WE were in Wadi Halfa, a town in the Sudan, about one thousand miles up the Nile; had made the usual excursion to the Second Cataract, and were in some quandary whether to spend a few days at the excellent Cataract Hotel at Assuan on our way down the Nile or go directly to Cairo and thence to Jerusalem. We decided on the latter.
When we reached Cairo we, this time, went to Shepheard’s Hotel, I suppose one of the most celebrated hotels in the world. It seemed quite like getting home after our wanderings, and as we sat over our coffee and tobacco in the lounge after dinner I saw a woman across the room flying signals apparently at my daughter, who recognized an old ‘Bryn Martyr’ and immediately joined her. She had an interesting story to tell. Like ourselves, she had just reached Cairo, but she had come quite alone from the Cape. Now this is an adventure for a group of men, and, for a lone woman, quite unheard of. Cook does not recommend the journey, which is long, rough, and not free from danger, and will not sell tickets. I asked our friend whether she might have exhausted the possibilities of getting a husband in civilized lands, and she laughingly admitted she had. Then she told us that she and another woman had agreed to make the trip, how at the last minute the other woman got ‘cold feet,’ and how she determined to make the adventure — which she said turned out to be without untoward incident — alone.
‘You were, of course,’ I said, ‘very careful about what you ate and drank.’ ‘ Very,’ she replied. ‘If the water stank I did n’t drink it, and if the food was rotten I did n’t, eat it.’ I listened in amazement, thinking how careful we had been, and then remarked, ’I suppose you had letters of introduction everywhere.’ ‘That I had,’ she replied, ‘and I paid very handsomely for them, or rather for it. I bought it from Brown Brothers and Company, and I drew money without difficulty in countries that your friend Crosby Brown never heard of.’
I think I rather prefer Shepheard’s to the Semiramis: it may not be quite so excellent, but it is in the centre of things and its terrace is world-renowned. As someone has said, ‘sooner or later every famous man in the world is seen on the terrace of Shepheard’s.’ But the guides, the dragomans, are a nuisance: descend the steps to the street and you are mobbed with people who want to show you something, take you somewhere, sell you something. A black-and-tan mongrel youth approached me late one afternoon and inquired if I did not want to see the beautiful Egyptian girl dance naked. ‘No,’ I replied decidedly; ‘what is she dancing for?’ ‘Joy,’ was his reply. The vision of a dirty, middle-aged woman distorting herself, disgustingly, rose before me, as did the more pleasing pictures of the ‘Little Egypts’ and ‘Little Turkeys’ of my youth. They first came to us at the time of the World’s Fair in Chicago, settled down and grew old with us, and called forth the song ‘Roxiana,’ which made such a success in The Belle of New York. Roxiana’s father, it will be remembered, kept a saloon at the corner of the Bowery and Canal. His daughter got an engagement in a big the-a-tre after ‘she dyed her amber hair an inky black; and she tied herself in knots that did amaze yer—you’d think a snake was crawlin’ down her back.’ Then there was something about her being ‘as limber as a piece of macaroni, looking as Oriental as a rug’; and finally, She was wobbly, she was jerky, they called her Little Turkey,
She did the squirmy, wormy, naughty coocheecoochee dance.
But this is a serious paper, and I am humming to myself ‘Jerusalem, the Golden.’ I cared not how soon we left Cairo; by this time to-morrow we should be on our way.
Jerusalem! I am afraid I had given little thought as to what I should see there. I did not then know that one should go to the ‘Holy City’ as a pilgrim, not as a tourist. Jerusalem is a severe test upon one’s bump of belief, and my bump is not pronounced: it is, in fact, a depression. Jerusalem is not — from Cairo — much of a pilgrimage. One gets into an excellent train, has dinner, and changes at Kantara West, and on a silly little ferryboat crosses the Suez Canal, a matter of some four hundred feet, to Kantara East, gets into an excellent sleeper and goes to bed, in Asia. Next morning, after breakfast, one changes again into a railway carriage better fitted to climb the mountains to the city, which is set upon a hill, — in fact, upon several hills, — and there you are.
One has a curious sensation upon arrival: one thinks of the Holy Sepulchre and of the many centuries in which it was in the keeping of the ‘unspeakable Turk’; one thinks of the Crusades, those enormous movements of peoples from west to east which altered the course of history and changed, so many times, the map. And one descends at a perfectly modern railway station in a very modern town, gets into an automobile, and is whirled to one’s hotel. It is perhaps a mile to the Grand New Hotel — which has not been new for forty years, and if it once suggested grandeur, it no longer does. But it is neat and comfortable: one demands several rooms with baths and heat, and one is accommodated. What if the heat is supplied by an oil stove? It is nevertheless heat, and after several hours in an unheated railway carriage on a bitter cold winter’s day one is not too particular.
Cook — how could one travel without Cook? — has been apprised of our coming, and we are met at the station by a man who seems delighted to see us, and tells us that our guide is awaiting us at the hotel. And it was so, and an excellent guide he proved to be. Need one say that Jerusalem is now and has ever been a walled city, with many gates? Certainly not. But not everyone knows that when the former German Emperor made his theatrical entrance into the city, some years ago, which he announced was henceforth to be under his protection, he had a huge hole made in the walls of the city, that he might enter in what seemed to him a fitting manner. The chief entrance — that is to say, the one by which tourists formerly entered the city — was the Jaffa Gate, but the traffic now flows through the Emperor’s Hole, for the historic gateway would hardly accommodate automobile traffic; indeed, one can go only a few yards inside the walls, in a motor, on account of the very tortuous and narrow streets and their precipitous inclines.
Our visit was in January, perhaps the worst month in the year for going to Jerusalem, and it had been raining the day before and it might rain again, — so our guide said, — so we contented ourselves with a glance at the crowded and noisy streets, and then entered a waiting motor for a journey to the Dead Sea and the River Jordan.
It was a cold, bleak ride; the sun shone intermittently, and the distance seemed interminable. The Dead Sea is, in itself, an interesting phenomenon: it is about thirteen hundred feet below the level of the not far off Mediterranean, and it receives its water chiefly from one source, the River Jordan. There are no especially saline features in the basin itself and but few in the waters which enter into it, but there is no egress whatever. Water leaves the Dead Sea by evaporation only, and through countless millenniums such salt as there was has remained in the ‘sea,’ until now it is indescribably salty and bitter. The dryness of the atmosphere alone prevents the sea from overflowing. I reminded myself of Dr. Johnson’s remark to his biographer, in reply to his question, ’Do you not think the Giant’s Causeway worth seeing?’ ‘I do, Sir, but not worth going to sec.’ That is exactly my opinion of the Dead Sea.
Our guide in and about Jerusalem was an intelligent and obliging gentleman, speaking excellent English and having, himself, no delusions whatever as to the genuineness of the places and things that he showed us. We spent several days in his company, and, looking back, I cannot remember that he ever stated anything as a fact. In this he was wise, for, except for the city itself and its great ineffaceable landmarks, it is full of fakes, frauds, and sucker bait. And we, Philadelphians, who are witnesses to the development of the legend of Betsy Ross and the Flag, should not require much explanation as to how the thousand and one legends of the happenings in and about Jerusalem lengthened and strengthened and thickened, until their exploitation came to form the chief, indeed the only, industry of the city: it all came about quite naturally.
For several centuries after the birth of Christ and until the Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, Jerusalem had been the scene of many battles and of much bloodshed; it had been, in fact, practically destroyed. But thither, about the year 325, came Queen Helena, the mother of Constantine, with a desire to see things. The city was then a scene of desolation: its inhabitants few and poor, and perhaps hardly aware of the glory that was Jerusalem. To what did they owe the honor of this visit? To the desire of the lady to see the place of the Crucifixion and, perchance, to find the cross on which the Saviour was crucified. The Queen had traveled far; it would indeed be sad if so distinguished a visitor should be disappointed in her search. After some delay and difficulty a cross was found; then two more, and the crown of thorns. Quite naturally, the question arose as to which was the cross, the true cross, on which the Saviour had been crucified. A certain bishop who accompanied the Empress was equal to this emergency: each cross was taken in turn to the bedside of a dying woman, and the true cross was revealed when it touched the woman’s body and caused her instant restoration to health. The Empress thereupon enclosed a portion of the cross in a silver box — silver was at the time more valuable than gold — and sent it to her son, which accounts for its now being in Constantinople.
Thus began the systematic frauds which have continued to this day. Pilgrims returning to their native countries carried with them weird tales of the holy places they had seen and the miracles that had been performed for their benefit. These tales fired the imagination of other pilgrims, and each succeeding generation, demanding greater and greater wonders, was supplied. The custody of the true cross was entrusted to the then Bishop of Jerusalem and his successors, and they did a thriving business in selling small pieces thereof, until at last it became convenient, as Gibbon says, ‘to suppose that the marvelous wood possessed a secret power of vegetation and that its substance though constantly diminished still remained entire and unimpaired.’
It did not require much imagination to see that an inexhaustible source of revenue had been tapped: the demand for relics grew by what it fed upon, and the ‘manger’ in which the Infant Christ lay was discovered; a portion of this may still be seen in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. It will be remembered that this church is erected on a spot where snow — snow, mind you — was found on a certain morning in August, many years ago; but let that pass. Before the altar is an ornate pit, surrounded by a marble balustrade, in which is a large kneeling statue of Pope Pius IX: he is looking with a broad smile at the altar, behind which is a treasury which contains a portion of the manger. I like to think that he is smiling at the idea that sober men, like myself, still pay handsomely to see this sacred relic.
But to return to Jerusalem. A few years after the visit of Queen Helena, who had by this time become a saint, Jerome, a father of the Church and a great scholar, took up his abode in the neighboring town of Bethlehem, where he employed himself in compiling and editing what has come to be the Vulgate, our Bible. Jerome wrote that every species of crime and vice — and he proceeds to enumerate them — was practised by the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The city had become, from the gifts of pilgrims, enormously rich, hence the object of intermittent attack. Such was, and to some extent still is, the Holy City, which we were visiting under the guidance of a man as completely désillusionné in the matter of relics as I am.
It will be remembered that Jerusalem — and Jerusalem means ‘city of peace’ — was an old and important city long before the birth of Christ, and that notwithstanding the significance of its name it has been throughout its long history the almost constant scene of battle, bloodshed, and revolution. Legends which antedate the Saviour by a thousand years lie thick all around. Egypt is old, but its age does not seem to intrude itself upon one. In Palestine one is stunned and bewildered by the mental familiarity, if I may use the expression, of what one sees. We entered a motor; almost before we got up to speed, the site, the alleged site, of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah was pointed out to us. Like all properly reared boys of my generation, I had listened to much reading of the Bible and had been made to read it myself.
I remembered the fate of the cities of the plain, and I was glad that our guide did not point out the salty remains of Lot’s wife, which earlier travelers claim, to have seen. The Dead Sea offers little to the tourist except what he brings with him; I wet my hands in it, and then said to the guide, ‘Now show me the Jordan.’ We reëntered the motor and drove a short distance to a swollen and muddy creek. Voilà le Jourdain! Here was a more distinct disappointment.
The Jordan, the principal river in Palestine, rises, no doubt, somewhere or other, flows into the Lake of Galilee, and out of it again, a distance of some sixty miles as the crow flies, two hundred as it pursues its tortuous course into the Dead Sea, out of which, as I have said, it never emerges. Its width is from twenty to one hundred and fifty feet, and its depth from nothing to twelve feet, dependent upon where one takes soundings. We were looking at the ‘Place of Baptism,’ and I then and there made a wise resolution: namely, to try to be respectful, not to laugh at anything which might be shown me. In Palestine one should have that faith which removes mountains, and I have ever been a skeptic.
‘How about lunch?’ I said. ‘It is provided at Jericho,’ was the reply. ‘Then let us go to Jericho’ — and to Jericho we went, I thinking how many times I have sent one or another to Jericho, never expecting to go there myself. It was once a city of importance: it had a theatre and a palace, and King Herod died there; Mark Antony gave it to Cleopatra as a present, and the prophet Elijah spent his last days there and departed from near-by Jordan, it will be remembered, in a chariot of fire. Subsequently it became a ruin, and a ruin it remains, for the present hovels which house — if they can be said to house — a thousand souls hardly form a town; and the hotel where we lunched, the Grand Winter Palace — well, it did its best for us and with that we were perforce content. On our way back to Jerusalem we were shown the spot where a certain man fell among thieves: the Inn Samaritan marks the spot, and it was interesting to learn that it was not until a thousand years after the event mentioned in the Bible that the place was indicated.
Tired, cold, and hungry, we reached our hotel, and with some pleasant English people, with whom we had gone up the Nile, gathered around our oil stove and indulged in that pleasant function, tea, laced with some excellent brandy which I had taken the precaution to carry with me.
After dinner I sought to present a letter of introduction to the Bishop of Jerusalem, — a bishop of the Church of England, that is, — but he was out of town; so instead I went out into David Street and struck up an acquaintance with a strapping young Englishman whose uniform told me he was a member of the Palestine Police, with which Great Britain is endeavoring to put order into the country. I came upon him just as he was threatening to arrest a man for cruelly beating a donkey. I asked him how he liked his job. ‘I ’ate it,’ he said; and then continued, ‘You see, these people are Harabs and they’ve no idea ’ow to treat hanimals. But what can Hi do? This country can’t hafford to lock ’em up, heven if Hi harrested ’em. Hearly in the mornin’ Hi sometimes takes ’em hup an’ makes ’em set in the station ball day an’ lets ’em go at night. They vanishes for a week maybe, maybe not — ’ow can Hi tell? They’re hall a mass of whiskers, if you harsk me.’
‘The climate is lovely in the spring,’ he said, in reply to my question, ‘but what’s a chap to do with ’is time hoff? ’E can go to the pictures, but the letterin’ is in Harabic an’ Hi can’t catch it. Hi can speak it fairly, but read it, who in ’ell can? Hi can’t, for one.’
‘Nor I, for another,’ I replied.
'’Ave you been down to Jericho?' he asked. ‘That’s where the man fell among thieves in the Bible; an’ hit’s easy to do now: the country is full of caves, lots of ’em; a man can disappear an’ leave no trace, not for years. A bit back they ’ad a shot at the Bishop of Jerusalem,’ he continued. '’E’s the ’eavy swell in these parts. Hi ’opes ’e likes ’is job better’n Hi do mine.’
Of life, in the accepted sense of the word, there is little or nothing in Jerusalem: the people work and quarrel and go to bed, or go to bed without quarreling. Our little party sat around a solitary electric lamp and read: I had a copy of Eothen with me. Who that has read that delightful book of travel can forget it! It is the story of an adventurous young Englishman with a keen sense of humor, who made his way practically alone through Turkey and Palestine, and across the desert into Egypt. The mere fact that the book has for almost a century kept its rank as the best of all books of travel sufficiently recommends it. It was with difficulty that I put the book aside, climbed into a clean and excellent bed, and was soon fast asleep.
With milk and honey blest
How often as a child I have raised my small voice in this grand old hymn! It was, I am afraid, the poorest possible preparation for a visit to the city of the present. Jerusalem, within the walls, is a tiny town of only two hundred and ten acres, about the size of a goodish farm. About one fifth of this entire area is occupied by the Haramesh-Sherif (the Noble Sanctuary), an enclosed space on the flattened summit of Mount Moriah. It appealed to me as being perhaps the only authentic spot in Jerusalem, as it is certainly the most beautiful and impressive one. Here Solomon, almost one thousand years before Christ, erected the most famous temple in history; here he had his palace and gave judgment. Four hundred years later it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. It was rebuilt by the Jews, and pillaged or partly destroyed by various conquerors; rebuilt by King Herod, and again destroyed, this time by Titus; subsequently it became the Dome of the Rock or the Mosque of Omar, whichever may be its proper name. Whoever it was, among many, who erected or restored, or reërected or rerestored, this historic mosque did a magnificent job. It is a huge octagon, surmounted by a circular building which carries the Dome, immediately beneath which is the Sacred Rock. All in all, it is the most beautiful building I have ever seen.
This is, indeed, the general opinion. A friend to whom I had written replied: ‘I too think the Dome of the Rock the most beautiful building I have ever seen. There is something in the situation and the simplicity which reënforces the overwhelming sense of history, as one stands on the spot where a single god, whether Allah, Jupiter, Jehovah, or God, has been worshiped, uninterruptedly, from the earliest time of which even tradition exists. As I looked over the polished marble rail at the great Rock beneath the Dome, I felt as if the plumb line of history had dropped at my feet.’
The legends about the Rock, which is huge and bare, are fantastic. Here Melchizedek offered sacrifice, as did Abraham offer his son Isaac; here stood the Ark of the Covenant, and beneath the Rock the Prophet Jeremiah concealed it, where it is to this day. The Rock was at one time suspended in the air; from it Mohammed ascended into Heaven on his miraculous mare, and the Rock was about to follow suit when the Angel Gabriel repressed it: the print of his hand, an immense depression, is shown. Another indentation is exhibited as a footprint either of Christ or of Mohammed, according to the religion one affects. But notwithstanding all this nonsense, the Dome, the Temple, the Mosque, — whatever you will, — is glorious. In the Moorish style, of marble and porcelain, which resist the weather and glisten in the sun, it was the model for several old round churches in England, including the Temple Church in London.
David Street is the Broadway of Jerusalem. It begins at the Jaffa Gate and descends, and then ascends to the enclosure within which is the Dome of the Rock. An architect might describe David Street as being a stairway four yards wide, the treads of which are ten feet wide and the risers four inches. Along or through this steep and narrow thoroughfare there is a constant and colorful procession of Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Armenians, Christians, donkeys, and camels, all uttering weird noises in an effort safely to thread their way through the chief shopping and market district of the old city. It is a sight always to be remembered.
There is another fine mosque within the same enclosure not far from the Dome of the Rock, a mosque which as a Christian church dates back to the year 500, near the entrance to which is the tomb of the murderers of Thomas à Becket, who are said to have made a penitential visit to Jerusalem and died there. Within this mosque also is the Praying Place of Moses, and another stone bearing the imprint of the foot of Christ, and not far off is the Golden Gate through which Christ the meek and lowly entered on Palm Sunday, and so forth, and so forth. The tree on which the remorseful Judas hanged himself did not interest us nearly as much as several groups of old and magnificent cedars to which no history was attached.
Without a guide it would be difficult to thread the crooked, narrow lanes outside the enclosure of which the Dome of the Rock is the centre, and one might easily miss the Jews’ Wailing Place, where from time immemorial the Jews have been accustomed to bewail the misfortunes of their race. It purports to be, and possibly is, a portion of the wall of Solomon’s Temple, but more probably it is a section of wall of a later temple erected on the site or foundations of the old one. Be this as it may, Saint Jerome refers to the habit of the Jews of bribing the Roman soldiers so that they might, unhindered, weep over the ruins of their Holy City.
The wall, which is perhaps two hundred feet long by fifty in height, is composed of enormous blocks of limestone, and for centuries, to this day and hour, all day long, old men and women have knelt and prayed before this wall, rubbing it with their hands and kissing it with their lips, until several courses of stone, between three and five feet above the ground, have become discolored and highly polished from this treatment. On Friday afternoons the place is thronged with Jews by the hundreds, coming and wailing and giving way to others. There are several formal rituals in use before this time-honored wall, — based, I am told, upon the Seventyninth Psalm, — which are chanted reciprocally by priest and people. The custom was suspended for years (and it might well be suspended again, on hygienic grounds) until, some time ago, Sir Moses Montefiore secured from the Sultan of Turkey, the then ruler of Palestine, permission for its resumption. It is an interesting, disgusting, and unforgettable sight, as are so many in this historic city.
The movement ‘Back to Jerusalem’ (or Palestine) is, I should say, a foreordained failure. I had an interesting talk with a well-informed man born in Jerusalem and deeply interested in the welfare of the country. He told me that the money given by rich and wellmeaning Jews in New York City, and elsewhere in America, was largely consumed in the salaries and expenses of officials, and he pointed out that no prominent, wealthy, or intelligent Jews considered for a moment leaving the country of their adoption, where every opportunity was theirs, for the sake of rebuilding Palestine; that for every hundred Jews who come, ninety leave, and leave at the earliest opportunity. The fertile land of Palestine is relatively small in area, while its mountain ranges are bleak, rocky, and inhospitable, affording pasture only for a few sheep and mountain goats. Nor is manufacturing possible in a country which has neither coal, iron, oil, wood, soil, nor even water. Education, which is supposed to solve so many problems, is of little use here, for there is nothing for the people to do when they are educated. What Jew is going to leave New York, where there are a hundred million of us to prey upon, — and only a handful of Scotch to be guarded against, — for the sake of rebuilding a country in which the proponents of the plan would not themselves think for a moment of settling?
The several Jews to whom I talked seemed only too anxious to get away from Palestine. One afternoon I was looking into the window of a small cigar shop, wondering if it would be possible to buy a good cigar therein. The proprietor, a young Jew, observing me, asked in passable English whether I would not enter and buy something. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I should like to buy a good cigar.’ He recommended a cigar made in Holland, the price of which was three cents, but knowing from experience that a Dutch cigar is a byword and a reproach in the mouth of any man, I declined. Then he sought to sell me some cigarettes. ‘But I don’t smoke cigarettes; I want a cigar, a good cigar.’ ‘Mister,’ said he, becoming very confidential, ‘would you buy a Corona cigar?’ I said I thought I would if I could be assured that it was a genuine Corona. Would I buy a box of Coronas? Yes, under certain conditions I might buy a box. ‘I have an ambition to sell you a box of Corona cigars,’ he continued. ‘I have sold a single Corona, but a box, never.’ The discussion ended with the purchase of a box of Coronas, at a monarch’s ransom, which the poor man ran out and bought at the near-by Allenby Hotel. Then the man — he was about thirty — told me how ardent was his wish to go to America: ‘I have such great ambition for New York, I work forever; soon I own a picture theatre; I am so full of ambitions. Here life is hopeless. I sell only in a week once a box of cigars, made in Holland — bad to smoke and no profit. I shall never forget this day’s business. You must be very rich man to buy a box of Corona cigars; it never happened so before. Mister, I am ambitious to sell you a cigar case to remember you by.’
To ‘the stone which the builders rejected’ and which ‘is become the head of the corner,’ to the spot where Abraham found the ram caught in the thicket, to the tomb of Absalom, and many similar places, I turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. But in spite of my unbounded skepticism I felt for a moment something of a thrill upon entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For how many centuries has the thought of this spot influenced the entire Western world! The effort to redeem the Holy Sepulchre from the Turks united nations which had little else in common: my knowledge of the Crusades was vague enough, but . . . Here our excellent guide began his discourse.
‘As you see, this is a very large church, or rather group of churches, belonging to Catholics, Protestants, Copts, Greeks, and Armenians; it covers the site of the Crucifixion and the Place of Burial. The churches here have been built and destroyed and rebuilt and renovated from time immemorial, and chapels added to commemorate various incidents which took place immediately before and after the death of the Saviour. Much that you will see and hear is of necessity legendary.’
Here is the ‘Stone of Unction’ on which the body of Jesus is said to have been laid for anointing when taken down from the cross; this stone is not the traditional one, but was placed in its present position in 1808. One could be pardoned for looking at it without emotion. The traditional place of the Crucifixion is covered by a chapel some twenty steps above the level of the church floor. It is a small affair, greatly overdecorated in mosaics and precious stones and plentifully behung with lamps which are always burning. At one end is a large altar before which is a marble slab with a hole in it, in which our Saviour’s cross was set, while two similar holes are said to be the sockets in which the crosses of the thieves were placed. I was sorry, very, to have been shown all this: it was so vulgar, so artificial and unconvincing, so entirely different from what one expected to see; but there was more of the same sort to come — much more.
A few yards off in the floor is a brass slide; this may be pushed back and there is revealed a portion of rock with a hole in it, perhaps ten inches deep: this is shown as the rock which was rent at the time of the Crucifixion, which was accompanied by an earthquake which rent the veil of the Temple from the top to the bottom. Mercifully we were not shown the ‘veil.’
Said I to my guide, ‘Frankly, I am not pleased with all this; let us now go to the Sepulchre itself, and then seek the light and air,’ for the place was stuffy with the smell of unclean priests and the burning lamps and incense. The whole edifice in which we were seemed very highly departmentalized; constructed on different levels in varying styles of architecture, and used by different sects which hate each other with the accumulated hatred of centuries: hatred which only religion can engender.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a hexagonal building, not larger than twenty by thirty feet, built of marble; it is lit by a great many hanging lamps, the flames of which are never extinguished. The stone which was rolled away from the mouth of the Sepulchre by the angel is shown, somewhere; I forget where, but it is not in the little chapel, to which admittance is had by a low door, which contains the Tomb itself. This is a tiny chamber six feet square, lit and in some sense heated by the forty-three hanging lamps. This, the quintessential tomb, if I may use the expression, is jealously guarded by the Roman Church, and Mass is said daily.
Chapels abound, Copt, Catholic, and Greek, and woe betide the unfortunate priest who dares set foot in a chapel of a rival: it is a sad commentary that to keep the priests from fighting a policeman is always on duty. One item, shown gratis only on Wednesday in Holy Week and at other times upon the payment of a fee, is the Column of the Flagellation, the column to which Christ was bound to be scourged by the Roman soldiers. Normally, this column is covered with a brass housing in which is a hole through which one can push a kind of stick and thus, by proxy as it were, touch the column; at the same time an electric light is switched on. By kissing the end of the stick which has touched the column one is supposed to have had one’s money’s worth.
At this point I insisted on light and air, and at once; there was more to be seen, much more, but I had seen enough, and of the Holy Sepulchre more than enough. In the interest of hygiene, decency, and true religion, it would be well if it were possible to close the entire ‘fabrick’ — as Dr. Johnson would call it — and keep it closed. As long as it is open to the public, fools, like myself, will visit it.
’I will lift, up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.’ Only the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane carry a measure of conviction with them. Chapels and altars and tombs can be made by men like me, but only God can grow such trees, immemorially old, as the olive trees in the traditional ‘Garden,’ and the view from the Mount of Olives is superb.
The little town of Bethlehem’ lies five miles only from Jerusalem, and the journey would be a pleasant one were it not spoiled by too many traditional sights, such as the Tomb of Rachel, which has, however, been an object of veneration by the Jew for three thousand years. Like Jerusalem, it is a town of immemorial age, and has been subjected to many vicissitudes: a hamlet a thousand years before Christ, it has been destroyed and rebuilt time and again. The church which covers the traditional birthplace of Jesus is one of the oldest in the world. Assuming, and it is a reasonable assumption, that Jesus was born in a stable and lay in a manger, what may have happened is this. His parents, who were humble people, coming in the course of their travels to Bethlehem, went to an ‘inn’ and could get no accommodation. What an inn was in a little town like Bethlehem two thousand years ago may be imagined. It may have consisted of one or two chambers only, in which there was no room for them. The country all round about is very hilly: the ground floor on one side of a building would be the second floor of another side. The ‘stable’ was, in all likelihood, the ground floor or basement of the inn, in which travelers could house their donkeys and camels; the accommodation was little worse than that afforded above, and the manger may well have been a shelf or ledge of rock.
In any event, in Bethlehem, and probably on this site, the Emperor Constantine erected a church about the year 330, a part of which may still be standing, largely concealed by the walls of three convents: Roman, Orthodox, and Armenian. The church has been restored time and again, the last change in it, and a beneficial one, having been made only a few years ago. The Chapel or Grotto of the Nativity lies twenty feet below the floor of the choir of the church and is reached by two flights of steep, slippery stone steps. It is now a vault some ten by thirty feet, constructed of Italian marble and mosaic in awful taste and hideously overdecorated with ornaments of gold set with what may be precious stones. Along one side is an altar, and under it set in the floor a silver star, around which is an inscription, HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST. Certainty in matters of this kind is of the utmost importance. The chamber is lit with a number of silver lamps in which a flame is always burning, and it is the duty of the various sects who watch the shrine — and each other — to keep their own especial lamps lighted. Here is, of course, the Altar of the Magi — in a word, ‘all things were fulfilled.’ I greatly wish I could have believed that I saw the actual tomb of Saint Jerome, or that the chapel was the place where he for so many years labored upon the compilation and translation of the Vulgate from out of its original languages into Latin, a task for which his learning made him especially fitted. He seems to have been a most interesting, if quarrelsome, character.
It is a poor little town, is Bethlehem: from its stony and far from level fields round about it must be difficult to secure a crop of anything; of manufactures there is little or nothing. Trashy gewgaws made of mother-ofpearl, ornaments made of olive wood, — which is now getting scarce because so many trees were burned in the late war, — the sale of beads and trinkets, afford such commerce as there is. The people of Palestine suffered greatly during the war. They had everything to lose and nothing to gain by fighting. General Allenby was just another conqueror, and a very fortunate one. His career was not distinguished until he was sent to Palestine, and he would never have been lucky enough to reach his objective had it not been for that enigmatic hero who called himself Lawrence, but whose name is probably Scott. England alone could produce such a man. His exploits are recounted in Revolt in the Desert. For a time he acted alone; then he had the complete backing of the War Office. By promises he must have known he could not make good he obtained the good will of the Arab chiefs, whose tongues he spoke and whose costumes and customs he adopted. Did a sheik want to be King of Jerusalem, or of this town or that? Certainly: why not? They became his followers: for him they were prepared to lay down their lives, and especially the lives of their followers. Lawrence made it possible for Allenby to reach Jerusalem, which he took without firing a shot. The war came to an end; Allenby became Field Marshal. England could not or would not — at any rate, did not — make Lawrence’s promises good, and the man who actually delivered Jerusalem became, under an assumed name, a private in Britain’s flying forces in India. Some day his life will be written, and we shall know certainly much more than we now do of this amazing character.
I felt really sorry for a poor old man who followed me about the streets of Bethlehem for several hours, seeking to inveigle me into what he said was his ‘factory.’ He asked me if I were not an American, and I admitted I was; whereupon he remarked, ‘Mr. Fairbank, the President of America, he my best friend; he always visit me when he come here, always to buy many things. He my best friend I have; when I go America I go see him.’ I suppose that during some visit that our former Vice President may have made he was seduced into buying a bit of carved mother-of-pearl, and I doubt not that he threw it away long before he got home.
In such traveling as we have been engaged in guides are necessary, but they are sometimes awful. We had one, one day, when we were sight-seeing with a party which included a group of Germans; the guide spoke his piece in English, and then attempted to translate what he had said into German. It must have been vile, for an old German was finally galvanized into screaming, ‘Spoke English! Spoke English! It is less vorse!’ In other words, he preferred to hear my language butchered rather than his own.
To return to Jerusalem. There was, seemingly, no end to the wonders which would be shown for money. But our legs were tired, and our credulity had been subjected to outrageous strains.
No! I had no wish to see the stone where ‘the Virgin, she sit, when she milk the little Lord Jesus’ — a boulder on which one might discern a few spots made whitish by drops from the Virgin’s breast. I had seen enough, and more than enough.
‘The proper time to come to Palestine is the spring.’
’I can well believe it.’
’The wild flowers then are lovely.’
‘No doubt; so are the tame flowers at Hampton Court.’
But before we get to London there is Syracuse, and Taormina, and Naples, and much more. Above all, there is ROME.