Live always at the edge of poetic possibilty, even in the face of severe prose. - Walter Bruggemann

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Solemn Procession

Just another Saturday in the Old City of Jerusalem. Ho Hum. Well, not really. I knew that the Latin Patriarch was due to arrive at 2:00 pm at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Solemn Procession. I grabbed my camera, took the ½ hour walk from my apartment to the Church, and found a great spot in the Square of the Holy Sepulchre for photographing His Beatitude Michel Sabbah and the rest of the muckety-monks surrounding him. The Solemn entry happens throughout Lent. At the end of this blog entry are photographs…bear with the reading.

At five minutes before two the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were closed. Now, that may seem like a very simple act – but not in Jerusalem, nothing is easy in Jerusalem. A Muslim family is the Key Custodian of the key to the front door. Wajih Y. Nusseibeh is the current custodian of the key. How do I know this? Two years ago I was in the Square, met Wajih, had my pic taken with him and got his card. Honest to Pete – the card has his name and underneath, Custodian of the Key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He shut the door and locked it. Whoever was in was in and whoever was out was out. Just a little peep hole was opened and some guy kept looking out and checking to see if the Patriarch had arrived yet.

I sat and waited. Then I heard what sounded like a loud pound against the stone. I heard it again. Looking up towards the steps I saw four men with red fezzes on their heads carrying large sticks with metal on the bottom. Every five seconds or so, as they walked they pounded simultaneously, the sticks on the stone. It was a little eerie but impressive. Then monks, all sorts of monks processed after the fez men. An ornate cross was held high above everyone’s heads. The doors were opened and in they proceeded. At the very end of the processional, in-between the monks, was His Beatitude and a few other higher ups. Quite patriarchal. The little nuns followed behind.

I decided as long as I was there to follow them in and because I was close to the door and I was able to get very close. I really didn’t have any intention of following them. I thought the procession was just into the Church for a service. I was wrong! As I entered all I could hear with the chanting of the monks and the absolute beautiful pipe organ. The sound filled the entire Church, which is large, very large. He stopped at the Stone of the Anointing and then went to the Holy Sepulchre and went in. He came out and they went into the Latin Chapel. He vested in his magenta cape and patriarch hat. No one was allowed in there with him, we stood outside. The air was thick with incense and the candlelight glowed in the dim light of the old Church.

A few monks were passing out thin candles and booklets of liturgy for the solemn procession. One of the monks asked me if I wanted a candle and if I wanted to be in the procession, I said, can I? He answered, yes of course, we want to you too. So…..for the next two hours I found myself in the Solemn Procession of the Latin Patriarch. (I never did listen to my mother when she said not to go with strangers!) At first I was taking pictures and then all of a sudden I stopped. It seemed really intrusive and wrong. I was totally immersed in the Latin liturgy, the singing, the incense and the pageantry.

After he came out of the Chapel vested, the entourage proceeded to the Cave of the Discovery of the Holy Cross. He never just walked through the grand corridors of the Church though; either side was lined with monks holding candles. We waited and sang liturgy while he was in there. There was a ‘cantor’ who would sing responsorial lines with us as he and the LP were in the different places. I lost my place many times until I got the hang of what they were doing. It was never quiet nor was the air ever clear. Thank goodness for the nuns, they took pity on me a poor protestant dressed in jeans.

From the Cave we proceeded to Golgotha, also in the Church. He went up there as we stayed down below – believe me there’s not enough room for a tour group in there let alone the LP, the monks, the nuns and us others. Back down again – now this guy is not young so it took him a while. We wound up back at the Holy Sepulchre and the organ began once again. MAGNIFICENT – I can’t even describe it.

By this time the fez men, who had been with the procession all along, began pounding their sticks. Around the Sepulchre we processed three times. The His Beatitude went into the Sepulchre, came back out and ended at the Latin Chapel. I was well satisfied with the Solemn Procession. I do wish I knew what exactly the liturgy was saying and accomplishing. I think that he was consecrating all of the holy sites inside of the Church.

I went out to the Courtyard and sat down to take some photos. All of a sudden I hear the fez men pounding the sticks on the ancient stones. They recessed out of the Church in to the Courtyard and just like when they came, they were gone. For an interesting glimpse of the Church and its history check out the website.

I don’t agree with His Beatitudes politics nor am I crazy about all this patriarchal stuff, but he sure puts on a rockin’ Solemn Procession.

Wajih, the Custodian of the Key
The Door to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The beginning of the Solemn Procession

The lead monk in the photograph above is the 'cantor'. He also vested in lavish vestments. Don't you think he looks like Garrison Keilor?

Right after the Latin Patriarch left the Sepulchre the first time. Already the air is getting thick with incense.
A peek into the Latin Chapel where the vesting of the Latin Patriarch was happening.

Waiting for him to come out.

His Beatitude is the second from the left.
There he is....all in magenta.
Incensed that I couldn't get a good shot, I gave up.

Back out into the Square.

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