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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter LIII

Innocents Abroad

Chapter LIII

A fast walker could go outside the walls of Jerusalem and walk entirely
around the city in an hour. I do not know how else to make one
understand how small it is. The appearance of the city is peculiar. It
is as knobby with countless little domes as a prison door is with bolt-
heads. Every house has from one to half a dozen of these white plastered
domes of stone, broad and low, sitting in the centre of, or in a cluster
upon, the flat roof. Wherefore, when one looks down from an eminence,
upon the compact mass of houses (so closely crowded together, in fact,
that there is no appearance of streets at all, and so the city looks
solid,) he sees the knobbiest town in the world, except Constantinople.
It looks as if it might be roofed, from centre to circumference, with
inverted saucers. The monotony of the view is interrupted only by the
great Mosque of Omar, the Tower of Hippicus, and one or two other
buildings that rise into commanding prominence.

The houses are generally two stories high, built strongly of masonry,
whitewashed or plastered outside, and have a cage of wooden lattice-work
projecting in front of every window. To reproduce a Jerusalem street, it
would only be necessary to up-end a chicken-coop and hang it before each
window in an alley of American houses.

The streets are roughly and badly paved with stone, and are tolerably
crooked--enough so to make each street appear to close together
constantly and come to an end about a hundred yards ahead of a pilgrim as
long as he chooses to walk in it. Projecting from the top of the lower
story of many of the houses is a very narrow porch-roof or shed, without
supports from below; and I have several times seen cats jump across the
street from one shed to the other when they were out calling. The cats
could have jumped double the distance without extraordinary exertion. I
mention these things to give an idea of how narrow the streets are.
Since a cat can jump across them without the least inconvenience, it is
hardly necessary to state that such streets are too narrow for carriages.
These vehicles cannot navigate the Holy City.

The population of Jerusalem is composed of Moslems, Jews, Greeks, Latins,
Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Abyssinians, Greek Catholics, and a handful of
Protestants. One hundred of the latter sect are all that dwell now in
this birthplace of Christianity. The nice shades of nationality
comprised in the above list, and the languages spoken by them, are
altogether too numerous to mention. It seems to me that all the races
and colors and tongues of the earth must be represented among the
fourteen thousand souls that dwell in Jerusalem. Rags, wretchedness,
poverty and dirt, those signs and symbols that indicate the presence of
Moslem rule more surely than the crescent-flag itself, abound. Lepers,
cripples, the blind, and the idiotic, assail you on every hand, and they
know but one word of but one language apparently--the eternal
"bucksheesh." To see the numbers of maimed, malformed and diseased
humanity that throng the holy places and obstruct the gates, one might
suppose that the ancient days had come again, and that the angel of the
Lord was expected to descend at any moment to stir the waters of
Bethesda. Jerusalem is mournful, and dreary, and lifeless. I would not
desire to live here.

One naturally goes first to the Holy Sepulchre. It is right in the city,
near the western gate; it and the place of the Crucifixion, and, in fact,
every other place intimately connected with that tremendous event, are
ingeniously massed together and covered by one roof--the dome of the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Entering the building, through the midst of the usual assemblage of
beggars, one sees on his left a few Turkish guards--for Christians of
different sects will not only quarrel, but fight, also, in this sacred
place, if allowed to do it. Before you is a marble slab, which covers
the Stone of Unction, whereon the Saviour's body was laid to prepare it
for burial. It was found necessary to conceal the real stone in this way
in order to save it from destruction. Pilgrims were too much given to
chipping off pieces of it to carry home. Near by is a circular railing
which marks the spot where the Virgin stood when the Lord's body was

Entering the great Rotunda, we stand before the most sacred locality in
Christendom--the grave of Jesus. It is in the centre of the church, and
immediately under the great dome. It is inclosed in a sort of little
temple of yellow and white stone, of fanciful design. Within the little
temple is a portion of the very stone which was rolled away from the door
of the Sepulchre, and on which the angel was sitting when Mary came
thither "at early dawn." Stooping low, we enter the vault--the Sepulchre
itself. It is only about six feet by seven, and the stone couch on which
the dead Saviour lay extends from end to end of the apartment and
occupies half its width. It is covered with a marble slab which has been
much worn by the lips of pilgrims. This slab serves as an altar, now.
Over it hang some fifty gold and silver lamps, which are kept always
burning, and the place is otherwise scandalized by trumpery, gewgaws, and
tawdry ornamentation.

All sects of Christians (except Protestants,) have chapels under the roof
of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and each must keep to itself and not
venture upon another's ground. It has been proven conclusively that they
can not worship together around the grave of the Saviour of the World in
peace. The chapel of the Syrians is not handsome; that of the Copts is
the humblest of them all. It is nothing but a dismal cavern, roughly
hewn in the living rock of the Hill of Calvary. In one side of it two
ancient tombs are hewn, which are claimed to be those in which Nicodemus
and Joseph of Aramathea were buried.

As we moved among the great piers and pillars of another part of the
church, we came upon a party of black-robed, animal-looking Italian
monks, with candles in their hands, who were chanting something in Latin,
and going through some kind of religious performance around a disk of
white marble let into the floor. It was there that the risen Saviour
appeared to Mary Magdalen in the likeness of a gardener. Near by was a
similar stone, shaped like a star--here the Magdalen herself stood, at
the same time. Monks were performing in this place also. They perform
everywhere--all over the vast building, and at all hours. Their candles
are always flitting about in the gloom, and making the dim old church
more dismal than there is any necessity that it should be, even though it
is a tomb.

We were shown the place where our Lord appeared to His mother after the
Resurrection. Here, also, a marble slab marks the place where St.
Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, found the crosses about
three hundred years after the Crucifixion. According to the legend, this
great discovery elicited extravagant demonstrations of joy. But they
were of short duration. The question intruded itself: "Which bore the
blessed Saviour, and which the thieves?" To be in doubt, in so mighty a
matter as this--to be uncertain which one to adore--was a grievous
misfortune. It turned the public joy to sorrow. But when lived there a
holy priest who could not set so simple a trouble as this at rest? One
of these soon hit upon a plan that would be a certain test. A noble lady
lay very ill in Jerusalem. The wise priests ordered that the three
crosses be taken to her bedside one at a time. It was done. When her
eyes fell upon the first one, she uttered a scream that was heard beyond
the Damascus Gate, and even upon the Mount of Olives, it was said, and
then fell back in a deadly swoon. They recovered her and brought the
second cross. Instantly she went into fearful convulsions, and it was
with the greatest difficulty that six strong men could hold her. They
were afraid, now, to bring in the third cross. They began to fear that
possibly they had fallen upon the wrong crosses, and that the true cross
was not with this number at all. However, as the woman seemed likely to
die with the convulsions that were tearing her, they concluded that the
third could do no more than put her out of her misery with a happy
dispatch. So they brought it, and behold, a miracle! The woman sprang
from her bed, smiling and joyful, and perfectly restored to health. When
we listen to evidence like this, we cannot but believe. We would be
ashamed to doubt, and properly, too. Even the very part of Jerusalem
where this all occurred is there yet. So there is really no room for

The priests tried to show us, through a small screen, a fragment of the
genuine Pillar of Flagellation, to which Christ was bound when they
scourged him. But we could not see it, because it was dark inside the
screen. However, a baton is kept here, which the pilgrim thrusts through
a hole in the screen, and then he no longer doubts that the true Pillar
of Flagellation is in there. He can not have any excuse to doubt it, for
he can feel it with the stick. He can feel it as distinctly as he could
feel any thing.

Not far from here was a niche where they used to preserve a piece of the
True Cross, but it is gone, now. This piece of the cross was discovered
in the sixteenth century. The Latin priests say it was stolen away, long
ago, by priests of another sect. That seems like a hard statement to
make, but we know very well that it was stolen, because we have seen it
ourselves in several of the cathedrals of Italy and France.

But the relic that touched us most was the plain old sword of that stout
Crusader, Godfrey of Bulloigne--King Godfrey of Jerusalem. No blade in
Christendom wields such enchantment as this--no blade of all that rust in
the ancestral halls of Europe is able to invoke such visions of romance
in the brain of him who looks upon it--none that can prate of such
chivalric deeds or tell such brave tales of the warrior days of old. It
stirs within a man every memory of the Holy Wars that has been sleeping
in his brain for years, and peoples his thoughts with mail-clad images,
with marching armies, with battles and with sieges. It speaks to him of
Baldwin, and Tancred, the princely Saladin, and great Richard of the Lion
Heart. It was with just such blades as these that these splendid heroes
of romance used to segregate a man, so to speak, and leave the half of
him to fall one way and the other half the other. This very sword has
cloven hundreds of Saracen Knights from crown to chin in those old times
when Godfrey wielded it. It was enchanted, then, by a genius that was
under the command of King Solomon. When danger approached its master's
tent it always struck the shield and clanged out a fierce alarm upon the
startled ear of night. In times of doubt, or in fog or darkness, if it
were drawn from its sheath it would point instantly toward the foe, and
thus reveal the way--and it would also attempt to start after them of its
own accord. A Christian could not be so disguised that it would not know
him and refuse to hurt him--nor a Moslem so disguised that it would not
leap from its scabbard and take his life. These statements are all well
authenticated in many legends that are among the most trustworthy legends
the good old Catholic monks preserve. I can never forget old Godfrey's
sword, now. I tried it on a Moslem, and clove him in twain like a
doughnut. The spirit of Grimes was upon me, and if I had had a graveyard
I would have destroyed all the infidels in Jerusalem. I wiped the blood
off the old sword and handed it back to the priest--I did not want the
fresh gore to obliterate those sacred spots that crimsoned its brightness
one day six hundred years ago and thus gave Godfrey warning that before
the sun went down his journey of life would end.

Still moving through the gloom of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre we
came to a small chapel, hewn out of the rock--a place which has been
known as "The Prison of Our Lord" for many centuries. Tradition says
that here the Saviour was confined just previously to the crucifixion.
Under an altar by the door was a pair of stone stocks for human legs.
These things are called the "Bonds of Christ," and the use they were once
put to has given them the name they now bear.

The Greek Chapel is the most roomy, the richest and the showiest chapel
in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Its altar, like that of all the
Greek churches, is a lofty screen that extends clear across the chapel,
and is gorgeous with gilding and pictures. The numerous lamps that hang
before it are of gold and silver, and cost great sums.

But the feature of the place is a short column that rises from the middle
of the marble pavement of the chapel, and marks the exact centre of the
earth. The most reliable traditions tell us that this was known to be
the earth's centre, ages ago, and that when Christ was upon earth he set
all doubts upon the subject at rest forever, by stating with his own lips
that the tradition was correct. Remember, He said that that particular
column stood upon the centre of the world. If the centre of the world
changes, the column changes its position accordingly. This column has
moved three different times of its own accord. This is because, in great
convulsions of nature, at three different times, masses of the earth--
whole ranges of mountains, probably--have flown off into space, thus
lessening the diameter of the earth, and changing the exact locality of
its centre by a point or two. This is a very curious and interesting
circumstance, and is a withering rebuke to those philosophers who would
make us believe that it is not possible for any portion of the earth to
fly off into space.

To satisfy himself that this spot was really the centre of the earth, a
sceptic once paid well for the privilege of ascending to the dome of the
church to see if the sun gave him a shadow at noon. He came down
perfectly convinced. The day was very cloudy and the sun threw no
shadows at all; but the man was satisfied that if the sun had come out
and made shadows it could not have made any for him. Proofs like these
are not to be set aside by the idle tongues of cavilers. To such as are
not bigoted, and are willing to be convinced, they carry a conviction
that nothing can ever shake.

If even greater proofs than those I have mentioned are wanted, to satisfy
the headstrong and the foolish that this is the genuine centre of the
earth, they are here. The greatest of them lies in the fact that from
under this very column was taken the dust from which Adam was made. This
can surely be regarded in the light of a settler. It is not likely that
the original first man would have been made from an inferior quality of
earth when it was entirely convenient to get first quality from the
world's centre. This will strike any reflecting mind forcibly. That
Adam was formed of dirt procured in this very spot is amply proven by the
fact that in six thousand years no man has ever been able to prove that
the dirt was not procured here whereof he was made.

It is a singular circumstance that right under the roof of this same
great church, and not far away from that illustrious column, Adam
himself, the father of the human race, lies buried. There is no question
that he is actually buried in the grave which is pointed out as his--
there can be none--because it has never yet been proven that that grave
is not the grave in which he is buried.

The tomb of Adam! How touching it was, here in a land of strangers, far
away from home, and friends, and all who cared for me, thus to discover
the grave of a blood relation. True, a distant one, but still a
relation. The unerring instinct of nature thrilled its recognition. The
fountain of my filial affection was stirred to its profoundest depths,
and I gave way to tumultuous emotion. I leaned upon a pillar and burst
into tears. I deem it no shame to have wept over the grave of my poor
dead relative. Let him who would sneer at my emotion close this volume
here, for he will find little to his taste in my journeyings through Holy
Land. Noble old man--he did not live to see me--he did not live to see
his child. And I--I--alas, I did not live to see him. Weighed down by
sorrow and disappointment, he died before I was born--six thousand brief
summers before I was born. But let us try to bear it with fortitude.
Let us trust that he is better off where he is. Let us take comfort in
the thought that his loss is our eternal gain.

The next place the guide took us to in the holy church was an altar
dedicated to the Roman soldier who was of the military guard that
attended at the Crucifixion to keep order, and who--when the vail of the
Temple was rent in the awful darkness that followed; when the rock of
Golgotha was split asunder by an earthquake; when the artillery of heaven
thundered, and in the baleful glare of the lightnings the shrouded dead
flitted about the streets of Jerusalem--shook with fear and said, "Surely
this was the Son of God!" Where this altar stands now, that Roman
soldier stood then, in full view of the crucified Saviour--in full sight
and hearing of all the marvels that were transpiring far and wide about
the circumference of the Hill of Calvary. And in this self-same spot the
priests of the Temple beheaded him for those blasphemous words he had

In this altar they used to keep one of the most curious relics that human
eyes ever looked upon--a thing that had power to fascinate the beholder
in some mysterious way and keep him gazing for hours together. It was
nothing less than the copper plate Pilate put upon the Saviour's cross,
and upon which he wrote, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." I think St.
Helena, the mother of Constantine, found this wonderful memento when she
was here in the third century. She traveled all over Palestine, and was
always fortunate. Whenever the good old enthusiast found a thing
mentioned in her Bible, Old or New, she would go and search for that
thing, and never stop until she found it. If it was Adam, she would find
Adam; if it was the Ark, she would find the Ark; if it was Goliath, or
Joshua, she would find them. She found the inscription here that I was
speaking of, I think. She found it in this very spot, close to where the
martyred Roman soldier stood. That copper plate is in one of the
churches in Rome, now. Any one can see it there. The inscription is
very distinct.

We passed along a few steps and saw the altar built over the very spot
where the good Catholic priests say the soldiers divided the raiment of
the Saviour.

Then we went down into a cavern which cavilers say was once a cistern.
It is a chapel, now, however--the Chapel of St. Helena. It is fifty-one
feet long by forty-three wide. In it is a marble chair which Helena used
to sit in while she superintended her workmen when they were digging and
delving for the True Cross. In this place is an altar dedicated to St.
Dimas, the penitent thief. A new bronze statue is here--a statue of St.
Helena. It reminded us of poor Maximilian, so lately shot. He presented
it to this chapel when he was about to leave for his throne in Mexico.

From the cistern we descended twelve steps into a large roughly-shaped
grotto, carved wholly out of the living rock. Helena blasted it out when
she was searching for the true Cross. She had a laborious piece of work,
here, but it was richly rewarded. Out of this place she got the crown of
thorns, the nails of the cross, the true Cross itself, and the cross of
the penitent thief. When she thought she had found every thing and was
about to stop, she was told in a dream to continue a day longer. It was
very fortunate. She did so, and found the cross of the other thief.

The walls and roof of this grotto still weep bitter tears in memory of
the event that transpired on Calvary, and devout pilgrims groan and sob
when these sad tears fall upon them from the dripping rock. The monks
call this apartment the "Chapel of the Invention of the Cross"--a name
which is unfortunate, because it leads the ignorant to imagine that a
tacit acknowledgment is thus made that the tradition that Helena found
the true Cross here is a fiction--an invention. It is a happiness to
know, however, that intelligent people do not doubt the story in any of
its particulars.

Priests of any of the chapels and denominations in the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre can visit this sacred grotto to weep and pray and worship the
gentle Redeemer. Two different congregations are not allowed to enter at
the same time, however, because they always fight.

Still marching through the venerable Church of the Holy Sepulchre, among
chanting priests in coarse long robes and sandals; pilgrims of all colors
and many nationalities, in all sorts of strange costumes; under dusky
arches and by dingy piers and columns; through a sombre cathedral gloom
freighted with smoke and incense, and faintly starred with scores of
candles that appeared suddenly and as suddenly disappeared, or drifted
mysteriously hither and thither about the distant aisles like ghostly
jack-o'-lanterns--we came at last to a small chapel which is called the
"Chapel of the Mocking." Under the altar was a fragment of a marble
column; this was the seat Christ sat on when he was reviled, and
mockingly made King, crowned with a crown of thorns and sceptred with a
reed. It was here that they blindfolded him and struck him, and said in
derision, "Prophesy who it is that smote thee." The tradition that this
is the identical spot of the mocking is a very ancient one. The guide
said that Saewulf was the first to mention it. I do not know Saewulf,
but still, I cannot well refuse to receive his evidence--none of us can.

They showed us where the great Godfrey and his brother Baldwin, the first
Christian Kings of Jerusalem, once lay buried by that sacred sepulchre
they had fought so long and so valiantly to wrest from the hands of the
infidel. But the niches that had contained the ashes of these renowned
crusaders were empty. Even the coverings of their tombs were gone--
destroyed by devout members of the Greek Church, because Godfrey and
Baldwin were Latin princes, and had been reared in a Christian faith
whose creed differed in some unimportant respects from theirs.

We passed on, and halted before the tomb of Melchisedek! You will
remember Melchisedek, no doubt; he was the King who came out and levied a
tribute on Abraham the time that he pursued Lot's captors to Dan, and
took all their property from them. That was about four thousand years
ago, and Melchisedek died shortly afterward. However, his tomb is in a
good state of preservation.

When one enters the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Sepulchre itself is
the first thing he desires to see, and really is almost the first thing
he does see. The next thing he has a strong yearning to see is the spot
where the Saviour was crucified. But this they exhibit last. It is the
crowning glory of the place. One is grave and thoughtful when he stands
in the little Tomb of the Saviour--he could not well be otherwise in such
a place--but he has not the slightest possible belief that ever the Lord
lay there, and so the interest he feels in the spot is very, very greatly
marred by that reflection. He looks at the place where Mary stood, in
another part of the church, and where John stood, and Mary Magdalen;
where the mob derided the Lord; where the angel sat; where the crown of
thorns was found, and the true Cross; where the risen Saviour appeared--
he looks at all these places with interest, but with the same conviction
he felt in the case of the Sepulchre, that there is nothing genuine about
them, and that they are imaginary holy places created by the monks. But
the place of the Crucifixion affects him differently. He fully believes
that he is looking upon the very spot where the Savior gave up his
life. He remembers that Christ was very celebrated, long before he came
to Jerusalem; he knows that his fame was so great that crowds followed
him all the time; he is aware that his entry into the city produced a
stirring sensation, and that his reception was a kind of ovation; he can
not overlook the fact that when he was crucified there were very many in
Jerusalem who believed that he was the true Son of God. To publicly
execute such a personage was sufficient in itself to make the locality of
the execution a memorable place for ages; added to this, the storm, the
darkness, the earthquake, the rending of the vail of the Temple, and the
untimely waking of the dead, were events calculated to fix the execution
and the scene of it in the memory of even the most thoughtless witness.
Fathers would tell their sons about the strange affair, and point out the
spot; the sons would transmit the story to their children, and thus a
period of three hundred years would easily be spanned--[The thought is
Mr. Prime's, not mine, and is full of good sense. I borrowed it from his
"Tent Life."--M. T.]--at which time Helena came and built a church upon
Calvary to commemorate the death and burial of the Lord and preserve the
sacred place in the memories of men; since that time there has always
been a church there. It is not possible that there can be any mistake
about the locality of the Crucifixion. Not half a dozen persons knew
where they buried the Saviour, perhaps, and a burial is not a startling
event, any how; therefore, we can be pardoned for unbelief in the
Sepulchre, but not in the place of the Crucifixion. Five hundred years
hence there will be no vestige of Bunker Hill Monument left, but America
will still know where the battle was fought and where Warren fell. The
crucifixion of Christ was too notable an event in Jerusalem, and the Hill
of Calvary made too celebrated by it, to be forgotten in the short space
of three hundred years. I climbed the stairway in the church which
brings one to the top of the small inclosed pinnacle of rock, and looked
upon the place where the true cross once stood, with a far more absorbing
interest than I had ever felt in any thing earthly before. I could not
believe that the three holes in the top of the rock were the actual ones
the crosses stood in, but I felt satisfied that those crosses had stood
so near the place now occupied by them, that the few feet of possible
difference were a matter of no consequence.

When one stands where the Saviour was crucified, he finds it all he can
do to keep it strictly before his mind that Christ was not crucified in a
Catholic Church. He must remind himself every now and then that the
great event transpired in the open air, and not in a gloomy, candle-
lighted cell in a little corner of a vast church, up-stairs--a small cell
all bejeweled and bespangled with flashy ornamentation, in execrable

Under a marble altar like a table, is a circular hole in the marble
floor, corresponding with the one just under it in which the true Cross
stood. The first thing every one does is to kneel down and take a candle
and examine this hole. He does this strange prospecting with an amount
of gravity that can never be estimated or appreciated by a man who has
not seen the operation. Then he holds his candle before a richly
engraved picture of the Saviour, done on a messy slab of gold, and
wonderfully rayed and starred with diamonds, which hangs above the hole
within the altar, and his solemnity changes to lively admiration. He
rises and faces the finely wrought figures of the Saviour and the
malefactors uplifted upon their crosses behind the altar, and bright with
a metallic lustre of many colors. He turns next to the figures close to
them of the Virgin and Mary Magdalen; next to the rift in the living rock
made by the earthquake at the time of the Crucifixion, and an extension
of which he had seen before in the wall of one of the grottoes below; he
looks next at the show-case with a figure of the Virgin in it, and is
amazed at the princely fortune in precious gems and jewelry that hangs so
thickly about the form as to hide it like a garment almost. All about
the apartment the gaudy trappings of the Greek Church offend the eye and
keep the mind on the rack to remember that this is the Place of the
Crucifixion--Golgotha--the Mount of Calvary. And the last thing he looks
at is that which was also the first--the place where the true Cross
stood. That will chain him to the spot and compel him to look once more,
and once again, after he has satisfied all curiosity and lost all
interest concerning the other matters pertaining to the locality.

And so I close my chapter on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre--the most
sacred locality on earth to millions and millions of men, and women, and
children, the noble and the humble, bond and free. In its history from
the first, and in its tremendous associations, it is the most illustrious
edifice in Christendom. With all its clap-trap side-shows and unseemly
impostures of every kind, it is still grand, reverend, venerable--for a
god died there; for fifteen hundred years its shrines have been wet with
the tears of pilgrims from the earth's remotest confines; for more than
two hundred, the most gallant knights that ever wielded sword wasted
their lives away in a struggle to seize it and hold it sacred from
infidel pollution. Even in our own day a war, that cost millions of
treasure and rivers of blood, was fought because two rival nations
claimed the sole right to put a new dome upon it. History is full of
this old Church of the Holy Sepulchre--full of blood that was shed
because of the respect and the veneration in which men held the last
resting-place of the meek and lowly, the mild and gentle, Prince of

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