Sunday, 11 March 2007

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

It took me a while to find what most would agree is the holiest site in Christendom. The maps in two guidebooks made valiant by futile attempts to approximate the labyrinthine meanderings of the streets in Jerusalem's Old City. Things weren't made any easier by the fact that a good many of the street names in the guide books - both recently published - bore no relationship to the signs in three languages in the streets themselves. In the end I followed the bells. Goodness what a din. I love bells. The deeper and noisier the better. But those of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are in a league of their own. Karlheinz Stockhausen at his most dissonant would be hard pressed to match what I heard this morning. It was quite mesmerising and, once one had got used to it, thrilling.

I had been warned. You'll be appalled at the goings on, people had said. So I steeled myself. I was determined to see what I would see at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the context of what Jerusalem undoubtedly is in many other respects: an unholy hodge podge of poyglot humanity rubbing shoulders in a confined competitive space. Obviously there is friction. There always has been and there probably always will be. So I took a deep breath and tried not be upset. But I'm afraid I was. It wasn't the crowds; the place was heaving. It wasn't the noise. It wasn't the disorder; the lack of signage and of any 'system' was rather refreshing. It wasn't even the evident self importance of many of the clerics from a number of traditions taking part in a range of liturgical actions I witnessed. What really angered me was the Orthodox priest yelling - literally yelling at the top of his voice - at a group of Japanese tourists telling them they couldn't be part of a particular queue to go into the tomb itself. I have seldom witnessed anything so awful.

Having simmered down outside in the sunshine, I decided to come again, probably early one morning. My guide book tells me it's open from 4 am!

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