John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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Friday 2 November 2012

[Thursday 1 November 2012]

Janet wrote: “[John] slept VERY well. I had a restless night. Kept thinking about that museum and the things that happened. A disturbed night. I got up finally at 6.55am… It’s now 7.55am and the sun is shining outside. Hope it is hot today — but not TOO hot! We went for breakfast and were a bit late so only had about 20 minutes — NOT enough time.… At 8.45am we set off on the coach.” This is the rest of the holiday itinerary as supplied by Riviera Travel:
Day 5
After breakfast we will start our tour of Jerusalem by boarding the coach and making our way to the Garden of Gethsemane. We will continue to Dung Gate and the Western Wall and then stroll through the streets and alleyways of the Old City, as well as many other sites so famous here.
Day 6
This morning we will visit the moving Holocaust memorial museum, Yad Vashem, followed by the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed.
The coach will depart for Bethlehem, our first visit will be Shepherd's Field, identified as the scene where the Angel of the Lord visited the shepherds and informed them of Jesus' birth. After enjoying free time for lunch we will make our way to the Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest churches in Holy Land still in use, it marks the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus.
Day 7
Today is a free day for you to explore as you wish. Your Tour Manager will be able to advise you on the various attractions and museums in the city. This evening you will be informed of your departure time from the hotel for your flight tomorrow.
Day 8
At the appropriate time, the coach will transfer you to the airport to take your return flight back to the UK.
Today more or less followed the itinerary for “Day 6”, except that we’d already visited Yad Vashem the previous evening. It was felt that if we’d had this visit at the start of the day it would have dampened the mood of the whole day. So our first stop was “The Israel Museum”, which houses among other things “The Shrine of the Book”.

09:06:56 Waiting to enter The Israel Museum
Once inside the museum, we gathered at a large model of Jerusalem in the time of Herod’s Temple, which Eric took us round, gathering us together at three or four places and pointing out numerous features.

09:12:28 Model of Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s Temple: the Temple Sanctuary and the Eastern (“Golden”) Gate

09:12:58 Model of Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s Temple: the “Royal Stoa” at the southern end of the temple site

09:14:12 Model of Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s Temple: Antonia Fortress at the northern end of the temple site

09:20:00 Model of Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s Temple

09:22:32 Model of Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s Temple: “Gordon’s Calvary”

09:28:48 Model of Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s Temple: Just to the right of the temple site, below where the central crowd of people is standing, is the City of David, the original Mount Zion.

09:29:08 Model of Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s Temple

09:29:38 Model of Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s Temple: closer view of Mount Zion at the rear of the model just below the crowd of people
Then we went in The Shrine of the Book proper, the centrepiece of which was within the white, sink-plunger shaped dome. (Photography was not allowed in there, so the images, below, are copied from the internet.) Around the circumference in dimly lit glass display-cases were actual exhibits from the Dead Sea Scrolls, while the central exhibit, approached by steps up, was in the form of a giant vertical scroll-spindle, around which was displayed a paper replica of the Great Isaiah Scroll. (In places on these scrolls, you could just make out the ruled vertical right-hand margins of the columns, and the horizontal ruled lines from which the writing was suspended: the writing was below the line, not above it.) There were also exhibits downstairs below this, notably the vowel-pointed Aleppo Codex, one of the oldest manuscripts of the Masoretic Text. (The Dead Sea Scrolls were written using consonants only.)


Inside the dome
On the way out there was a toilet, in the entrance-recess of which there was also a drinks machine. Janet and I availed ourselves of both before it was time to assemble and return to the coach.

10:32:18 The Knesset building, across the road from us as we return to the coach
We departed for Bethlehem ca.10.45am. Eric left us; being Israeli, he wasn’t welcome in the territory of the Palestine National Authority. There was talk of the bus being boarded for passport inspection, etc., at the check-point, but this didn’t happen. We went first to the Shepherd’s Field — the one acknowledged by the Catholics, anyway; there is a “rival” Orthodox site — where we met our guide for the visit to Bethlehem, Gabriel, a Palestinian Roman Catholic. He talked very rapidly with a very pronounced accent, as we stood around the fountain that was there, and it was hard much of the time to understand through our earpieces what he was telling us. He pointed out an archaeological site to the immediate north of there, and then we passed the nearby Franciscan chapel on the way to a cave, used for small-group worship.

11:12:06 Gabriel addresses us in the Shepherds’ Field.

11:14:54 Looking towards Jerusalem; archaeological dig in the foreground

11:17:02 Franciscan chapel, built in 1953, supposedly in the shape of a shepherd’s tent

11:17:16 Cave
There was already a group holding a service in the cave, and they didn’t seem to be about to finish any time soon, so we walked back and entered the chapel. Illumination was provided by perforations in the central dome, which was supported by tall, arched pillars, outside of which, in three arched recesses, were paintings depicting the angel’s announcement to the startled shepherds, the shepherds’ homage to the baby Jesus, and the shepherds rejoicing in the birth of the Saviour.

11:19:34 Entering the chapel


11:22:22 The angel’s announcement to the startled shepherds

11:22:54 The shepherds’ homage to the baby Jesus

11:23:20 The shepherds rejoicing in the birth of the Saviour
Then we visited the archaeological site, which also afforded an excellent panoramic view towards Jerusalem—

11:32:50 View south towards Jerusalem. Scrubby bushes and other vegetation and bare, stony ground.

11:32:58 Panning to the left of the above view

11:33:06 Panning to the left of the above view

11:41:10 Leaving the site

11:41:32 Wine-press (or olive-press?)
—before we actually got in the soot-blackened cave. We sat, someone did a reading, and we all sang “While shepherds watched…”.


11:54:20 Manger scene at one end of the cave

11:56:32 Looking towards the other end of the cave, forward right

11:56:44 Looking towards the other end of the cave, forward left

12:01:24 Last view of the fountain as we depart for the bus
We went back to the coach, which dropped us at a bus station in the town centre. We went up an escalator, through the adjacent shopping area, and out into a street. We walked uphill a couple of hundred yards or more, and entered the door of “The Christmas Bells Restaurant”, where we descended stairs to a large room with long tables throughout its floor-space, a stage along the left side, and a self-service area at the end ahead. The choice again was falafel or shawarma; because I’d had the former on Tuesday 30 October 2012, I elected for the latter today. Again, when it came, it was served in pitta bread. I went to the self-service area for drinks. I saw two types of bottled beer in the fridge: one with Hebrew letters on the bottle, the same as I’d had on Wednesday 31 October 2012, and one labelled in Latin letters “Taybeh”. Not being able to read the Hebrew letters, I asked for the “local” beer, but the boy offered me the “Taybeh”. So I indicated that I wanted the other one. Afterwards I felt a bit ashamed that I did so, for I realised that the “Taybeh” was indeed the local, Palestinian brew, not the “foreign” Israeli one. Janet and I were NOT among the more exhibitionistic ones of our party who donned Arab gear and performed to the Middle Eastern-style music on the stage. This had barely ended, when Gabriel announced it was time to go, and suddenly everyone disappeared. Janet was in the loo, so I couldn’t follow. (This was not the only time I felt mad as hell after everyone had either buggered off and left us, or had proceeded so rapidly that I couldn’t keep up.) I think our companions at the table were in the same predicament.

13:12:42 Donning Arab gear and cavorting on stage was not to our taste!

13:14:28 Donning Arab gear and cavorting on stage was not to our taste!
Anyway, we caught up with them at Manger Square, and joined the crowd that was waiting to enter the Greek Orthodox Basilica of the Nativity. Norman oversaw the entry of our group through the very low “Door of Humility” so that we would all be together to queue to be admitted into the grotto.

13:29:14 Manger Square, Bethlehem

13:29:22 Church of the Nativity, Manger Square

13:30:14 Approaching the Church of the Nativity, Manger Square

13:30:22 Approaching the Church of the Nativity, Manger Square

13:33:36 Entering the Church of the Nativity by the very low door
This was another place where there was heard repeatedly the loud, intrusive, unholy uttering of “Shhhhh! Silence!”, when all there was otherwise was the moderate buzz of conversation.

13:34:28 Nave of the Church of the Nativity

The long queue along the whole length of the first of the two pillared aisles to the right of the nave was very slow-moving indeed. Only occasionally did the door ahead of us open. I think it was at this time that I decided that Gabriel’s commentary had become completely unintelligible, and I removed the earpiece from my ear. Our people seemed to retain their “personal space” around them, and so not bunch together as densely, and not make as much progress forward, as they could have done. Consequently, some Germans started taking advantage of the spaces created and pushing in. “After waiting about 45 minutes,” Janet wrote, “the door was closed and it was announced that we’d have to wait at least another 30 minutes. By this time [John] was in a lot of pain and discomfort and felt he could no longer stand.” I felt disappointed and angry when I, followed by Janet, gave up and left the line.

13:36:22 Waiting in a long line in one of the aisles on the right to be admitted to the grotto

14:03:46 Remants of wall-mosaics
We crossed the nave, and saw the earlier mosaic floor where the floorboards had been removed to reveal it. We also got a closer view of the iconostasis, before going through a door on that opposite side. We hoped that there might be an exit where we could avoid having to crouch down and avoid the steady stream of people still coming in. But we found ourselves in the stone-vaulted arcade of a courtyard.

14:15:54 Mosaic floor under the present-day floorboards

14:16:16 Iconostasis
This would have led to the adjoining Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine, but we stopped to talk to Elizabeth and Michael whom we found there. We told them what had happened, and they said that there was another way in to the grotto.

14:18:24 Vaulted arcade of the Franciscan Courtyard, leading to the adjoining Church of St. Catherine
So we went back the way we came, and followed their directions. There was a security man barring access to some steps at the left side of the nave — this was the “other way” to the grotto — but when Janet explained about how we’d waited till I couldn’t wait any more the man took my arm and helped me down the steps. They led to a rectangular space with a smoke-blackened, barrel-shaped roof, the walls of which were hung with icons. Diagonally opposite the place where the steps ended — what, in fact, I noticed first — was an additional, smaller rectangular space with a corner pillar and cloth pelmets and other draperies; this was the place where the manger was supposed to have been. Between the steps by which we entered, and the steps by which all the others were admitted, was the altar marking the spot where Christ was supposed to have been born. There was a feature at the bottom of this that was hidden by people crowding round and bending down. This, I have gathered later, was the fourteen-pointed “Star of Bethlehem” marking the exact spot. “The shrine was through a hole at floor level,” Janet wrote, “and [John] said he couldn’t get down there, so I did and said thanks to God for us both and had a little weep.”

Photo from the internet, taken from the far end of the “rectangular space”. Left: the steps that we were led down. Centre: the altar where Christ is supposed to have been born. Right: the supposed site of the manger. Behind that: the steps by which the waiting crowds were admitted.

14:22:20 The steps by which the others were admitted. To the right: the manger.

14:22:58 The manger

14:23:40 The manger

14:24:08 The altar marking where Christ was supposed to have been born

Better photo of the altar, from Wikipedia. The ornamentation at the back appears to be missing or curtained off, and a gate has been erected, in my photo.

Photo from Wikipedia of the lower part of the altar, showing the 14-pointed Star of Bethlehem, marking the supposed spot where Christ was born

14:24:28 The “rectangular space… hung with icons”
We managed to get out of the low door when there was a momentary gap in the mass of people still coming through it, and sat at a table in the shade of the awning outside a café on the right side of Manger Square. This time I DID have a Taybeh beer, on draught, and Janet had a Diet Coke. Then we noticed Michael and Elizabeth at a nearby table and talked with them. “They asked if we’d seen the shrine,” Janet wrote. “I hugged them and said we had. They joined us for a while.”

14:28:26 Manger Square. At the opposite end: the Mosque of Omar


14:42:16 Taybeh Palestinian beer on draught, and Diet Coke
Our group all met up in Manger Square nearer the church. There was a notice board showing the areas of “occupation” by Israel, and illustrating by shrinking and scattered areas in green how the Palestinian territories had dwindled over the years. Once assembled, we proceeded down the street to the bus station. Going downhill for me was considerably harder than going uphill. We’d asked Norman if we might stop at the shops at the top of the escalator, but in the event that wasn’t necessary: we came across a shop on the street we were going along where we bought a 1½ℓ bottle of Coke Zero and a 2ℓ bottle of water for only 30 shekels. We were waiting in the noisy bus station for several minutes before our bus arrived, but at least there was a bench to sit on.

16:09:10 Waiting for our coach at the bus station

16:09:24 Souvenir shop in the bus station, Bethlehem

16:23:30 View of the environs of Bethlehem from the coach window
Again, Norman prepared us for the possibility of being boarded for passport-inspection at the checkpoint at the variously named “security fence” or “Apartheid Wall” — but this didn’t happen.

16:31:14 The “Security Fence” or “Apartheid Wall” — depending on whose side you’re on — extending from a check-point between Bethlehem in Palestine, and Jerusalem in Israel
“We arrived back at our hotel at 4.50pm and it was almost dark,” Janet wrote. “It was still quite hot. We needed to pay Norman for tomorrow night’s Light Show and didn’t have enough shekels left, so went to the hotel next door to an ATM and got 400 shekels.” It was downstairs in the basement. One swiped the card rather than insert it, so there was no risk of losing it — just as well, because I mis-remembered my “PIN”, so three attempts failed. Janet successfully used her card. “We paid Norman,” Janet continued (he was still in the lobby), “then returned to our room for a quick wash-and-brush-up and to dump some stuff. The group were to have a stroll — I specifically asked Norman if it would be a leisurely affair as [John] was struggling, and he assured me it would be — to [the] Old [City of] Jerusalem. It was dark by 5.45pm when we set off. We’d only gone a short distance when we turned back, VERY angrily as everyone was ‘legging it’ at such a pace [that John] couldn’t keep up.… Well sod ’em: we’ll go on our own on Sunday at our own pace. We returned to our hotel; we were seething.” We’d left the hotel, turning right; we took a left, then a right, then stopped to look through the gate at St. George’s Cathedral, the seat of the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem. The group had got ahead, but we caught up at this point. But when they marched off again, I knew it was going to be impossible to keep up, so we gave up and went back. Using the “little feller”, I edited 55 images from today (18:12–19:14). Janet updated her journal. Dinner wasn’t till 8pm this evening; that was something to do with being the start of Shabbat. “So at 7.50pm,” Janet wrote, “I went off on my own to eat, as [John] didn’t want to. Fortunately, he’d had a substantial lunch.” As well as that, just the thought of seeing and smelling the food laid out in the buffet was making my stomach turn; and what’s more, I felt daunted by having to be with all the others. “I called at Reception first,” Janet continued, “and booked a wake-up call for 6.30am. I doubt I’ll need it, really. Breakfast is from 6.00am and I’m determined to get in the dining room as early as possible.” Janet keeps to a strict calorie-controlled diet six days a week, then on Saturdays eats anything and everything she wants. “I sat with Eric and ‘Kyeen’ and had a great chat with Eric. I went back to our room for 9pm. [John] was on his computer. I had a shower then updated this, etc. Now I’ll try to sleep. It’s 9.55pm. [John is] still on his computer.” I edited 71 images from Tuesday 30 October 2012 (20:42–22:58).

[Saturday 3 November 2012]

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