architectural beauty, though very rich in parts and full of picturesque effects. Golden lamps continually burn before the sacred places, and you rarely visit the church without seeing some procession of monks, with crosses, censers, and tapers, threading the shadowy passages, from shrine to shrine It is astonishing how many localities are assembled under one roof. At first, you are shown, the stone on which Christ rested from the burden of the cross; then, the place where the soldiers cast lots for His garments, both of them adjoining the Sepulchre. After seeing this, you are taken to the Pillar of Flagellation; the stocks; the place of crowning with thorns; the spot where He met His mother; the cave where the Empress Helena found the cross; and, lastly, the summit of Mount Calvary. The Sepulchre is a small marble building in the centre of the church. We removed our shoes at the entrance, and were taken by a Greek monk, first into a sort of ante-chamber, lighted with golden lamps, and having in the centre, inclosed in a case of marble, the stone on which the angel sat. Stooping through a low door, we entered the Sepulchre itself. Forty lamps of gold burn unceasingly above the white marble slab, which, as the monks say, protects the stone whereon the body of Christ was laid. As we again emerged, our guide led us up a flight of steps to a second story, in which stood a shrine, literally blazing with gold. Kneeling on the marble floor, he removed a golden shield, and showed us the hole in the rock of Calvary, where the cross was planted. Close beside it was the fissure produced by the earthquake which followed the Crucifixion. But, to my eyes, aided by the light of the dim wax taper, it was no violent rupture, such as an earthquake would produce, and the rock did not appear to be the same as that of which Jerusalem is built. As we turned to leave, a monk appeared with a bowl of sacred rose-water, which he sprinkled on our hands, bestowing a double portion on a rosary of sandal-wood which I carried But it was a Mohammedan rosary, brought from Mecca, and containing the sacred number of ninety-nine beads.

I have not space here to state all the arguments for and against the localities in the Holy Sepulchre, I came to the conclusion that none of them were authentic, and am glad to have the concurrence of such distinguished authority as Dr. Robinson. So far from this being a matter of regret, I, for one, rejoice that those sacred spots are lost to the world. Christianity does not need them, and they are spared a daily profanation in the name of religion. We know that Christ has walked on the Mount of Olives, and gone down to the Pool of Siloam, and tarried in Bethany; we know that here, within the circuit of our vision, He has suffered agony and death, and that from this little point went out all the light that has made the world greater and happier and better in its later than in its earlier days.

Yet, I must frankly confess, in wandering through this city--revered alike by Christians, Jews and Turks as one of the holiest in the world--I have been reminded of Christ, the Man, rather, than of Christ, the God. In the glory which overhangs Palestine afar off, we imagine emotions which never come, when we tread the soil and walk over the hallowed sites. As I toiled up the Mount of Olives, in the very footsteps of Christ, panting with the heat and the difficult ascent, I found it utterly impossible to conceive that the Deity, in human form, had walked there before me. And even at night, as I walk on the terraced roof, while the moon, "the balmy moon of blessed Israel," restores the Jerusalem of olden days to my imagination, the Saviour who then haunts my thoughts is the Man Jesus, in those moments of trial when He felt the weaknesses of our common humanity; in that agony of struggle in the garden of Gethsemane, in that still more bitter cry of human doubt and human appeal from the cross: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me!" Yet there is no reproach for this conception of the character of Christ. Better the divinely-inspired Man, the purest and most perfect of His race, the pattern and type of all that is good and holy in Humanity, than the Deity for whose intercession we pray, while we trample His teachings under our feet. It would be well for many Christian sects, did they keep more constantly before their eyes the sublime humanity of Christ. How much bitter intolerance and persecution might be spared the world, if, instead of simply adoring Him as a Divine Mediator, they would strive to walk the ways He trod on earth. But Christianity is still undeveloped, and there is yet no sect which represents its fall and perfect spirit.

It is my misfortune if I give offence by these remarks. I cannot assume emotions I do not feel, and must describe Jerusalem as I found it. Since being here, I have read the accounts of several travellers, and in many cases the devotional rhapsodies--the ecstacies of awe and reverence--in which they indulge, strike me as forced and affected. The pious writers have described what was expected of them, not what they found. It was partly from reading such accounts that my anticipations were raised too high, for the view of the city from the Jaffa road and the panorama from the Mount of Olives are the only things wherein I have been pleasantly disappointed.

By far the most interesting relic left to the city is the foundation wall of Solomon's Temple. The Mosque of Omar, according to the accounts of the Turks, and Mr. Gather wood's examination, rests on immense vaults, which are believed to be the substructions of the Temple itself. Under the dome of the mosque there is a large mass of natural rock, revered by the Moslems as that from which Mahomet mounted the beast Borak when he visited the Seven Heavens, and believed by Mr. Catherwood to have served as part of the foundation of the Holy of Holies. No Christian is allowed to enter the mosque, or even its enclosure, on penalty of death, and even the firman of the Sultan has failed to obtain admission for a Frank. I have been strongly tempted to make the attempt in my Egyptian dress, which happens to resemble that of a mollah or Moslem priest, but the Dervishes in the adjoining college have sharp eyes, and my pronunciation of Arabic would betray me in case I was accosted. I even went so far as to buy a string of the large beads usually carried by a mollah, but unluckily I do not know the Moslem form of prayer, or I might carry out the plan under the guise of religious abstraction. This morning we succeeded in getting a nearer view of the mosque from the roof of the Governor's palace. François, by assuming the character of a Turkish cawass, gained us admission. The roof overlooks the entire enclosure of the Haram, and gives a complete view of the exterior of the mosque and the paved court surrounding it. There is no regularity in the style of the buildings in the enclosure, but the general effect is highly picturesque. The great dome of the mosque is the grandest in all the Orient, but the body of the edifice, made to resemble an octagonal tent, and covered with blue and white tiles, is not high enough to do it justice. The first court is paved with marble, and has four porticoes, each of five light Saracenic arches, opening into the green park, which occupies the rest of the terrace. This park is studded with cypress and fig trees, and dotted all over with the tombs of shekhs. As we were looking down on the spacious area, behold! who should come along but Shekh Mohammed Senoosee, the holy man of Timbuctoo, who had laid off his scarlet robe and donned a green one. I called down to him, whereupon he looked up and recognised us. For this reason I regret our departure from Jerusalem, as I am sure a little persuasion would induce the holy man to accompany me within the mosque.

We leave to-morrow for Damascus, by way of Nazareth and Tiberius. My original plan was to have gone to Djerash, the ancient Geraza, in the land of Gilead, and thence to Bozrah, in Djebel Hauaran. But Djebel Adjeloun, as the country about Djerash is called, is under a powerful Bedouin shekh, named Abd-el Azeez, and without an escort from him, which involves considerable delay and a fee of $150, it would be impossible to make the journey. We are therefore restricted to the ordinary route, and in case we should meet with any difficulty by the way, Mr. Smith, the American Consul, who is now here, has kindly procured us a firman from the Pasha of Jerusalem. All the travellers here are making preparations to leave, but there are still two parties in the Desert.


Bayard Taylor