Iron-Willed Isabel

isabel_i_of_castile-2I just finished another Isabel I biography: Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen by Nancy Rubin. What a fantastic, fast-paced work! This painstakingly researched 400-page historical biography of a five hundred-years-dead queen is as difficult to put down as The Hunger Games (but unlike Katniss Everdeen, this tough-as-nails female protagonist is completely real).

No time for blogging right now, but I wanted to share a quick anecdote that illustrates the bravery, tenacity, and determined decision-making that characterized Isabel’s reign. The following is summarized from Nancy Rubin:

During the Portuguese War Queen Isabel placed her daughter, Princess Isabel, in the safe keeping of her trusted friend Beatriz de Bobadilla. Beatriz was the wife of Andrés de Cabrera, the converso governor of Segovia, under whose rule the city was growing restless during the war.

On 1 August 1476 Isabel was awakened by a messenger from Cabrera. Segovia had revolted, and the life of the young princess was threatened. Fearing for her daughter’s life, the queen reacted “with much spirit” and determined to leave for Segovia at once. Without waiting for the royal army, Isabel set out for Segovia accompanied only by Cardinal Mendoza, the Count of Benavente, and Beatriz. Isabel and her three companions rode twenty-four hours without stopping, a long sixty-mile ride over mountainous terrain, and arrived at dawn.

Outside the city the prelate warned Isabel not to enter. The gate was barricaded by hostile Segovians who, he warned, would surely resort to new violence. Isabel coolly replied, “Tell those caballeros and citizens of Segovia that I am Queen of Castile and this city is mine for my father left it to me and I do not need any laws of conditions set for me to enter what is mine. I shall enter by the gate I want.”

The queen and her companions entered the city, and despite their hostility the angry crowds did not hurt them as they rode into the square of the alcazár. They crossed the drawbridge and entered the courtyard beneath the tower where the young princess was imprisoned. Her companions begged her to close the gates against the angry mob, but Isabel loudly announced that all who wanted should enter the castle.

Facing the angry crowd Isabel said, “My vassals and servants, tell me what you desire for if it is for the good of my city and my kingdom, I want it too.” The mob was surprised. They had expected a fight, not for the queen to entertain their complaints. Hearing their grievances against Cabrera, Isabel announced that she would act as governor herself until she appointed someone new. “What you want I want,” Isabel said. “Therefore climb now those towers and those walls and push off all [Cabrera’s] men. Because I want to deliver it [the castle] to the custody of one of my servants, one who keeps my alleigance and who keeps the honor of you all.”

“Viva la Reina!” the crowd shouted. The queen restored the castle to her command, and with five-year-old Princess Isabel in her arms rode to the palace.There she assured the Segovians that they “would no longer be troubled by [Cabrera]” because she was going to thoroughly investigate him. She then asked the citizens to send representatives to discuss their grievances.

A case was presented, but the pacified Segovians conceded that abuses had really been “committed by his officials.” As a converso, hated for his wealth and influence, Cabrera had been a scapegoat for those who lusted after his position. Isabel knew “that this scandal had been incited by some nobles and rich citizens” and that Cabrera was actually a very shrewd administrator and fair governor. She thus commanded Cabrera be restored to his authority as governor of the city and the castle, and this time the Segovians did not protest. She left the city in peace and her daughter in safety, and returned to her duties at the war front.

From Rubin, Nancy. Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), 152-153.

 

Advertisements

Farewell, Ventura.

Well, it’s official. My in-laws no longer live in California. It will be wonderful having them closer; and, like so many big changes, it’s bittersweet.

We took full advantage of their hospitality: from September 2012 to March 2015 we visited them in California ten times! 2013 was the record-setting year with five road trips to Ventura. It’s a place of many special memories for Mark and me: our first road trip together, the first time I met his parents and felt the warmth of their love and their welcome, the first time he gave me flowers and officially asked me to be his girlfriend.

61bf6-mk

(Spoiler alert: I said yes.)

I’m not going to miss the grueling twelve-hour drive across the hot desert. But I am going to miss arriving, climbing out of the car, and heading straight for the backyard hammock.

I’m going to miss the times that Mark’s little sister and I snuck out her second-story window, climbed onto the roof, and lay there on our backs watching for shooting stars.

(I’m not going to miss the old-fashioned pull-chain toilet and the thundering roar it made when flushed, so terrifying on middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom.)

I’m going to miss hikes and bike rides high up in the hills, where mountains stretch as far as you can see in one direction and the glimmering blue expanse of the ocean in the other. From up there you can see oil tankers and cargo ships moving off the coast, and the Channel Islands look like just another ridge of mountains peeking through the haze.

2013-01-19 12.41.52

I’m going to the times Mark and I borrowed my father-in-law’s Boulevard (comfiest bike ever!) to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Carpinteria, or to forbidden hot springs and secret swimming holes near Ojai.

2013-01-19 13.09.20

I’m going to miss the old yellow house, the one built in 1880 and lovingly maintained by Mark’s grandparents, where Mark’s parents and aunts and uncles had their wedding receptions, and we had ours.

I’m going to miss walking the few blocks from the yellow house down to the Jelly Bowl Beach, where we spent hours spotting storks and anemones and iridescent-colored fish and crabs in the tidepools.

2013-01-19 14.32.52

I’m going to miss my favorite bike ride in the world, the one that winds through the verdant hills and barrancas of Ojai, past oil derricks and graffitied industrial yards, ending on the beach and the Ventura Promenade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m going to miss beach days, and exploring the old Spanish missions of Santa Barbara and San Buenaventura.

I’m going to miss the Ventura Harbor.

photo 1-30

(Above and below: when I was six months pregnant!)

IMG_0487-3

It’s the end of an era, for sure.

Someday we’ll take our son there, to show him all the old haunts. We’ll tell him, “This is the house that belonged to your great-grandma Madelyn, who never got to hold you. This is where your grandpa lived and went to school and surfed those big waves.

“This is where your daddy grew up and had adventures with his brothers, who were his best friends. This is where he brought Mama to meet his parents for the first time, and she knew for certain that she wanted to be part of their family. This is where you went hiking in the mountains and paddleboarding in the ocean when you were growing in your mama’s belly.”

And we’ll make new memories, too. We’ll play on the pirate ship and the zipline at Marina Park. We’ll eat shark salad on the Ventura Pier. We’ll take a ferry out to the islands and kayak around the sea caves.

We’ll camp on the beach. When the stars have come out and our campfire is dying down, when we can no longer suppress our sleepy yawns, we’ll retire to bed, a puddle of pillows and sleeping bags and cuddly bodies squished together. Outside our tent we’ll hear the waves lapping on the sand, and we’ll fall asleep to the rhythmic lullabye of the ocean.

Westwater Canyon, the Jordan River, and Summertime Water Adventures

Logan (age eight), Evan (age six), and me (age ten) on top of Mt. Timpanogos

Logan (age eight), Evan (age six), and me (age ten) on top of Mt. Timpanogos

The same way I spent my childhood camping in the Uinta Mountains, hiking through southern Utah’s red rock canyons, and eating tinfoil dinners “because if you’re going to eat dinner anyway it might as well be over a campfire,” Mark spent his childhood at the Pacific Ocean.

Mark and his brothers at the Ventura Pier. Photo by Michael Sears.

All the brothers at the Ventura Harbor. Photo by Michael Sears.

Growing up only four blocks, and later eight miles, from the beach, Mark inherited his dad’s love for the ocean, for surfing, and for beach volleyball. Family fun meant body boarding, tossing a frisbee or aerobie around in the sand, and catching waves. And whenever we go visit the California folks, it still does.

Photo by Michael Sears.

Photo by Michael Sears.

Photo by Michael Sears.

Photo by Michael Sears.

Now that Mark is here in my landlocked country to stay (at least for the next few years), he’s been having some water recreation withdrawals, so we do our best to find summertime aquatic adventures.

We love the Mona rope swing…

163319_4805238602241_1922045108_n

The water park that’s only five minutes from our house…

image

And the Payson Grotto with the siblings.

wateradventures1

Last summer we decided to go whitewater rafting for Mark’s birthday. We piled our camping gear on the motorcycle and drove 235 miles to Moab, where we set out for Westwater Canyon.

wateradventures2

Westwater Canyon is a seventeen-mile stretch of the Colorado River that features class IV rapids and otherworldly terrain. It’s a black volcanic rock canyon inside of a red rock sandstone one, so when we weren’t paddling as hard as we could through the rapids and trying to stay in the boat, we got to float and take in the gorgeous scenery.

wateradventures3

And this year for Mark’s birthday we found a good deal on an inflatable paddle boat! We’ve already taken it on some grand adventures: to the Spanish Fork Reservoir with friends and on a seven-mile journey down the Jordan River, where we saw amazing wildlife (a beaver so big it looked like a baby bear, among other things) and felt like we were in another world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Feast your eyes!

…On the photos I took at the Payson Scottish Festival!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Scottish Festival is a longstanding Brown family tradition, and one of the things that makes summer great. We all love the traditional fiddle and sword dancing performances. We never miss the Highland Games (our favorite events are the caber toss and sheaf toss). The kids love the sword and weaponry booths. And the genealogist in me loves to explore the clan booths as my heart swells with contentment at seeing so many people getting geeked out on their Scottish heritage.

Of course, the very best part is when all the pipe and drum bands march in the grand parade and then unite to play “Scotland the Brave.”

And here are a few highlights from Scottish Festivals of summers past.

Scottish3

Practicing her sword dancing on the grand stage

Scottish4

Highland dancing at its finest

20130713_153433775_iOS 1

Logan and Mark watching the parade

Scottish1

Elihu suited up for battle

Scottish2

On the battlefield

Scottish9

Natalie vanquishes her foe

Happy summer! Long live Scotland!

 

Independence Day in Teton Valley, and the difference a couple of years can make.

Parade1

We kicked off our weekend in Teton Valley at the Independence Day parade in Victor.

Parade2

The iconic giant spud making its appearance in the parade

Everything about small-town Idaho on a Fourth of July weekend–the old uniformed men staunchly carrying the colors, the fireworks, the feeling of community, the huckleberry shakes made from berries just picked here in the valley, the fun-loving families breaking out into water fights, the little blonde girls with red and blue ribbons woven into their pigtails–makes me so happy, proud, and grateful to be an American.

(And at the moment I’m feeling proud to be an adoptive Argentine, too.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

¡Aguante Argentina! We wore our fútbol jerseys to give Argentina luck in their standoff against Belgium…I guess it worked!

On Saturday morning we woke up at 5:00 am to go watch the hot air balloon launch on the rodeo grounds.

Balloon1

The sunrise and the balloon launch were absolutely magnificent against the background of the Tetons! The view of the Grand was perfect.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s get one thing straight: there is no such thing as the “Grand Tetons.” That’s a misnomer. They’re called the Tetons, or the Teton Range. The “Grand Teton” refers to that big peak in the middle there, or to Grand Teton National Park.

Oh, and Jackson Hole? That’s the name of the whole valley, or hole, where the city of Jackson, Wyoming sits. The valley is called Jackson Hole but the town itself is called Jackson, Wyoming, people!

Whew. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Balloon2

Balloon3

BalloonA

Balloon4

Landon experiencing the inside of a hot-air balloon

After the balloon launch, we seized the afternoon and hiked up to one of our favorite spots, the Darby Canyon Wind and Ice Caves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Wind Cave is so named because its entrance is the mouth of an immense waterfall of glacier melt and it’s really…well, windy in there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mark ascending to the mouth of the cave

A mile farther up the trail lies the entrance to the Ice Cave.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Logan climbing up to the Ice Cave

WindIce1

Inside the Ice Cave (yes, that’s ice!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The view from inside

We hiked to the Wind and Ice Caves exactly two years ago, in July of 2012. Ascending the steep canyon trail and looking back out over the pine valley we had just traversed, I thought a lot about how far I have come in the last two years.

The last time I did this hike, I had just barely gotten home from Argentina. I didn’t have a job or a car or any money (having given up all those things to move to Argentina for eighteen months). Mark and I had written letters for a year and a half, but we’d never really dated–we’d never even so much as held hands! Where would I live, where would I work, what would I do? My life was one giant question mark, and I remember feeling more than a little alone and discouraged as I climbed the cliffs on the way to the Ice Cave.

Now, two years later, everything was different. Mark was by my side and we were trekking this path together. Life had unfolded for me things I never could have imagined. I never would have guessed the struggles that these two years would bring, and how steep the path would feel; but then, I never could have dreamed up the delightful surprises, the gorgeous vistas, and the perfect moments, either.

Some recent trials have snagged me like an unexpected tree root sticking up in the trail that trips you and sends you flying. I’m feeling a little bit like that lonely hiking girl again: a little sad, a little worried, a little unsure. I’m jumping up and brushing myself off and trying to pull the sticker thorns out of my hands. What will the next few years bring? I have no idea! But one thing is for sure: I’ll take the climb.

WindIceA

Natalia’s Bocaditos

Bocaditos translates to “little bites.” My friend Natalia makes this ridiculously easy fifteen-minute dish.

Bocadito1

Ingredients:

One small tomato
4 large lettuce leaves
Half of one large bell pepper
Half of one medium onion
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
Rice
2 lemon wedges or some lemon juice

Preparation:

Finely chop the tomato, lettuce leaves, pepper, and onion. (Oh man, the bell peppers in Argentina were so huge and juicy, and the produce was so fresh and cheap, sold in verdulerías every few blocks. Sigh.)

Bocadito2

Throw everything into a bowl and beat in three eggs.

Bocadito3

Stir in the salt and pepper.

Bocadito4

And the flour.

Bocadito5

The eggs and the juice from the tomatoes should mix with the flour to form a consistency like runny pancake batter.

Bocadito6

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a frying pan on medium heat. (In Argentina, everything is fried in heavy quantities of vegetable oil. But I prefer olive oil, for obvious reasons.)

Once the oil is hot, drop in spoonfuls of the vegetable/batter mixture.

Bocadito7

Once they are golden brown underneath (after about 2-3 minutes), flip them with a spatula.

Bocadito8

Once the bocaditos are cooked on both sides, drain them on paper towels. Continue frying all the mixture, adding another tablespoon of oil when the oil in the pan runs out.

Bocadito9

Once cooked, serve the bocaditos over rice and squeeze a little lemon juice over them.

As we say in Argentina, ¡Buen provecho!

Bocadito10

And now a little of Natalia’s story.

I met Natalia on my very first night in Argentina. It was twilight, and she was sitting on the front porch of her house, which was perched on the very edge of respectability and safety; another kilometer down the road and it would have been part of the abajo, the part below.

(All dangerous and impoverished neighborhoods in Argentina are down in the river bottoms, and the houses flood every August and September in the springtime. Only the middle class and the wealthy can afford to live on higher ground. The casitas del gobierno, tiny cinderblock two-room houses issued by the government, are usually built right by the river, on the poorest cheapest land.)

But Natalia’s house was nice enough: it was painted pretty pale yellow, and inside it had a real tile floor, not just rough concrete like in the casitas. There was a spacious front room where Natalia ran a kiosco, a little store. The front door was always propped open to the women and children (and sometimes men) who stopped in to buy candy, cooking oil, diapers, maxi pads, and other sundry items that Natalia stocked. I was to learn that this was customary: the fourth or fifth family on any given street in Arentina operated a kiosco out of their front room. The hours of these little businesses were always irregular, but one thing was certain: all kioscos would be closed from about one o’clock to five o’clock, when the entire country shut down so that people could eat, nap, watch fútbol on TV, or whatever else they did during siesta.

The night that we met Natalia sitting on the porch in front of her kiosco, she told us through tears of her current situation. She had a ten-year-old son with a man named Marcelo. Marcelo didn’t value Natalia enough to marry her, and he could always be seen with other women. But even though he was toxic to her, Natalia had been seeing him off and on for the last ten years. The most recent drama was that she had let him back into her house for a few days, and now she was pregnant again with his child.

It seemed so obvious to me that Marcelo wasn’t worth his salt and Natalia didn’t need him, but over the next year and a half I was to learn that her situation was far too common. Too many Argentine women were, paradoxically, the strongest and weakest people I knew. Having babies in their teens, leaning on their own mothers for support, they were determined to “salir adelante,” to come out ahead and give a good life and a good education to their children. They worked tirelessly running kioscos, sewing soccer balls, baking and selling pizzas. With the money they earned, they kept their children fed and clothed and they built their own houses out of cinderblock and concrete, adding on rooms as they could afford them. They were superwomen.

But when it came to men, they were absolutely helpless. From the fathes of their babies, or from new lovers, they bore patiently laziness, drunkenness, battering, and infidelity. But these women would not leave their men; or if they did, it was only temporarily. They were strong and determined in taking care of their children, but in standing up for themselves they were powerless.

As we visited Natalia over the next month, she seemed stronger than the crying, confused woman I had met on the concrete steps that first night. She was full of hope for the new baby to be born. I was optimistic that this baby might be just what she needed to break free from the unhappy cycle she had been in for the last ten years.

After only five weeks in Córdoba, I was sent out to a little town in the country for about five months. When I moved back to my old neighborhood in Córdoba, I was determined to visit Natalia and make sure she was okay. But she wouldn’t open her door to us.

We did, however, run into Marcelo one day in downtown Córdoba. He was arm in arm with another woman, and he pretended not to see us.

From neighborhood gossip I learned that Natalia’s baby was to be born within just a few weeks. The ladies of our church congregation were busy arming a giant gift basket filled with diapers and baby clothes. They would deliver it to Natalia when the baby was born, along with a few freezer meals she could use as she needed them.

Finally the baby arrived. The church ladies couldn’t wait to present Natalia with the gift. But when they went to the yellow house, it was Marcelo who opened the door.

He had moved in a couple months before when he was needing a place to live, it turned out, and he was still living there when Natalia had her baby. In typical Marcelo fashion, he was none too friendly. But the women did manage to ask him how Natalia was doing, and what she had named her baby, before Marcelo shut the door in their faces.

I was anxiously awaiting news of Natalia. After their visit, the ladies of the congregation relayed to me the news that the baby was a boy. And Natalia had given her new son the name Marcelo, after his father.

 

It’s summertime bike-riding season again!

bici-riding

…And I couldn’t be happier. Especially since Mark has a month-long medical school rotation in a hospital an hour and a half from our house, so we get to stay with my family for a month! Right at the mouth of the canyon, in the foothills of the mountains with the prettiest sunsets in the world.

bici-riding2

 

Santa Monica Pier

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today Mark’s family returned home to California after spending a long weekend visiting us here in Utah.

A month ago, on our way to Tel Aviv, we visited them.We had a long layover in Los Angeles, so everybody was nice enough to take the day off and pick us up at LAX for a day of family fun.

We explored Santa Monica and ate lunch on the boardwalk, then enjoyed the sunshine and the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thank you, dear family, for always making time to have fun adventures with us! We can’t wait for the next one!

The Best-Kept Secret in Galilee

PinkChurch7

I’m a wide-open spaces kind of girl. I love living ten minutes from the heart of our big city and I love all that it has to offer, but sometimes I need the restorative peace that I feel in a quiet, outdoor place where few other people tread.

Our time in the Holy Land was no different. After our 31-hour travel ordeal and two days running around Jerusalem at breakneck speed trying to see everything, we were tired and needing a breath of fresh air. What to do? Why, run away to Galilee, of course!

We revisited all my favorite spots and hit the Galilee highlights: Capernaum and the white synangogue, Tabgha, the Mount of Beatitudes, Tiberias. And best of all, we discovered a new place that we love, recommended to us by our dear friends who gave us lodging on our trip. Now that I’ve experienced how enchanting this place is, I can’t believe that 1) this place only has a stub of a wikipedia page, 2) most visitors to Galilee never even go there, and 3) I lived four months in the Holy Land without ever finding out about this gem.

So the word’s not out yet, but shhh! I’m about to tell you, if you can keep a secret. It’s the Greek Orthodox Church of the Twelve Apostles in Kfar Nahum, or Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

PinkChurch5

I can’t even tell you how enamored I am with this place. I fall hard for churches, but this one swept me off my feet before I even knew what hit me. (If you go, please leave a small donation of at least a few shekels, because one wing of the church is undergoing costly renovations right now.)

The grounds were unrivaled in terms of how well-kempt and beautiful they were. Orchards of citrus trees, rows of stately cypress trees, and walks covered in grape arbors surrounded the church. The hedges and the stone walls around the grounds hung thick with honeysuckle and fuchsia bougainvillea flowers. From the moment we crossed the threshold of the gate, we were bewitched. We were greeted by the most sumptuous citrus aroma I have ever smelled. And by several strutting peacocks.

PinkChurch4

PinkChurchArbor

I didn’t think it possible that the inside of the church could surpass the outside in loveliness, but it did. When we crossed the threshold of the church I audibly gasped because what I saw was so beautiful—resplendent ornamentation and chandeliers, and the most stunning iconography I have ever seen.

Don't you love this icon of the paralytic man being lowered into the house where Jesus will heal him? I do.

I’m so sorry that this shot is a little blurry! But don’t you love this icon of the paralytic man being lowered into the house where Jesus will heal him? I do.

The faithful being gathered into Abraham's bosom; note the name Abraham displayed in Greek.

The faithful being gathered into Abraham’s bosom; note the name Abraham displayed in Greek.

Remember after the Lord's crucifixion and resurrection when he gave Peter the injunction to feed his sheep? According to tradition, that occurred on the northwestern shore of the sea, not far from here, so this icon commemorates that event. Do you see the disciples pulling their catch into the boat? And see how Peter has jumped overboard and is swimming to the shore, where the Lord is waiting with the fire on which he will cook their breakfast?

Remember after the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection when he gave Peter the injunction to feed his sheep? According to tradition, that occurred on the northwestern shore of the sea, not far from here, so this icon commemorates that event. Do you see the disciples pulling their catch into the boat? And see how Peter has jumped overboard and is swimming to the shore, where the Lord is waiting with the fire on which he will cook their breakfast?

PinkChurch9

All around the church’s domed ceiling appeared icons of the twelve apostles and portraits of the faces of the seventy apostles, as they are called in Eastern Orthodox tradition.

PinkChurch10

The information posted in the church told us this about its history:

“On the shore of the Sea of Galilee there is a Greek Orthodox monastery with a beautiful church in honor of the 12 Apostles…It is here that our Lord Jesus Christ chose and called forth His Apostles, here He preached and performed miracles, such as the healing of the paralytic, the mother-in-law of the apostle Peter, the servant of the centurion and many others. Here in the times of Christ was the city of Capernaum.

“In the IV century AD many monasteries and churches were built in the places where our Lord lived, taught, and performed miracles. By the V century the Christian community of Capernaum had grown very big. However, in the first half of the VIII century the flourishing city of Capernaum was completely destroyed by an earthquake.

“Archaeological excavations on the city’s site show that there was a large orthodox monastery here on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. At the end of the XIX century the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem purchased a plot of land on the ruins of the ancient city of Capernaum and began to construct a monastery. In 1925…the Church of the Twelve Apostles was built. Services were held in the church until the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. According to the U.N. convention and the new borders, the monastery turned out to be on no man’s land. Therefore, there was no more access to the monastery for local Christians or pilgrims and the monastery fell into decay. In 1969, two years after the Six Day War, the Israeli army returned the monastery to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. With the grace of God, despite the fact that it is fairly isolated, the monastery began to return to life.”

After partaking of the iconography within the church, we spent some time picnicking on the grounds, and walking along the shore.

PinkChurch11

We picnicked in this lovely spot on the church grounds. See that gate? Behind it are steps that lead down into the water!

PinkChurch13

I delighted in the beauty of this site, and reveled in the profound peace and stillness I felt there. The Church of the Twelve Apostles is unlike anywhere else in the Holy Land, and for me it will always be a sacred place.

PinkChurch12PinkChurch14

 

Making Hajj to Haram-Al-Sharif

TempleMountA

TempleMountB

Haram Al-Sharif, or Haram Esh-Sharif, means “noble sanctuary” in Arabic. It couldn’t be more appropriately named; the disparity between the Temple Mount’s serene grandeur and the cacophonous crowded streets below couldn’t be more marked. When you ascend to the Temple Mount, you ascend to a world apart.

Home to the iconic Dome of the Rock, often referred to simply as “the Mosque,” this has always been one of my favorite places in the Holy City.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Muslim guide, a Jerusalem native, approached us and offered to show us around, and we took him up on his offer. His knowledge of the history of Haram-Al-Sharif, and Jerusalem in general, was impressive. He walked us around the entire Temple Mount, structure by structure, relating little-known facts about their significance and history, such as these:

  • The arches on the exterior of the Mosque total fifty-two, for fifty-two weeks in the year.
  • The exterior of the dome of the Mosque was previously lead, then bronze-aluminum alloy added in the 1960s; finally its current gleaming gold coating was furbished by King Hussein of Jordan in 1993.
  • During the second World War Mussolini sent the fine quality white carrara marble that was made into the columns  of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (the Dome of the Rock’s companion on the Temple Mount, only a stone’s throw away).

Many more things we learned from our guide in the half hour he walked with us—including the architecture lesson he gave us, pointing out different minarets on the Jerusalem skyline and teaching us how to distinguish the ones built by the Ottomans from those of Mamluk make.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But the most meaningful thing I learned from him had to do with the pillars of Islam, specifically that of Hajj, the mandate to make pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s life. “When you go to Mecca, millions of other people are there,” he explained. “You feel very small, helpless, and insignificant, just like you will feel before Allah on the day of judgment, when you stand before him naked with your sins. So you go to make Hajj, and you truly feel how you will feel on judgment day, and you come back knowing what kind of person you want to be, how you want to change your life.”

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how much I cherish the idea of  pilgrimage–going to a holy place or making a sacred journey to come into contact with the divine. I love how beautifully our Temple Mount guide articulated why one should make pilgrimage, and what can be gained from it—how you can be transformed by going to a place as holy and ancient as Haram-Al-Sharif and feeling how tiny and young you are on this earth.

TempleMountE