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and if these were not the very streets that Jesus trod, surely they were not unlike them, for the people have not changed, nor their habits, nor their architecture -at least, not greatly-nor their needs. Whatever was their cry for baksheesh then, He must often have heard it, and their blind eyes and their withered limbs were such as He once paused to heal.
I think we continued to descend gradually to the very door of the church. It did not seem quite like the entrance to a church, and, in reality, it is not altogether that; it is more a repository, a collection of sacred relics, a museum of scriptural history.
We paused a little outside while the guide—his name was something that meant St. George—told us briefly the story. Constantine's mother, the Empress Helena, he said, through a dream had located the site of the crucifixion and burial of the Saviour, whereupon Constantine, in 335 A.D., had erected some buildings to mark the place. The Persians destroyed these buildings by-and-by, but they were rebuilt. Then the Moslems set fire to the place; but again some chapels were set up, and these the conquering crusaders enclosed under one great roof. This was about the beginning of the twelfth century, and portions of the buildings still remain, though as late as 1808 there came a great fire which necessitated a general rebuilding, with several enlargements since, as the relics to be surrounded have increased.
We went inside then. The place is dimly lit—it is always lit, I believe, for it can never be very light in there—and everywhere there seemed to be fitting processions of tapers, and of chanting, dark-robed priests. Just beyond the entrance we came to the first great relic — the Stone of Unction — the slab upon which the body of Christ was laid when it was taken down from the Cross. It is red, or looked red in that light, like a piece of Tennessee marble, and, though it is not smoothly cut, it is polished with the kisses of devout pilgrims who come far to pay this tribute, and to measure it, that their winding-sheets may be made the same size. Above it hang a number of lamps and candelabra, and with the worshippers kneeling and kissing and measuring, the spectacle was sufficiently impressive. Then, as we were about to go, our guide remembered that this was not the true Stone of Unction, but one like it, the real stone having been buried somewhere beneath it. The pilgrims did not know the difference, he said, and they used up a stone after a while, kissing and measuring it so much. Near to the stone is the Station of Mary, where she stood while the body of Jesus was being anointed, or perhaps where she stood watching the tomb-it is not certain which. At all events, it has been revealed by a vision that she stood there, and the place is marked and enclosed with a railing.
We followed our guide deeper into the twinkling darkness, where the chanting processions were flickering to and fro, and presently stood directly beneath a dome, facing an ornate marble or alabaster structure, flanked and surrounded by elaborately wrought lamps and candlesticks—the Holy Sepulchre itself.
But I had to be told. I should never have guessed this to be the shrine of shrines, the receptacle of the gentle Nazarene who taught the doctrine of humility
to mankind. And it is the same within. If a rockhewn tomb is there, it is overlaid now with costly marbles; polished with kisses; bedewed with tears.
We did not remain in the tomb long, Laura and I. Perhaps they would not have let us; but, in any case, we did not wish to linger. At Damascus, Laura had gone so far as to criticise the house of Judas, because it had been whitewashed since St. Paul lodged there. So it was not likely that a tomb which was not a tomb, but merely a fancy marble memorial, would inspire much enthusiasm. To us it contained no suggestion of the gentle Prince of Peace.
But at the entrance of the Sepulchre, facing us as we came out, there was a genuine thing. It was a woman kneeling, a peasant woman-of Russia, I suppose, from her dress. And she was not looking at us at all, but beyond us, through us, into that little glowing interior which to her was shining with the very light of the Lamb. I have never seen another face with an expression like that. It was fairly luminous with rapt adoration. Yes, she at least was genuine-an absolute embodiment of the worship that had led her along footsore and weary miles to kneel at last at the shrine of her faith.
I am not going to weary the reader with detailed description of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is a vast place, and contains most of the sacred relics and many of the sacred sites that have been identified since the zealous Queen Helena set the fashion of seeing visions and dreaming dreams. We made the tour of a number of the chapels of different religious denominations. They are not on good terms with
one another, by-the-way, and require Mohammedan guards to keep them from fighting around the very Sepulchre itself. Then we descended some stairs to the Chapel of St. Helena, where there is an altar to the penitent thief, and another to Queen Helena, though I did not learn that she ever repented, or even reformed.
They showed us where the Queen sat when, pursuing one of her visions, they were digging for the true Cross and found all three of them; and they told us how they identified the holy one by sending all three to the bedside of a noble lady who lay at the point of death. The first shown her made her a maniac; the second threw her into spasms; the third cured her instantly. The commemoration of this event is called in the calendar “The Invention of the Cross,” which seems to convey the idea. I think it was in the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross that I bought a wax candle, and a prayer went with it, though whether it was for my soul or Queen Helena's I am not certain. It does not matter. I am willing Helena should have it, if she needs it, and I think she does.
We went on wandering around, and by-and-by we came to a chapel where the Crown of Thorns was made, and presently to a short column marking the Centre of the Earth, the spot from which the dust was taken that was used in making Adam. You see, it is necessary to double up on some of the landmarks or enlarge the church again.
You can climb a flight of stairs in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and be told that you are on
Calvary, and you are allowed to put your hand through the floor into the sockets where the crosses stood. We did not do it, however. We climbed the stairs, but a collection of priests were holding some kind of ceremony with candles and chanting, and we were not sufficiently impressed to wait.
We did pause, as we came away, to note in the vestibule of the Holy Sepulchre the two holes through which on Easter Eve the Holy Fire is distributed to Christian pilgrims who assemble from all parts of the world. On this occasion the Fire Bishop enters the Sepulchre, and fire from heaven lights the candles on the altar. Then the Bishop, who is all alone in the Sepulchre, passes the Holy Fire out through these holes, in the form of a bundle of burning tapers, to priests. The pilgrims with unlighted tapers then rush and jam and scramble toward these dispensers of the sacred flame and pay any price demanded to have their candles speedily lighted. Usually a riot takes place, and the Mohammedan guards are required to prevent bloodshed.
In 1834 there occurred a riot over the Holy Fire which piled the dead five feet deep around the Sepulchre. Four or five hundred were killed, and corpses lay thick even on the Stone of Unction. It seems a useless sacrifice, when one thinks of it, but then the blood of five hundred is only a drop as compared with what the centuries have contributed to this revered shrine.
I want to be quite serious for a moment about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre-here in Jerusalemnow, while I am in the spirit of the thing.