In the same way that Bethlehem is the Christmas town, Jerusalem is for Christians the city of Holy Week and Easter. The story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection, as originally told in the New Testament, and the later subject of writing, films, and many factual and fictional TV programmes, takes place in and around Jerusalem.
The Gospels of Mark and Luke both say that it was around the town of Bethany that Jesus’ disciples obtained the donkey which would carry him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and Matthew and Mark both agree that it was in Bethany that Jesus spent that Sunday night. The town features earlier in the Gospels as the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and Jesus’ raising of Lazurus from the death is commemorated by a church designed by the Italian Antonio Barluzzi.
Matthew and Mark both record that Jesus was also staying in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper when he was anointed with ointment by a woman, thus foreshadowing his death. John also records this event but says the anointing was carried out by Mary at their home in Bethany.
Bethany is only a short distance from Jerusalem (four kilometres or about two and a half miles) but the construction of the separation wall has made a visit much harder for the modern pilgrim.
En route to Jerusalem, according to Luke, Jesus wept over the city’s future fate. The location where this took place is marked by the Dominus Flevit church, another of Barluzzi’s several churches in the region.
After the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, Jesus went to pray quietly at the garden at Gethsemane, but this is now one of the least quiet pilgrim sites in modern Jerusalem.
There is still a small garden where some olive trees may date from the time of Jesus. One more modern one has significance as having been planted by Pope Paul VI in 1964, the first pope since the Middle Ages to visit the Holy Land.
When Jesus was arrested, he was first taken to the Jewish high priest Caiphas. According to tradition, the site of Caiphas’ palace is below the present-day church of St Peter in Gallicantu. There are dungeons where early Christians were imprisoned and where, according to tradition, Jesus was also detained before being taken to Pontius Pilate.
Outside the church, there is a set of steps, called the Maccabee Steps, which certainly date from two thousand years ago, and along which, tradition says, Jesus walked as he was transferred from the custody of Caiphas to Pilate.
The Gospels recount how, on Good Friday, after having been condemned to death by Pilate, Jesus carried the cross on which he was to be crucified through the streets of Jerusalem to the place of execution on Mount Calvary. Although the exact route of Jesus’ journey is not known, tradition has dictated the particular route of the Via Dolorosa through today’s narrow, busy cobbled streets.
The whole area of what is believed to be the site of Mount Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and the tomb nearby in which he was buried, is actually now enclosed within the 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Baldwin, David (2007) The Holy Land : A Pilgrim’s Companion London : Catholic Truth Society