Lunch was rather more like a traditional Sunday lunch than we might have imagined. There was soup and roast meat. But in between there was spaghetti Bolognese which was delicious and to follow there were light coconut macaroons. It had the Sunday lunch kind of effect though where what you really want to do is go for a sleep. But this was not to be!
The facade of the Basilica of the Annunciation
After lunch we moved back up the hill to the Basilica of the Annunciation. This church is built over the site of what is reputed to be Mary’s home. Here we got a real sense of what Mary’s life might have been like before it was turned upside down by her amazing news. For in the lower part of the church with its peaceful atmosphere is a small grotto. Behind the altar to the right as you face it is a set of stairs and somehow it is possible to believe that Mary came up and down these stairs as she went about her daily life.
Images of Mary
In the upper part of the church and in the courtyard as we went in we were able to see the many depictions of Mary from around the world. These are extraordinary and it was really interesting to see which ones people preferred. There were so many different ones!The facade of the church is quite plain really and very beautiful with many symbols up on it.
The Pilgrims and their guides
After we had been around the Basilica we all gathered together so that we might have photographs taken on the steps. Faith, Hope and Love each had their photographs taken and we also managed to find enough space to squeeze everyone in for a large group photograph. We are not sure that everybody will actually be visible, but we have tried! The photographer (me!) repeatedly said that they should realise that if they couldn’t see my camera lens it wouldn’t be able to see them but who knows if it worked. I do hope so!
Sadly, St Joseph’s church which is very near to the Basilica of the Annunciation was closed for renovation and so some we walked up the hill to see the site of Mary’s well. Others walked back to the coaches and stopped on the way to buy some of the wonderful ground coffee we have been drinking which has cardamom in it. Those who visited the site of the well commented that Mary had a long walk to get water! For, after her marriage, she and Jesus and the rest of the family would have lived near the site where St Joseph’s church was, which is practically next to the Basilica of Annunciation and the well is a good five minutes or so walk away up quite steep hills.
Icon at Mary’s Well
The church over the well is also closed because it is a Sunday(!), but we were able to take some pictures through the gates and to think about one of the many interesting things which happen in the Holy Land. You see Orthodox Christians believe that the site of the well is also the site of the Annunciation as they think that the angel appeared to Mary at the well. There is a beautiful mosaic outside on the wall to prove it!
Life here is full of differences. This morning in church we were not in Lent, which seems a bit mad, I know, because we were in Lent when we were at the Cathedral last Monday night. But here in the Diocese of Jerusalem the church can make a local choice as to whether the follow the dates for Easter from the Eastern or Western Church calendar. In Jerusalem they were on the Western calendar in Nazareth where there are many Orthodox Christians they choose to be on the Eastern one. Apparently Bishop Suheil simply has to remember where he is going when visiting his churches!
Nazareth is an interesting place, not simply because there are many Orthodox Christians there and the issues this causes about Easter but also because it is one of the cities in the Holy Land which has the greatest percentage of Christians. Here they make up about 30% of the population in most other places they account for less than 2% of the population. It seems that this city takes note of that because shops and schools and offices all close on Sunday even though Christians are not in the majority. It is fascinating to see how the different communities here accommodate themselves to each other. It is incredible too to think of the sprawling city which is Nazareth and to think that in Mary and Joseph’s time it would have been a village of about 250 people all of whom would have known each other and so somehow have been intimately involved in all that was happening in Mary and Joseph’s life.
After our visits we were pleased that the coaches came up the hill to the site of the well to meet us and we were able to tumble onto them for our last journey back to the hotel. As we headed back we were very aware that this was to be the last time that we would gather together and reflect upon all that we had seen and heard. We were tired – it has been a busy few days – and we knew that we needed to pack but somehow we wanted to share this last time together as Andrew Nunn led us in reflection and our final Compline.
Andrew said that it was funny how time runs on so quickly. Do you remember, he asked, how when you were a child the holidays seemed to last forever? Now, though, it seems an age since we were gathering at Heathrow. It is hardly possible that it was only the Sunday before last when we were packing. It is wonderful, he said, how traveling has built relationships and friendships which will have an impact on the Diocese and our parishes. Thank you for making the pilgrimage what it has been.
Andrew spoke of the wonderful privilege it had been to minister at Christ Church and there was a little hint of Pentecost about it with all of its wonder, chaos and hospitality. It was a real blessing to be there. The congregation was saying that they have never known a group like ours go and join them and many said that they had never seen their church so full. It was a wonderful celebration of the Communion.
The Dean paid tribute to our less mobile pilgrims who had really worked hard to see the sights, dealt with lots of stairs, uneven surfaces and who put those who are more able to shame. A round of applause followed.
He went on to say that the lectionary provided us, this morning, with a real treat in giving us the Good Samaritan as this morning’s reading. We had been on that road, even though it is now very different. Hopefully none of us will ever read the Scriptures in the same way again. This has been a real glimpse of the world of the Scriptures for lots of us.
He then asked the Pilgrims if they wanted to share any reflections.
One reflected that it is hard to put into words how wonderful it has been. But it has been a particular privilege to be able to put the scripture into a visual context.
Another thanked the leaders for their efforts, ‘I never thought that I would one day be here’, they said. ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment for my whole life’.
The Bishop said that he and Andrew had tried to avoid being like the two Ronnies. He said that they had been supported by a great team and a great common purpose, loving mutual concern and this had sustained the pilgrimage in a very special way. He thanked Rosemary from McCabe, who has been a class act and coped,in an effortless way, with Southwark Diocese. He also thanked the others on the planning team: Mark Steadman, Mark Charlton and Wendy Robins. He mentioned the blog which he described as ‘the mother of all blogs’ which he said will provide a lasting diary for all of us.
Andrew went on to thank the coach leaders who have done a marvellous job. It has been good to experience, as he and the Bishop have coach hopped, the different ways in which this has happened.
Another Pilgrim spoke about how we were the face of Christ and how she felt full of the love of God as a result of our time together.
Yet another said, ‘Thank you for inviting me here, when I was a little girl I read my bible and used to think these places are in heaven and it is wonderful to be here and experience it all’. Andrew reminded us that heaven can be found on earth and we’ve certainly experienced this.
The Bishop shows the way
He went on to outline the programme for our last day. Going to see Caesarea (not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi) on the Mediterranean coast. This is a New Testament place occurring in Acts and the stories of Paul’s arrest and trial. Then onto Jaffa for lunch and there we will remember Peter’s cloth and preaching.He went on to explain that when we had come here McCabe’s had provided chalices and patens for the group to ensure that we had enough. These were hand-made by a potter in Jerusalem and dated. McCabe’s have donated them to the Pilgrims in order that they might have them.
The Bishop draws a name
One lucky recipient
Those who were interested in having one of the chalices were asked to put their name into the upturned Bishop’s mitre. Names would then be drawn for them. Lots of people wanted them and so the Bishop and the Dean drew names from the mitre and five lucky people are to take them home! We hope that they will make a donation to the Bishop’s Lent Call.We said Night Prayer together and then the Pilgrims to the bar or to pack and go to bed.