Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
In January, Knights of the London Provincial Prior's Bodyguard were joined by others from outside the Province to embark on the first Bodyguard Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Led by Eminent Knight Revd. Niall Johnston and sanctioned by the Provincial Prior, the party enjoyed an outstanding time with a full, varied and fascinating itinerary. It balanced a full Attestation to Jerusalem with sites that were key to the history of the Knights Templar. Accompanied by an excellent guide for the duration of the trip and with historical information on our Order and it's military fortunes being provided by the Bodyguard Deputy Commander, Eminent Knight Ian Drury, we were definitely in very knowledgeable and safe hands. The party was 40 in number with the majority of Knights being accompanied by their wives or partners. The visit encompassed many religious sites as well as a unique, unofficial and inaugural meeting of the newly created Acre Encampment held in a secure, private part of the Knights Halls within the Hospitaller Fortress in Acre, a very special moment for us all.
So positive has been the response, that many Knights have asked for a little more information on our itinerary, as they would be very keen to attend when next it is run. Consequently, those details in a day by day account can be found below. In addition, please click here for a list of the readings that were read by members of the party during the Pilgrimage.
Friday | Golden Walls Hotel - Jerusalem
After arriving and settling in, we made our first excursion through the Damascus Gate by the hotel to the Western Wall for the Jewish sabbath. We also quickly appreciated a covered rooftop terrace on the hotel, which was to become a regular evening haunt for many of the party, swapping stories and information from the day as well as providing the opportunity to enjoy a convivial drop or two from a wide selection of bottles that had made their way safely from the duty free department at Heathrow.
Saturday | Mount of Olives
We drove to the Mount of Olives to start our walking tour at Bethpage. We visited Pater Noster Church (below), Dominus Flevit Chapel, and the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane. We then continued to the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu and then on to Ein Karem, the birthplace of John the Baptist where we had lunch with the Sisters of Sion. This was followed by a special Eucharist in their chapel (below) and a visit to the Church of St John the Baptist. The day finished with a visit to the fabulous model of ancient Jerusalem in the Israel museum (below).
Sunday | Via Dolorosa
We walked to the Pool of Bethesda for a healing service and visited the stunning Crusader Church of St Anne (below). Then a walk along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (below). This was followed by a visit to the commemorative stone at the Muristan Clinic (part of the St John Eye Hospital) and lunch at the Bulghourji Armenian restaurant. For the rest of the day we were left to our own devices and free to explore the city as we wished. Some took a walk around the city walls or visited the Eye of the Needle in the Greek Orthodox Church whilst others availed themselves of the numerous colourful and aromatic stalls in the "souq" markets (below) and explored the myriad of backstreets in the various quarters of old Jerusalem. The evening provided Evensong at the nearby St George's Cathedral in the Chapel of St John.
Monday | Temple Mount
An early start and a visit to Temple Mount to see the stunning Dome of the Rock (below) and the El Aqsa Mosque. This also allowed us to once more spend some time at the Western Wall en route. We ended the morning with a visit to Zedekiah's cave and the Garden Tomb. Then it was a short drive to the nearby St John's Eye Hospital for a Eucharist service (below) and a wonderful tour of the hospital, meeting staff and patients over a fabulous lunch. A presentation by Dr Ahmad Ma'ali, CEO and then meeting more of the staff (below) left us all confirming that their work is of the utmost importance, is carried out with the highest levels of professionalism and that our efforts and contributions to help support this charity are very well placed. Substantial contributions were also made during the visit by the generosity of the Pilgrims and this was greatly appreciated by St John Eye Hospital. For more details on the St John Eye Hospital and our charity work there, click here.
Tuesday | Bethlehem
Crossing into Palestinian territory, we visited the Fields of the Shepherds and enjoyed a beautiful outdoor Eucharist (below) with wonderful views. There was then time for a visit to an olivewood co-operative where the Bodyguard failed miserably to keep our tour organiser well away from his wallet! A visit to the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation provided us with the opportunity to meet some of the staff who care for so many disabled patients, many injured by conflict, regardless of gender, age, religion or social class (below). After a lovely lunch at the centre, we then visited Manger Square as well as the Basilica and Grotto of the Nativity with some interesting Crusader markings on the entrance (below) along with St Jerome's caves.
Wednesday | Caesarea Maritima and Acre
We left Jerusalem and headed for the Mediterranean coast to visit the aqueduct and amphitheatre of the Roman city of Caesarea Maritima (below). This was followed by a visit further along the coast to the Chateau Pelerin, built as a fortress by the Templars during the fifth crusade. This provided a great introduction to the visit to Acre later in the day. Here, at the Crusaders chief port, we had lunch at Shawerma Moalim, and enjoyed a better understanding of the Templar role from our Deputy Commander of the Bodyguard (below) putting the tales and history into perspective and then spent a while exploring the Hospitaller's Fortress (below).
The Knights on the Pilgrimage assembled in a secure, private part of the Knights Halls within the Hospitaller Fortress in Acre, without regalia, for the inaugural meeting of the Acre Encampment. Knights had travelled from far and wide under the guidance of the Encampment Chaplain, E. Kt. Revd. Niall Johnston and the Eminent Preceptor, E. Kt. Ian Drury to be present for the first Knights Templar Encampment meeting that has been held in these historical halls, probably for many hundreds of years. It was a very moving occasion, especially the salute to the Eminent Preceptor. Every Knight took the opportunity to consider just how many hundreds of years had passed since these very walls of history had last reverberated to the enthusiastic cries of “á B________” towards the Preceptor with such vigour. Equally, the muster roll then resonated throughout the halls, with the responses from each Knight clearly heard by all. The magnitude of the occasion was not lost on any Knight present, and it seemed to be a very special individual moment for each Knight in turn, as they announced themselves willing to once more step up and perform their duty as many Knights must have done so before. After a short meeting, the Knights joined their partners and wives for the remainder of the afternoon.
On our route to Nazareth and our new hotel for the next four days, we stopped to view the beautiful ruins of Montfort Crusader Castle with the sun breaking through the clouds to make a very impressive site of this ancient fortress.
Thursday | Nazareth
We visited Mount Tabor and the Basilica of the Transfiguration with panoramic views over the plain of Armageddon. On our return to Nazareth, we stopped at Cana, the scene of Jesus' first miracle. Lunch was in the Holy Land Restaurant and was followed by a visit to the Basilica of Annunciation, Mary's Well and the Synagogue Church. There was also a Eucharist in the local Baptist Church.
Friday | The Lakeside Ministry, Sea of Galilee
This was the day when we visited the sites associated with Jesus' life around the Sea of Galilee. We started with Capernaum, Jesus' Galilean base and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Apostles. We then continued to Mensa Christi (below), where Jesus appeared to his disciples after His resurrection. We also visited the Church of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha. Lunch, comprising of St Peter's fish, was at the Convent of the Beatitudes with a visit to the church (below) and the garden commemorating the Sermon on the Mount. We then headed to Nof Ginosar to see the ancient Jesus boat and set sail on the Sea of Galilee (below). There was a Eucharist on board in the middle of the lake, another very memorable moment for us all.
Saturday | Caesarea Philippi
On to northern Galilee and Caesarea Philippi where we took time to enjoy a walk through the nature reserve. Lunch was at Tanureen and we were able to spend time at the impressive remains of the Crusader Belvoir Fortress (below). Again, accounts from our Bodyguard Deputy Commander brought the site very much to life. Later in the afternoon, it was a very individual moment when all those who wished, received the renewal of our baptismal vows from the Chaplain to the Bodyguard. This was at the Yardenit baptismal site on the River Jordan with one of our Pilgrims taking the opportunity to be baptised for the first time in a very special ceremony. In addition, our Chaplain was asked if he would also oblige by performing a full immersion baptism for a number of Pilgrims from Kenya who had arrived without their Priest! (below). Naturally he agreed and we were all fortunate to be a party to this special ceremony at this very holy site.
Sunday | Emmaus
Our last day in the Holy Land and we left Nazareth to drive to Abu Ghosh, a possible site of biblical Emmaus. Here we visited the church built by the Hospitallers in 1140 (below) and the Benedictine monastery. Lunch was in Abu Gosh at the Abu Al Abed restaurant and then afterwards to Ben Gurion airport to discuss our trip with Israeli security. On the way, we even managed to stop for a comfort break at the amazing Elvis diner on the way (below). An amazing trip and without doubt, an experience of a lifetime. Our thanks to E. Kt. Revd. Niall Johnston, Sam our guide, E. Kt. Ian Drury and McCabe Pilgrimages for putting this all together.