Jerusalem for holy travel guide

Our drive into Jerusalem passed through undulating waves of land created by the Judean mountains, with crammed-together, stone buildings that seem to protrude from every hillside nook and cranny. The golden hues of the late afternoon sunshine had spread itself over the scene sometimes with amazing dappled effect.

It was a biblical look right there that prepared me for the only destination on Earth where the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – combine to create a spiritual atmosphere like no other.

Jerusalem is neatly divided into four quarters and we started our path in the Jewish quarter. Our first destination was the iconic Western (Wailing) Wall in the Old City. There are many gates into the Old City and we entered via the Maimonides Gate, passing through airport-style security towards the wall.

King Solomon built a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant, so revered by Jews, in 516 BC. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and this wall is all that is left today. Jews (and others) come to pray in front of it, often squeezing hand-written notes asking for fertility, money or health, into any chink they can find, hoping for a direct line to their god. The woman next to me told me she was praying for her hair to grow back after chemotherapy and my heart broke. If ever there was a monument to humanity’s deepest despair and most heartfelt desires, this 2000 year-old stone wall is it.

Looking down at the ground at the foot of the wall I saw hundreds of messages that had fallen out as new hopefuls add their memo. None are destroyed as these are later buried by the wall-keepers. It’s all very beautiful yet I found the atmosphere to be heavily sombre.

This is also the site of the world’s oldest mosque, The Dome of the Rock (built in 691 AD), sacred to Muslims. Muslims believe that it was from this spot that Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. I could see its golden dome shimmering for recognition in the afternoon sun while I said a few words to whichever god may be listening.

When I walked away from the al fresco prayer plaza beyond the railings, I saw a priest animatedly arranging his congregants (Polish pilgrims) for a photo opportunity, excited to have the wall as the backdrop. I went to take a picture of the scene, and when he spotted me he spontaneously struck a delightfully jocular pose.

I saw this earthly shepherd and his flock again later at the Via Dolorosa (the 14 stations of the Cross), leading them along the winding route that Jesus took from his trial to the site of his crucifixion.

This passes through the Muslim quarter and ends in the Christian quarter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchure or Church of the Resurrection.

Entry to this most sacred church is a humble brown door, but just steps into the interior is a stone slab set above ground level known as the Stone of Anointing. This is said to be the place where Christ was prepared for burial and I watched as faithfuls lovingly kissed and caressed the stone in reverence.

All denominations conduct their own services in various parts of the church. I witnessed the Catholic service which is held at the central dome. Congregants were dispersed to the sides to make way for a parade which, to my amazement, was headed by my jocular priest who winked at me as he walked by.