As we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, this holiday season, I can’t help but reminisce on the time I spent in the Holy Land a few months back. For nearly a week we crisscrossed the city of Jerusalem and the Palestinian territory, landing on as many major biblical sites we could find time for. In honor of Christmas and remembering the reason for the season, I’d like to share the holy sites I think you should see during your first trip to the Holy Land.
For thousands of years, Christians, Jews and Muslims have all declared Temple Mount a holy site. On this hill in Old Jerusalem three monumental structures from the early Umayyad period dominate the site: the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain. You’ll also find four minarets about the structure, mostly located in the corners. There are 11 entrances to Temple Mount, but only one can be accessed by non-Muslims. Below Temple Mount, you’ll find the Western Wall, better known as the Wailing Wall, another sacred site, where thousands of people, at any given time of the day (or night), can be found praying.
Mount of Olives/Garden of Gethsemane
Mount of Olives, named for the olive groves that once covered the site, is a mountain ridge that overlooks Old Jerusalem and produces one of the most breathtaking views of the city. The Bible notes several key events of the life of Jesus on Mount of Olives, including referencing it as the place where Jesus ascended to Heaven. At the foot of Mount of Olives are the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. The garden is most famous for being the setting where “the agony in the garden” took place. It is where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before his crucifixion. It is said that Judas was able find Jesus there on the night of his arrest because it was a place he and his disciples so often frequented.
One of the first things you must do during your first visit to the Holy Land is follow Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrow. This route is believed to be the same path that Jesus walked to his crucifixion. We began the winding route through Old Jerusalem at Lions’ Gate, one of the seven open Gates in Jerusalem’s Old City Walls, and stopped at each of the nine Stations of the Cross as we went along.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church in the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. According to traditions dating back to at least the fourth century, the church is the home of two of the holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, and Jesus’ empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. That tomb is enclosed by an 18th-century shrine and is one of the most visited sites in Jerusalem.
The Garden Tomb
It wasn’t until 1867 that this rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem was unearthed. Since then, some Christians have believed it to be the true site where Jesus Christ was buried, and then resurrected, instead of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—which was believed to be that site since the fourth century. One of the facts used to back up the thought that the Garden Tomb is, in fact, the accurate site is the Bible’s reference that “Jesus was crucified very near the city of Jerusalem, outside the walls.” Events, such as identifying “Skull Hill,” have also helped give proof to the idea that the Garden Tomb may actually be where Jesus lay before resurrecting.