Before we left Jericho we visited a church nearby for morning mass. It was held in the grounds of a primary school. While we were praying the peacocks in the garden screeched and called. The male was quite glorious with his tail up. The church of the Good Shepherd was quite pretty but what caught our eye was the giant set of rosary beads in the tree and the painted white trunks of the trees. The white tree trunks apparently discourage insects from eating the trees.
Our destination was Masada, a fort on the top of a mountain that is completely separate from the mountain range so it had a strong defensive position. It was built by Herod as a winter palace and safe haven (https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-middle-east/masada). It is famous for the fight to death of Jewish Zealots who refused to bow to the Romans. Death not slavery was their cry. The siege lasted for nearly three years but eventually the Romans built a ramp and tower with battering ram to breech the walls. The Jewish fighters had strengthened the walls against battering so the Romans decided to burn it instead and eventually the walls were breeched but they found that everyone was dead.
It is an impressive fort even now with ingenious methods for capturing water from the mountains behind it. They stored the water in huge cisterns and had many wharehouses of grain. The way up by foot was called the snake path but as it was nearly 42 degrees Celsius we took the cable car! We were all surprised when exploring the ruins of the synagogue we discovered a room with a Rabi writing Hebrew texts. He said we could take photos and gave Helen a card with her name and her husband’s name in Hebrew and a heart underneath as a gift to celebrate their wedding anniversary. He was the stereotypical grey haired, smiling faced, gentle Rabi with shawl and Yamak. It was so unexpected. He was writing beautiful uniform Hebrew biblical texts for the Torah.
From here we travelled to En Gedi, a place of waterfalls. It seemed unbelievable that there would be water in this desert. It means spring of David. There were lots of young people frolicking under the water fall in the first pool. The water actually comes from a spring in a cave further up the mountain. The pools are shallow and rocky so even when people stood in them they didn’t get muddy. The water must flow because it is a national park but once outside the park it is captured and never enters the Dead Sea. There are wild Ibix (a type of mountain goat) which we actually saw as we entered the park. They were too fast for my camera though.g
From here we continued on to Nazareth where we would have three nights. No packing up every morning will be a nice change.
Anne and I finally got to an ATM to withdraw some money but could only get Shekels. They don’t seem to last long! We wanted American dollars but we haven’t had time to go to a bank and ATMs only give local currency. I regretted not buying them in Dubai as we have had no time to go to banks, and ATMs have been scarce where ever we are. People like cash, American dollars or Shekels, they seem interchangeable but we have used cards in the hotels or shops.
Our hotel was opposite the Church of the Annunciation, which has been built over what was believed to be Mary’s house and where she was visited by the Angel Gabriel. The church has been built and rebuilt over the centuries and has been in the hands of the Franciscan order since 1620. Two of the tour members, Lisa and Joe come from a parish in Melbourne that raises money for the school attached to the church. Lisa also went to school with one of the women associated with the church and so we were told about a service that was the Adoration of the host. A few of us decided to attend thinking it would be silent. However this service was not silent and had three singer musicians with the most exquisite voices. Mary, also one of the tour group, was asked if she would do a reading. Much to her horror she discovered it was being videoed after she had said yes. There were seven speakers with seven different languages. The singing absolutely transported me and I felt like crying. The whole service was so moving I was not the only person to get teary. Afterwards we visited the grotto below.
What is endlessly confusing and amazing is the number of churches built over old churches. The foundations may be used or not, depending on the state of the ruins. This church is celebrating its 50 th year, so its a relatively young church with a holy place within. It is very active especially with the number of pilgrims that come to Nazareth. Some of the pilgrims are extremely devout and prostrate themselves before the shrines or kiss them. We have been amazed (and somewhat horrified) at the huge number of pilgrims attending all the holy sites. The economy must be so dependent on them.
Fortunately our guides are local and they seem able to expedite us through the crowds or at times when they know others are at lunch so we haven’t been overwhelmed by the numbers very often.