Monthly Archives: March 2013

Jerusalem the Easter city


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.



The mural of Jesus raising Lazarus to life inside the Church of St Lazarus in Bethany.


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.



Part of the separation wall outside Bethlehem.


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.



Through the window of the Dominus Flevit church can be the seen the Moslem Dome of the Rock on the Mount of Olives.


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. 



This view of the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane gives a hint of its popularity. The name of this Barluzzi church apparently relates to its international funding but might also hint at its varied architectural influences.


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.



The one olive tree in Gethsemane whose provenance is clear and identified: the sign says that it was planted in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.


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.



The church of St Peter in Gallicantu. The name means “cock crow” in Latin and refers to Peter’s denial of Jesus while the latter was under arrest in the early hours of Good Friday.



Information about the dungeons below St Peter in Gallicantu.



The view into the dungeons.


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 Maccabee Steps.


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. 



Crosses left by some pilgrim groups at the end of the Via Dolorosa.


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.



The chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which marks the site of Calvary.



The rear view of the shrine which marks the site of Jesus’ tomb.



The entrance to the shrine, built in this form by the Orthodox church in 1810. A long queue invariably precedes any visit to the shrine.



In the courtyard outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Reference :

Baldwin, David (2007)   The Holy Land : A Pilgrim’s Companion   London : Catholic Truth Society


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Images from Holy Week


As we move towards Holy Week, secular artists who use its distinctive setting or imagery to deal with ideas of suffering and redemption come to mind.

Rudyard Kipling uses Gethsemane as an image of suffering which cannot be avoided, and also, perhaps, suffering endured as a sacrifice for others.

Ted Walker’s  more recent narrator seems to be an agnostic who wishes to avoid the religious observance associated with Christ’s death and resurrection.  The image of the crucified fox leads to more great description : “like a coloured plaster Christ in a Spanish shrine”, “plugged with black blood”, “stretched on the banging barn door”.

And Walker’s image of the fox recalls for me the artist John Bellany’s similarly powerful use of marine life.


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The bright lights of spring




The daffodil, the cheeringly ubiquitous sign of  the UK spring, is finally appearing.  However, it looks as if, this year, due to the settled cold spell of February and the early Easter, A.E.Housman’s observation that the flowers will have come and gone by Easter Sunday will not be true!


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Signposts for a journey into film


My life-time interest in the cinema, although it began simply because  films were a central element in the TV schedules of my youth, was significantly developed by two particular publications at two different times.

The first, when I was still at school, was a series on cinema which ran for about ten weeks in The Sunday Times magazine. Among other things, this introduced me to the concept of film genres, and to my first film lists. So, on different weeks, there were articles about the thriller, the musical, the comedy, the epic,  the fantasy, the documentary. Alongside these chapters, a critic had chosen ten great examples of that genre.

Within the first few years of my reading it, I had seen several of their exalted films, like one of their top thrillers, Double Indemnity, and one of the top documentaries, Battleship Potemkin. It was exciting to compare my observations and responses to those of the published critic. Although, even now, I am waiting to see The Mask of Dimitrios to assess whether I share that writer’s enthusiasm!

Film tastes change of course, which is one reason perhaps why I long ago discarded those fraying magazine pages. Those lists compiled around 1970 mentioned directors who are seen and discussed much less often now, such as the silent- era pioneers D.W.Griffith and Charles Chaplin, or foreign language film-makers like Kenzo Mizoguchi and Luis Buñuel.  Fantasia is no longer so highly rated among Disney’s output. However, some films from those days are still highly regarded, like La Regle du JeuRio Bravo and 2001 : a Space Odyssey.

The second publication which influenced me was Time Out. The Sunday Times series had first introduced me to the auteur theory that, although a film was a team project in the way a novel wasn’t,  a film’s director was its overwhelming creative spirit, and this was definitely emphasised in Time Out’s film reviews.

In the first half of the 1980s in London, alongside the West End cinemas showing the new releases from Hollywood and elsewhere, there still seemed to be independent cinemas which showed regularly changing double and triple bills of films from previous decades. In Time Out  I was introduced  to such  lesser known and ignored films, and especially to the Hollywood genre directors who were being promoted within the critical pantheon : Howard Hawks, Samuel Fuller, Robert Aldrich, Fritz Lang, Douglas Sirk. Many Time Out reviewers had a fondness for theory and for social and political context which, although easy to mock, I still find invaluable for the maximum appreciation of any film.

I was able to read  the magazine because my brother was living in London at that time and often brought copies back home, but its film reviews were later compiled in book form. I have retained an increasingly battered copy for twenty years which is still an indispensable bible.

What about this example of the “confrontational” style of Time Out film criticism (to borrow the term used by Geoff Andrew in his foreword to my edition) : Paul Taylor writing on Once Upon a Time in the West? “Leone’s timeless monument to the death of the West…rivalled only by Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid for the title of best ever made. We’re talking favourite films here, so only superlatives will do… Morricone’s greatest score, handing Bronson his identity with a plangent, shivery harmonica riff…Counter-casting (sadistic Fonda) and location choice (Monument Valley) that render an iconic base for Leone and collaborators… to perform their revisionary/revolutionary critique of the Classic American …Creation Myth… Critical tools needed are eyes and ears – this is Cinema.”

Sometimes, especially in your own youthful enthusiasm, is such dogmatism not irresistible?  It certainly provides a clear signpost.  That Sunday Times series has vanished into the mists of time and memory, but, happily, the influence of Time Out is still strong.


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