Much-travelled Catholic News contributor Felix Edinborough writes about a recent T&T-St Lucian pilgrimage to Jordan and Israel.
Here we were in the Citadel in Amman, Jordan, marvelling at how history, spanning thousands of years, was preserved from the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods. We were a group of 30 pilgrims from St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.
The journey started one Thursday evening in November from Piarco and after stops in St Lucia where some members of the group joined us, and in London where we changed airports, we arrived in Amman the Friday night just in time for a well-deserved sleep.
The following morning, we journeyed to the citadel in Amman known in ancient times as Rabbath-Ammon. From this vantage point up in the hills we had a bird’s eye view of the Roman Amphitheatre, a most impressive relic of ancient Philadelphia which is still functioning and seats an audience of 6,000.
Here the acoustics are so amazing you need no modern electronic speaking system. Before leaving the Citadel we spent some time at the museum which houses artifacts from thousands of years past.
Our marvel continued as we travelled to Madaba to the Greek Orthodox Church known as St George’s. This church houses a sixth century mosaic map of all the biblical sites stretching across the Middle East. Part of it, preserved in an adjacent room, contains the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem.
With excitement in our hearts we headed eagerly to Mt Nebo motivated to see if, like Moses, we could get a glimpse of the Promised Land. Here we celebrated our first Mass with our spiritual director Msgr Patrick Anthony (better known as Paba.)
After Mass, we gathered around the sculpture which has become a symbol for Mt Nebo, a modern replica of the Biblical brazen serpent. This image of the curative serpent around the pole has become the symbol of pharmacies. We stood on the viewing platform erected for Pope John Paul II and enjoyed the panoramic scene that Moses must have beheld more than 3,000 years ago.
We continued with a journey through the Jordanian desert to the Wadi Rum. Despite its name no alcohol was served. Wadi Rum is Arabic for ‘Roman Valley’. Here we had an experience never to be forgotten as the more adventurous of the pilgrims hazarded a twenty-minute safari through the burning sand high atop the back of a camel. The others took their chance on the back of a pick-up along the sandy pathway. For many this was their first time journeying, in the company of Bedouins, across a burning desert.
At our desert destination we were welcomed into a tent where we celebrated Mass. Mass in a Bedouin tent in the desert. What an experience! We must have been dreaming.
Our next unbelievable encounter was Little Petra, an archaeological site located north of Petra. Like Petra, it is a Nabataean site, with buildings carved into the walls of the sandstone canyons. As its name suggests, it is much smaller than Petra but it served as an appetiser to the real Petra which awaited us on the following day.
Yes, we had finally reached the long-awaited Petra, the fabled “rose red city, half as old as time”, a well-known ancient Nabataean city in the south of Jordan. Due to its breathtaking grandeur and fabulous ruins, Petra was recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. There is definitely nothing like this in any other part of the world, a whole city of large tombs all carved out in the rocky side of mountains.
Here you had the choice of making the one and a half kilometre journey through a towering gorge, by foot or by horse-driven chariot. On foot you stopped along the way to wonder at the stone sculptures and imbibed interesting information from our guide about the significance of these works of stone art.
Eventually towards the end of your expedition you come face to face with the most magnificent of Petra’s sights, the Treasury. It manifests supreme elegance as an example of the remains of the ancient world, carved out of solid rock and standing over 40 metres high. After a half day of this experience your imagination is exhausted and you have the feeling that you are in another world.
We awoke on the following day with a feeling of a surfeit of unbelievable experiences but there was more to come, as we had not yet visited Jerash, considered the best-preserved example of Roman civilisation and also known as the ‘Pompeii of the East,’ with its triple-arched gateway built in AD 129 to honour the Roman Emperor Hadrian. The impressive, beautifully preserved ruins include places of worship and other buildings from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim periods.
From this historic phenomenon we nourished our spirit with Mass celebrated at the modern shrine of the Church of Our Lady of the Mountain. It is the site of a miracle validated by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, in which a statue of Our Lady wept tears of blood in 2010. Culture, beauty, prayer and devotion to Our Lady, are all entwined in a dynamic mix in this one shrine in the Middle East.
This was a fitting way to end out journey through Jordan for at the end of Mass, we boarded our coach for a scenic drive to the Israel border. Goodbye Jordan, welcome Israel.