We have now been gone over a week and have done so much and met so many people who have enriched our lives. It is amazing all we have done and everybody here is just astounded at how far we have come, not geographically but in so many other ways. Today was another busy and full day. We started with packing up and taking all our stuff down as we went down for breakfast. They loaded all of our stuff into a van because our bus can not get close to the hotel. We did not board the bus but set off on foot for the first part of the day.
Our first stop was the Greek Orthodox church of Annunciation. The Greek Orthodox believe that Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel at the spring where she was drawing water for her family so they built a church over the spring where Mary would have gone to draw water. The spring is the only one in Nazareth and it was fast running down in the bottom of the church. It is called Mary's Well even though it is a spring and not a well. The church was beautiful and not too over the top decorated like some of the Greek Orthodox that we have seen. It was very pretty outside and very simple.
Our next stop was the Sisters of Nazareth Convent. It was Glenn and my favorite stop. The nun who lead our tour was an absolute hoot! She was from Scotland and was feisty as all get out. The Catholic church had come to Nazareth in the early 1800's and in building at their current location they unearthed ruins from the Byzantine era and then unearthed earlier ruins too. It was determined that they had the house where Jesus grew up underneath their facility. They also were told before they had found anything that the Tomb of the Just was there. They didn't know where it was or really that it was even there but a bishop had written about it in the first century. They found a sealed tomb and when they opened it the smell of incense fill the area. It was Joseph's tomb, as he was considered the Just man. We got to see the round stone that had covered the tomb just as a round stone had covered Jesus' tomb. It is one of only 7 round stones found in Israel. It was so cool to see! Rather amazing. Unfortunately when the nuns excavated the area, and they did it themselves with the help of children from the school, much was lost or tossed. They even used dynamite to blow areas to reach. (Laura please stop yelling at them! They didn't know any better even though they should have.) But as the nun said with a big smile on her face, "That's life!" It was very neat to see the ruins of the Byzantine church with basins cut into the rock for liquids of some kind. There was also other tombs, worship areas and the remains of a pre-Byzantine city. Also there were ruins from the crusaders and then of course Jesus' house.
We walked on to our next destination which was where the Catholics thought the annunciation had taken place which was at Mary's home. The Basilica of Annunciation is built over the ruins of Mary's home. Unfortunately they were doing some preservation work so we saw a lot of plastic sheeting with a rock ceiling. We could even hear them using power tools so not sure what they were actually doing. The Basilica was surrounded by a wall in which different countries had made mosaics of their interpretation of the annunciation. Other countries including the US had theirs inside the main area where worship takes place. It was a beautiful church and the mosaics were all very unique and fun to look at. Mary and Jesus were black, Oriental, Asian, and even had a Boy Scout and Girl Scout with one! Didn't remember reading about their participation but what the heck why not include them.
After that tour we had an hour to walk around on our own. We walked some in the market place and this was not a tourist market place. They had an appliance store, kitchen wares, clothing, spices - Saffron for $10 for a good size bottle!, shoes, toys, jewelry and other such stuff. It was fun to see all the variety sold in little bitty shops and on the sidewalk in the alley. After our walking we joined together and headed to lunch, walking again. This was the weirdest meal yet. We were told there was soup and spaghetti and we could choose meat or no meat. Well the soup was a good lentil soup and the spaghetti had a small amount of sauce and meat in it. But if you had ordered meat then later you got a plate of meat and potatoes and salad! Then they had coconut macaroons for dessert. Very, very strange and rather pricey for what we got. It was all you could eat but it wasn't that tasty so I really didn't eat that much. Oh and of course pita bread but alas no hummus!
We had a 2 hour bus ride back to East Jerusalem where we met a woman named Cedar who works with the Sabeel Ecumenical Theology Center which is a Global ministries partner. Her story was another amazing tale. She was raised in Haifa where she went to a Christian school taught by British missionaries. They ran the school like a British school and taught everything in English, taught British history and as she said read the Bible as a literal translation of stories that took place long, long ago in a land far, far away. So these students read it with what she called British eyes and didn't even realize that they were living in the land where all this occurred! It wasn't until she was an adult that she read the Bible with "Palestinian eyes". She talked about the occupation from a very personal point of view. They had to leave Haifa with just the clothes on their backs when she was 12 years old. All the Palestinians had to leave and some went to Lebanon and some went to Nazareth and other places within the state of Israel. At Sabeel they teach a liberation theology to help the people cope with what they are facing. She commented that in the stories in the old testament her people were the ones being slaughtered by the Jews. She said that much of what happened in the Bible is happening again to her people now. Unlike many we have talked with she feels the only real solution is a two state solution with Israel having 75+ percent of the old Palestine and Palestine have the rest. Otherwise if they do a one state there are too many obstacles in her opinion plus Jews would instantly become the minority. It was very easy to listen to her talk and I know we only scratched the surface of her stories.
We headed to our hotel, the Golden Walls Hotel, which is directly across the street from the Damascus Gate through the old city wall. The hotel is very nice a looks more luxurious in the lobby area but we have a double bed and much smaller room than other hotels so far. As we were getting up to our room the Muslim call to prayer began and we realized our room directly overlooks the mosque and the minaret with the speakers in it calling them to prayer is right by our room. So we will not be needing a wake up call and Glenn doesn't have to set his alarm, we will be waking earlier than we need to. Oh well. This morning we were woken by trash collectors at 5:15 and the night before awaken at 3:00 in the morning by fireworks from a wedding. Life is never dull! We had an hour and a half before dinner to get settled a rest a bit. So I worked on this and then we headed to dinner at the hotel.
A quick aside... when we first got here, and not it has become a joke between Glenn and me, every time Glenn sees a cat, and there are a lot, he was thinking, "Oh, a monkey!"