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Posted July 22, 2013

Book: The Holy Land Trek: A Pilgrims' Guide
Author: Gunther Simmermacher
Catholic Newspaper & Publishing Co.. Cape Town, South Africa. 2012. Pp 216

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Drawing from the study of Scripture, history, literature, geography, geology, anthropology and other disciplines, we are constantly developing our understanding of the events narrated in the Bible. The Holy Land Trek: A Pilgrims' Guide draws from these threads to provide an entertaining biography of the important sites of Christian pilgrimage in the Holy Land and Jordan.

Read about the history of the places where Jesus and his disciples worked and walked, their biblical and historical significance, and meet some interesting people along the way. Find out where we can locate the historical Jesus --- and even the steps upon which he doubles walked. Learn why the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is most probably the actual site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Read why St. Peter had to put on his outer garment when he spotted the Lord at the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and visit the last fully Christian village in Palestine.

An Excerpt from the Book:

First Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The first church of the Holy Sepulchre was built in the fourth century, and its construction is usually attributed to Queen Helena. When we say she built the church we don't mean that she put pencil to blueprint or mortar to brick, but that Helena appointed its site and funded its construction, which was concluded several years after her death. Indeed, since its construction and extravagant decorations were actually financed by Constantine, it is sometimes said that he built the church, though he never saw it in person.

The first church, designed by an architect named Zenobius and inaugurated on 17 September 335, was much bigger, some say twice as much, than today's Crusader structure, which itself is not exactly small. The tomb was covered by an edicule which, like that in today's church, stood in a grand rotunda. The rock of the cross, however, was outside the church, uncovered in a courtyard. Eusebius noted in 330 that the church, still under construction, was richly adorned, 'sparing no art to make it beautiful'. The interior was finished with polychrome marble. 'It was all brightly gilded and made the whole church shine and sparkle,' he wrote. The exterior was built of polished stone which created a marble effect. Sensibly, the roof was mad of lead, 'a reliable protection against winter rain.' Alas, very little of the old church remains, though Eusebius might recognize the rebuilt rotunda.

The church barely survived the sack by the Persians in 614, in which it was badly damaged by fire. The monk St Modest rebuilt the church by 625, with funding from Christians in Tiberias, Damascus, Tyre and Alexandria. When in 638 the Holy Land was conquered by the Muslims, the church was not affected. The Muslim's leader, Omar ibn al-Khattab, even decreed that Muslims were not allowed to gather in prayer in the Anastasis (the rotunda that encircles the tomb), lest it be forcibly converted to a mosque, but the caliph did claim the Martyrium, the main body of the basilica, for Islamic worship, thereby cutting off the main entrance to the church.

Table of Contents:

1. Pilgrims through the ages

2. Jesus: a brief biography

3. The hometown: Nazareth – Sepphoris – Cana

4. Jesus' Galilean H.Q.: Capernaum – Chorazin – Tabgha/Peter's Primacy – Mt of Beatitudes

5. Around Galilee

6. Western round-trip: Mt Tabor – Nain – Caesarra – Haifa & Mt Carmel – Megiddo

7. Samaria: Jacob's Well – Taybeh – Sebaste

8. Desert life: baptismal sites --- Mt of Temptation – Jericho – Qumran – Masada

9. Jordan: Bethany beyond the Jordan – Jerash – Mt Nebo – Madaba – Petra

10. Bethlehem

11. Jerusalem: a brief history

12. Jerusalem and its old city

13. Mount of Olives

14. Mount Zion and West Jerusalem

15. Via Dolorosa

16. Church of the Holy Sepulchre

17. Going West: Emmaus – Abu Gosh -- Jaffa