Thursday, January 05, 2012

No Explanations please


In November while in Israel, in Old Jerusalem we visited St. Anne's Basilica where no explanations can be offered; these signs are posted everywhere in the church. We didn't hear any explanations but a man did run in and start yelling at the top of his voice. I couldn't tell what language he was yelling in or what he wanted. A woman came along and shouted at him to "Shut Up!" and he turned around and left.

St. Anne's is on the site of the Bethesda pool (rain water reservoirs) whose waters were believed to be healing. The story goes that an angel flew over the pools once every 24 hours; whoever happened to be inside the water at that time would be miraculously healed. Christians believe that Jesus met and healed a paralytic there.

According to several Christian histories, the Virgin Mary was born in a cave near here. The Crusaders came roaring into the area in the twelfth century, slaughtering most of the inhabitants in the name of God and "discovered" many specific sites like this one, apparently overlooked by Helena, mother of Constantine who discovered most of the rest of them. The Crusaders included the cave in a huge church named for Anne, Mary's mother and the grandmother of Jesus. If the Crusaders or Helena missed a spot, the Franciscans stepped into the breach and named sufficient locales to satisfy the growing needs of pilgrims who traveled long and hard to get to Jerusalem and found the area a bit deficient in tourist infrastructure.

Nuns - Damascus Gate
St. Anne's now belongs to the French Government and is run by the White Fathers, an order of the Catholic Church named for the color of their robes. We ran into this group of white-robed Africans in the church and they popped up everywhere we went for the rest of the day. Easy to happen in Old Jerusalem where everyone is slogging around from one religious site to another. Many in this group had purchased suitcases at one of the shops and they were pushing them along like battering rams through the crowd. You had to keep alert and stay out of their way.
Tourists with suitcase battering rams

St. Anne's church is beautiful, simple and has fantastic acoustics. The Gregorian Chant plays constantly and the music is wonderful in that environment, even with half an ear. After seeing hundreds of bleeding suffering Christs on a cross, the image of the peaceful Anne and the beautiful austerity of the church was a relief. The story goes that Mary was born to Anne in the normal human way but she was born free of original sin so that she could go on to conceive Jesus, hence the Immaculate Conception. 

Lighting candles and asking St. Anne for favors

Anne is the patron saint of, to list only a few : Detroit, Brittany, Quebec, the Mi'kmaq people of Canada and Santa Ana, California. She is also the patron saint of horseback riders, housewives, grandmothers, cabinet makers, unmarried women, women in labor and miners. She has an eclectic brood under her wing. What do cabinet makers and women in labor share in common?

We walked from the tranquility of St. Annes and the Bethesda pools over to the Damascus gate - a wonderfully chaotic spot, filled with people from all over the world milling around, buying and selling things, discussing the issues, living their lives. 

Damascus Gate
Commerce Damascus Gate

Tiny egg seller


  1. my ex husband at one time had a cabinet making business. He had a huge order that he had to haul all the way to l.a. On the way there all the cabinets fell off his truck onto the freeway. Too bad he didn't know about St. Anne before he set off for L.A. If he had said a prayer to her, he might have been spared all that frustration.

  2. That must have been horrible. What did he do? Don't tell me he was on the Santa Ana freeway.