In God’s Land: The Temple of Jerusalem

26 09 2019
Second Temple of Jerusalem built by Herod

The Temple is located in Mount Moriah, over the rock on which God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22). Though he eventually sacrificed a ram instead of his son, that sacrifice created a blood bound between the Jews and God.

Solomon built the first Temple on that rock to commemorate the blood-bond, and since then, every Jew from all around the world would come here three times a year to renew that sacrifice. The Jews also believe that the rock of Moriah is the foundation of the world because God specifically wanted Isaac sacrificed on it.

There are three covenants feast days in Israel; first is the covenant on Mt. Sinai when God revealed to them the Torah; they keep this day a feast in all Israel, and they call it the Shavuot or the Feast of Pentecost.
The second is Yom Kippur, a day of atonement, and the holiest day of the year in which they recite the “Shema” (Hear oh Israel) as a way of remembering the promises and the third is the feast of Hanukkah or “the miracle of light” a remembrance of the time when the bottle of oil was refilling itself, as Judas Macabee rededicated the Temple profaned by Antiochus Epiphanies.

All the sacrifices in the Temple were done over the rock of Moriah just like Abraham did. The rock was enclosed in the chamber just before the room called Holy of Holies where the Arc of the Covenant rested

In the year 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, defeated Israel, ransacked and destroyed the first Temple and stole the Ark of the Covenant and it was lost forever.

When Herod came to power, there was already another temple, the second Temple built by Zerubabel, 520 BC. He didn’t like the fact that access to the Temple was narrow, so he began the expansion of the Temple. He used rocks from the mountain to build temple and it took him 46 years! So you could understand why people where angry when Jesus said he will rebuild the temple in 3 days.
In the Temple, the room called the Holy of Holies was oriented towards the west, which is towards sunset, while the rest of the building was oriented towards the east.

Jesus and his mother came to this Temple re-built by Herod, and it was in this Temple that Jesus went missing for three days while his mother and his father was looking for him.

Roman Emperor Vespasian and his son, Titus, to suppress the Jewish rebellion, destroyed the second Temple in 70AD, fulfilling the prophesy in Matthew 24:1-2 where Jesus prophesied that the Temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed and that its destruction would be so complete that not one stone would left on another.

Herod’s Temple wall was so big and so compact that to destroy it, the Roman soldeirs had to use explosives and the explosions were heard as far away as in Jericho 25km from Jerusalem. The Roman soldier expected to find gold when they broke into the holy of holies, but there was nothing. They left the ruins for centuries, without building anything on it, perhaps to rob salt into the wounds of the Jewish people and make it clear that they were totally defeated.

65 years after the destruction of the Temple, some remnant Jews regrouped and came back to rebuild the Temple. Led by Rabbi Simon bar Kokhba, they attacked and wiped out the 22nd legion of the Romans army stationed in Jerusalem. This is known as the Bar Kokhba revolt. They established an independent Jewish state which they ruled for three years.
In 135 AD, Roman Emperor Hadrian left Rome with a huge army to crush the revolt. He destroyed 700 villages, and killed one million Jews and sold the rest to slavery at the port city of Caesarea Maritime. It was said that there were so many Jewish slaves that the slave market collapsed. You could buy a healthy Jewish girl for a pair of sandals.

Hadrian emptied Jerusalem of the Jews and brought in all the enemies of the Jewish people to live in Jerusalem. He was the one that brought the Philistines, Palestinian, Syrians and the Edomites. That’s why you have a grand conflict here.

In the 7th century with the first Islamic expansion, the Muslims came and built a mosque over the rock of Moriah, which is today called the Dome of the Rock.

Pictures of Muslim Mosque called the Dome of the rock standing where Herod Temple once stood

We saw the quarry Herod used and the water system that the harmonium 200BC used to bring water to the temple

We went down the tunnel from the western wall all the way to the Antonio fortress viewing the original wall built by Herod. We saw the rituals bathrooms. It was custom that everyone coming into the temple had to take a rituals bath, coming from far. Then they will buy a rituals bathrobe, they would put on a white robe, change their money

Before the six days war, Israel was divided into east and west Jerusalem, with East Jerusalem belonging to Jordan. After Israel won the six day war, they unified Jerusalem under Israeli control and the walls dividing the city were torn down, they gained control and access to the Temple and made it possible for archeologist to begin excavations below the temple to discover the remains of their ancient past.
Each time the archeologists worked, though, there was a trouble with the Muslim who now occupy the temple mount are afraid that the Israelis are doing something under there that will make them fall down.

Despite the Muslim Mosque, “ Dome of the Rock” now standing where the Temple once stood, the children of Israel still believe that the presence of God is still on this mountain, on the Western wall. So they go there to pray , though they can no longer sacrifice the customary ram, the still pray and put pieces of paper .The custom of putting papers on the wall is because in those days not everyone could come to temple, they would give a prayer request to a friend to put in the wall

Pictures of Western Wall or Wailing Wall

We stood in front of where the holy of Holy temple

We saw the base of mount Moriah and we stood on a street paved by the Hasmonean Dynasty when there was no wall.

Standing at the entrance of the tunnel

Pictures under the tunnel of the Temple

We saw the system of tunnels to bring water from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. These tunnels were rebuilt by Herod to channel water to the temple. The waters are collected in cisterns. The temple needs water because of all the animals killed there. We came out directly one the Fortress of Antonio, also called Ecce homo, which is in the Muslims quarters

Lectures on Antonia Fortress

Herod built the Antonia Fortress to help the Romans keep an eye on the Temple because the Jews asked them not to enter into the temple area. Though the Roman agreed, because of fear of the huge crowd, they requested that Herod build a Fortress Antonia next to the Temple, from where they could house legions to deploy incase trouble broke out in the temple, like a rapid reaction squad. Even Pilate didn’t live in Jerusalem, but in Caesarea Maritime, yet, he would come to Jerusalem, to the Fortress, for the feast and keep an eye out for trouble.

Ecce Homo

In 1857, Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, a French Jew and former atheist who converted to Catholicism and became a priest, decided to purchase the site and start a convent The sisters of Zion whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Muslims.

The sister of Zion, found on the pavement to an etching of a game by Roman soldiers discovered in 1864 involving the execution of a “monk king”, the flagstones of Gabbatha, which John 19:13 describes as the location where Pontius Pilate adjudged Jesus’ trial

Lithostrotos: Roman pavement, the site of Jesus’ trial at the Antonia Fortress. An etching of the game of the Kings, a game played by Roman soldiers which they throw dice until one loses is the called king; this was what they did to Jesus. According to Bill Slot, “The Kings Game:” an actual board game etched into the stones, on which the Roman soldiers played to pass the time in between guard shifts or patrol duty, tossing dice carved from sheep knuckles and moving tokens around a crown-shaped board. This game, known to historians as Basileus, has been found throughout the Roman Empire, wherever soldiers were fighting off boredom. Many Christian scholars have considered the irony of “The King’s Game” in the very place where, a century earlier, Roman soldiers had mocked Jesus, “King of the Jews,” crowning him with thorns, dressing him in royal purple and taunting him.

We celebrated Mass at the Church of Ecce Homo.

Pictures as we walked to the Church of Ecce Home after exiting the tunnels

Basilica of Ecce Homo, named for Pontius Pilate’s Ecce homo speech which is traditionally thought to have taken place on the pavement below the church.

Mass at Ecce Homo

Between 1858 and 1862, he built a basilica (the Church of Ecce Homo), which overlaps part of the gateway arch called Ecce homo. Though, the arch itself is not from the time of Pilate, still it is in this very place, in the Antonia Fortress, that that Jesus was mocked.

Jewish quarters

After destroying Jerusalem, Hadrian built a new city on the ruins and called it Aelia Capitolina and built the Cardo Maximus generally lined with shops and vendors, and served as a hub of economic life. Cardo Maximus is still visible on the Jewish Quarter Street, though the original pavement lies several meters below the modern street level. In the 7th century, when Jerusalem fell under Muslim rule, the Cardo became an Arab-style marketplace. Remains of the Byzantine Cardo were found in the Jewish Quarter excavations

Walking through the Jewish Quarter and Cardo Maximus

The Jewish Quarter is one of the four traditional quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem
The quarter is inhabited by around 2,000 residents Jews and is home to numerous yeshivas and synagogues, most notably the Hurva Synagogue, destroyed numerous times and rededicated in 2010.(source Wikipedia)

Visit to the Hurva Synagogue





The Girl Who Looked Death in the Eye and Smiled

8 03 2019

#InternationalWomensDay

by Chinwuba Iyizoba

People the world over flee illness and suffering and despise death as an evil that must be avoided at all cost. They feel themselves most unfortunate, even unlucky if ever one or the other should overcome them. Yet, there was a young girl who did not despise and fly from suffering and pain, but even looked death in the eye with a smile, accepting and embracing it as a gentle caress full of affection from a God who loved her so much.

Who was this girl and how did she come to have such uncommon attitude in the face of pain, suffering, even death. What gave her mind to understand that acceptance rather than hatred and rejection are the most effective antibiotics against infecting the soul with bitterness. What were the outcome of these her radical ideas?

Her name was Maria Montse Grases, a young Spaniard who lived in Barcelona. She was only 17 in 1957 when she was diagnosed with a rare and painful bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma. In the 50’s   Ewing’s sarcoma was a death sentence.


Maria Montse Grases

 Montse loved life and had an infectious smile straight from the heart. Her eyes shown like diamonds, tall and strong, it seems there was almost always a perpetual smile on her face, a smile that came straight from the heart. Her eyes were kind, friendly and filled with playful mischief.  She was neat and tidy and her clothes reflected style and taste. She especially liked a green plaid skirt that reached her ankles

  She liked sport and music as well as traditional local dances. She was a good athlete, playing basketball, tennis, and ping-pong. But her favorite recreation was outings with friends.

In many sense she was like any other girl; yet, she was unlike many other girls because she radiated an inner charm and her virtues and character made her attractive to all who met her. 

She almost never worried about herself but busied herself taking care of others, she showered love and attention on the needy and suffering; and took her friends to visit poor families and sick people, and she regularly gave religions classes to the local children in parishes, and would sometimes bring them toys and sweets.

 She took great care of her spiritual life of prayers because she loved God with a personal love that was both intimate and filled with reverence.  To her, God was a friend with whom she could share everything, the deepest secrets of her soul, she laid bare to him daily in prayer and anything that worried her.

Like every young woman, she had her personal shortcomings.  Impulsive and brusque at times, she however never compromised with her personal defects, wrestling resolutely against them and struggling to control her occasional ill temper, and be friendly and jovial with everyone.

This greatness of heart shone like a brilliant star when she demonstrated a rare capacity to dedicate herself to something greater than herself. 

When she was 11, her parents came in contact with Opus Dei an institution in the Catholic Church that shows ordinary people how to be holy in the ordinary circumstances of each day. They readily understood the message of Opus Dei and within two years both had joined Opus Dei.

Montse’s parents thought her how to deal with Jesus with confidence, they strove to make her stable companion of Jesus sparing no effort to make it happen.  It was her mother who first suggested she visited a center of Opus Dei, where Christian and human formation is give to young girls. In attending the means of formation given in the center of Opus Dei, she perceived one day God was calling her to serve him as a celibate member of Opus Dei. She was sixteen

After meditating, praying, and seeking advice, she asked to be admitted to Opus Dei. From then on she struggled decisively and with constancy to seek holiness in her daily life. She struggled to be in constant conversation with God, to discover the will of God in the fulfillment of her duties and in caring for little details out of love, and to make life pleasant for those around her. She was able to transmit to many of her relatives and friends the peace that comes from living close to God.

Her brother George soon took notice that Montse had changed. Though externally, she was the same, same dress, she still attended classes on cooking and arts, but her brothers noticed that she was no longer arguing with him, and was more affectionate and tactful. She seemed to have suddenly grown up.

What made her so readily generous with God?  Some people attribute it to her parent’s generosity with God in having a large family. Montse was the second of nine children.

“Me and my wife agreed in everything, ready to start a Christian family, accepting all children God wanted to send.” Her father said.

Ewing’s sarcoma

One day on June 1958, Montse went skiing with friends and injured her leg. The pain was excruciating and won’t go away; her parents took her to a clinic. After lengthy investigations, the doctor took her parent aside, and told them she had a rare kind of bone cancer, causing the great pain she had been experiencing. But worse, it was incurable. She was going to die.

Devastated, her parents wept inconsolably, unable to speak or break the news to her.

Finally, they told her.

“Would it help if they cut the bad leg?” she asked.

“I am afraid my daughter, that will not help.” her sad father said.

To her parents surprise she brightened up and began singing a Mexican song and that night, as her mother recalled slept soundly.

Little by little, her illness got worse though, and she spent many a sleepless night squirming in pain; the treatment made her suffer a lot. Her pain increased to the point of being almost unbearable. From February 16th on, her leg was so swollen up to the hip that her skin began to crack.

Treating the leg was terribly painful. But instead of complaining, she hummed a song. She always had an affectionate word for those who treated her leg, even though they couldn’t help hurting her.

She couldn’t eat. To take anything was a real torture. Since she couldn’t swallow anything, she sucked on a piece of ice for refreshment. She usually commented that she was a coward because she was afraid the suffering would come.  

Jesus was afraid to die?

At first, she naturally was afraid to die. One day she said to a friend: “I’m afraid of dying, because I’m afraid to be alone.”

Her friend tried to encourage her by mentioning the scene of Jesus in Gethsemane was afraid to die.

“Jesus was afraid to die?” She exclaimed, astonished that she hadn’t thought about that before. Joy flooded into her heart.

“What joy to find myself afraid together with Jesus,” Montse exclaimed ecstatically clasping her hands, her face radiant with peace and joy.

 “Together with Jesus I will face death happily!”

The end drew to a close rapidly however.  At the beginning of March they had to call the doctor quickly because. Montse had such a weak pulse that it was hardly noticeable.

The doctor, when he took her pulse couldn’t hide his concern that was noticed by all. Montse broke the anguished silence by picking up the doctor’s bag from the bed and saying: “Mama, have you seen this strange bag?”

This made everyone smile.

She grew much worse. They thought the moment had arrived to give her the Blessing of the Sick. She also thought it would be good to have it as soon as possible. A priest of Opus Dei administered this sacrament. Montse followed the ritual with great devotion, showing no sadness. Every once in a while she smiled at her mother who knelt at the foot of the bed.

On March 18, eve of the feast of St. Joseph, it seemed that the hour of her death had arrived. Montse was very happy.

“How do I look,” she asked those who were staying with her.

 “All right,” someone answered. Montse wanted them to say, “Worse.” And when asked, “How do you feel?” she answered unenthusiastically, “Me? Fine; just look.” The clock struck eleven, and she asked, “What time is it? Am I still here?”

At twelve she was asked, “Montse, do you want to pray?”

 They said the Angelus. At that moment she was more awake, and she said: “Do you know what I think? I’m not going to worry any more. When God wants, he’ll take me.”

Soon to Heaven

St. Joseph’s day passed, and her general condition improved somewhat. The doctor came to see her and Montse asked later: “What did he say? What’s happening? Aren’t I going?”

“He said you might go at any moment,” they answered.

 “Can you imagine? Soon to Heaven, soon to Heaven! Will you let me go?” she exclaimed happily, hugging the person who had told her the doctor’s comment.

Little by little she weakened. The nights were the worst. A continuous sweat left her exhausted. She became very thirsty and felt suffocated. The night before her death, Montse wanted to say something. But in spite of the effort she made no one could understand her. Early in the morning of that Holy Thursday, March 26, 1959, the directress of the Opus Dei house that she attended was close to her bed, and Montse asked her to say aspirations since she herself couldn’t talk anymore. About ten o’clock she tried to sit up to see the picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary that she had in front of her bed.

She whispered: “How much I love you. When are you coming to take me?” These were her last words. Her life ebbed away little by little.

At noon, those who were with her prayed the Angelus. She must have followed it with her heart. It was her last glance toward the One she loved so much, and to whom she had said so many things during her lifetime. Those who were with her began to say the Rosary in a soft voice, and they had just finished the first mystery when Montse died

Montserrat Graces, an 18 year old girl when she died on March 25, 1959 and was recently declared venerable by Pope Francis. She is a model for all women on women’s day. 








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