A few years ago, 1996 I think, I was singing in the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus (RSNOC) (and please excuse their horrible website) and was lucky enough to be part of their tour to Israel. We sang a couple of concerts and a Christmas Day radio broadcast from Bethlehem University. Some bizarre places to see, and some odd people to meet. I was particularly struck by how unpleasant the face of religion was there, especially in Jerusalem itself, which theoretically should be the holiest, most peaceful place in the world. Yeah, right. The most obvious people there were very arrogant, strutting around in a “we own this place” kind of way and although we met some very friendly folks the overall atmosphere of the place was a bit stressy. This was before the latest troubles, but even so it was a high-tension place. When we went to Tel Aviv, which is much more secular, the atmosphere very obviously lightened.
Anyway, the point of this post is something I came across today: Jerusalem clerics in punch-up row. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, as you have to do really. It’s down in the middle of a bazaar – lots of Honest Abu’s House Of Miraculous Souvenirs type places around (and I’m not exaggerating the names of the stores). Coolest souvenir I saw, and I wish I’d bought one, was an inflatable Yasser Arafat. Anyway, once you fight your way through the crowds you get into the very very old church which is owned by six different sects, none of whom really get on (guys, aren’t you missing something?). It is quite an amazing building, all very interesting architecture, but I didn’t get much of a buzz off it, although going down to the crypt and seeing the markings on the wall made by the ancient Crusaders was quite moving – when you think about what they went through to get there, although don’t think too much about the havoc they caused en route. But as an actual church/religious experience I have to say it was a bit of a let-down. The most moving experience I had that way was when we went to Nazareth, to the Church of the Annunciation. It’s an incredible place – it was initially built over the grotto where Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary, and the church itself was destroyed several times. It’s now quite a modern structure and is owned and run by the Roman Catholic church, so I imagine that having just one group in charge adds to its feeling of cohesion and peace. I’ve never been so moved by just going into a building, it was quite incredible and I needed an hour or so to get over it.