Pilgrimages

Jordan & Syria 2009

Pilgrimage to Turkey 2005
Pilgrimage to Jordan & Sinai 2009

Where Moses stood

Standing on the summit of Mt Sinai as a new day had just begun looking across the vast expanse of rocky and mountainous wilderness that is the Sinai Peninsula must rank as one of the top experiences of my life so far.  It was the literal peak of a wonderful pilgrimage to Jordan and Sinai that a group of forty-four people from the Cathedral and other churches in the diocese made at the end of May.

Previously on pilgrimage we have concentrated on the events of the New Testament but this journey was quite different.  We were treading where Moses had trod, travelling where the Hebrew people had travelled in exodus.  Most significantly we stood where Moses encountered God in the burning bush and where he met with God and received the Ten Commandments.  These were deeply significant places, truly holy places.  Just as there is no denying that the Sea of Galilee is the Sea of Galilee there is no denying that Mt Sinai is Mt Sinai and nothing can take away from that.

Pilgrimage to Turkey 2005
Pilgrimage to Jordan & Sinai 2009
Our journey began in Amman, the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  We visited Uum Qais, the place known in the Gospels as Gaddara.  From there we visited Jerash one of the cities of the Decapolis.  Our first Eucharist was on Mount Nebo from where Moses surveyed the Promised Land, knowing that he could not enter it.  We stood where just a few days before Pope Benedict XVI had stood.  Then we travelled along the King’s Highway through spectacular terrain to Petra.

For many people Petra was what they wanted to see and it never disappoints.  The rose red city cannot fail to captivate people and the arrival through the siq, made famous by Indiana Jones, with the breath-taking view of the Treasury is something you can never forget when you have seen it.  But there is so much more to see in the remains of this once great Nabataean city.

Pilgrimage to Turkey 2005
Pilgrimage to Jordan & Sinai 2009
From Petra via Wadi Ruhm, the place where Lawrence of Arabia spent so much of his time, we sailed across the Red Sea to Sinai.  We stayed very close to St Catherine’s Monastery, the longest continually inhabited monastery in the Christian world with the chapel of the Burning Bush built in the 4th century by St Helena and the church built by Emperor Justinian.  One lovely feature is a fantastic museum displaying some of the treasures of the monastery – icons and jewelled crosses but also codices and ancient books.

Pilgrimage to Turkey 2005
Pilgrimage to Jordan & Sinai 2009
Then at 4.00am we began the climb of Mt Sinai.  A large number of our group made the first part of the journey on camel – a two hour ride to a Bedouin tea station just below the summit.  Eighteen of us then climbed the 850 ‘steps’ to the summit.  When we arrived we found that we were the only people there – just us and the silence and the view and God and the memory of Moses who stood where we stood.

The pilgrimage continued with time at leisure in Egypt by the Red Sea and back in Jordan by the Dead Sea.  On Pentecost Sunday we went to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan and to the baptismal site.  This has only been open to the public in the last ten years as it stands literally on the border between Jordan and Israel and is still being developed as a pilgrimage site.  We were delighted to be there before all the work was completed.  And there we celebrated our final Eucharist.

It was a great pilgrimage despite two of our number having serious accidents and ending up in a hospital in Amman and the majority of us suffering the effects of too much heat and too much hummus.  But I for one wouldn’t have missed it for the world – the chance to stand where Moses stood and worship the God who made himself known in the wilderness.

Andrew Nunn