Jesus Trail is a loop that links places, villages and towns relevant for Jesus life. It is well highlighted on a map inside a brochure I found at the reception of the hostel where I was volunteering. It is the path that Jesus most likely walked when he left his town Nazareth for his mission. This course has been conceived for being done on foot. It would take eight or nine days to walk, but I had only two days off, so I could not do Jesus Trail on foot. Anyway I wanted to do the loop in my own way, either by bus, hitchhiking or walking whenever it was not possible to reach the places by car.
Jesus Trail has been designed starting from Nazareth and ending at Mount of the Precipice, near Nazareth. I started my course from the last place of Jesus Trail which is Mount of the Precipice, also called Mount of the Leap. It is not so far from downtown Nazareth.
That afternoon it was not very hot. Actually, it was hot but the sun was not scorching. I crossed over a very traffic-congested road and entered a gate half open which seemed to belong to a builders’ yard. Although I had the sensation that someone would stop me nobody did, so I kept going uphill and from time to time I took a few minutes to rest under one of the trees scattered here and there.
The distance from the foothill to the top was not great, and I reached the top soon. Actually, the place where I was standing was not Mount of the Precipice but a hill near it. All the area was bare. I could see a small altar that seemed to be a tomb, with a marble slab with an Arabic inscription.
Not far from this altar or grave there is a chapel which had been erected by the Greek Orthodoxies. The Chapel was closed, and only at the back was it possible to find some shade. I sat on the slope of the supporting wall, and from there in the welcoming shade I could see the valley and Nazareth which looked similar to my hometown. Sitting there I thought “Maybe the man who gave me the instruction about how to approach the Wailing Wall of the Temple of Salomon was right!
“When you go under the Wall,” he said, “talk with God! You have nothing much to do but talking with God! Confine yourself to talk with God!”
I agree with him; therefore I preferred to talk with Jesus instead of reciting arid prayers. I considered Jesus a teacher, a friend; similar to the good teachers I had when I was a student. Not all were good. In my career as a student I had only four or five good teachers that I held in great esteem, and now here in the hill near Mount of the Precipice I was thinking of Jesus as a teacher I held in great esteem.
Nobody at that time was on the hill. The place was very isolated and I had the sensation that suddenly Jesus or Virgin Mary would appear to me, but I prayed them not to do that, as I would get scared and my way of life would be altered. In fact people, who had visions of God, lived a consecrated life giving up the ordinary life.
I kept looking at the valley and revisited the passage of the Gospel of Luke where it tells about the people of Nazareth who wanted to push Jesus from the cliff. But Jesus walked through the crowd and went on his way.
“So,” I thought, “Jesus was able to avoid death. He avoided death and arrest using his power. Why he decided to die and spontaneously gave himself to his executioner? What sense can ever have such a behavior? Accepting voluntarily the torment; for what? Cui prodest? (to whom is useful?). Jesus could hand down his teachings to the world being alive, so why he decided to die?”
I tried to figure out the solution of the issue.
“Maybe,” I thought, “Jesus and all the Apostles were wanted by Herod’s guards. Then, there was a pact between Jesus and the Judeans: Jesus gave himself to his executioners in exchange for the salvation of the Apostles. Judas indeed was not a real traitor but the one who had the task of leading the negotiations with the Judeans.”
Indeed this would be one of the possible answers to the issue.
I decided to go for help to the monk whom I had come across more than one time in the space in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation, who had pointed out to me the Church of Saint Joseph and the four places which with absolute certainty were the holy historical places linked with Jesus, Virgin Mary, and Saint Peter.
I had met him in front of the Basilica of Annunciation twice. Every time I needed an explanation I met him and punctually he gave me the proper answer.
After I left Mount of the Precipice I headed for the Basilica of the Annunciation. I did not see him in the square in front of the church, so I went inside and placed myself in the central elevated nave in front of Mary’s house. At that time I was alone and seeing the stairs of Mary’s House, I wondered where they might lead. After a while a monk came out from a side door, but he was not the one I was looking for. A short while later the monk I was looking for appeared.
All the monks in the Basilica were Franciscan. The monk with whom I had established an acquaintance was short in stature, with silvery framed glasses and an Italian Apulian accent. I knew he was in a hurry, but I wanted to speak with him anyway.
“Good afternoon, father.”
“Good afternoon,” he answered with a smile from ear to ear.
“I see you are in a hurry, but I wish you to answer a question of mine. I’d like to know why Jesus’ death was necessary for the salvation of human kind. Indeed Jesus could hand down his message without dying. Furthermore, is it possible that God is so cruel and requires that Jesus must die and suffer a horrible death like that of crucifixion?”
The Franciscan monk seemed to have been caught off his guard.
“This is a mystery also for us. Anyway Jesus died because of his great love for us.”
“I cannot accept this answer, father. It is too indefinite. Would you like to think give me the answer later?”
“Yes, we’ll meet in the courtyard of the Basilica after the rosary.”
Once the rosary was over he came out and met me at the courtyard. This time he was more relaxed and not in a hurry.
“Your question can be answered at the light of four thousand years of Biblical History. Indeed, man had parted from God and in order to establish a new alliance between God and human beings it was necessary a sacrifice. I know it is difficult to explain and to understand, furthermore I have not studied theology yet.”
“Are you not a priest?”
“Not yet. In three years I’ll be a priest. I took the vows late, at the age of thirty-eight.”
“Are you studying in Rome?”
“No, in Bari.”
Thank, you for your answer.
I said good bye to the monk and yet I was not convinced by his answer.
“Whoever accepts to be born on Earth, death is implicit.” I told myself. ” It is not possible to be a human being and not die. So when Jesus came to the earth he knew he would die, for he accepted the condition of man. When one is a man the only problem is when to die, in the early youth or once the candle of the life has burned out all its wax. All humans have to die; it does not matter if it happens early or late. Death is only a question about before or after. In the infinite, time itself does not exist. It is always now. Even the space does not exist in the infinite. Time and space are human conceptual creations. So it should not rouse surprise why Jesus died when he was still young.
“But why,” I asking myself, “Jesus accepted such a horrible death?”
I revived all my life and realized that suffering was necessary for my spiritual growth and for my life. Indeed in our life we often meet at a junction; two ways open in front of us. One is easy and wide but it does not lead us anywhere, while the difficult way leads us far.
When I was a student I had the possibility to enjoy my life without making any effort, but by doing so I did not improve my learning. Tragedies that have happened in my life have refined my sensitivity. Suffering is necessary.
As for Jesus, what would happen without his death and resurrection? Nothing! His message is still alive because he was resurrected. Without resurrection our faith would be vain! Moreover Jesus pointed out to us the way of love which requires whatsoever sacrifice, even torture and the death.
On the map, Jesus Trail was a loop with nineteen places of interest concerning Jesus. I started from the last placel. Now I wanted to continue the trail.
I decided to walk Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum, along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and then continuing the trail in stages, starting the first four places marked in the map: Nazareth, Zippori where supposedly Mary’s family was from, Marsh’had, the birthplace of the prophet Jonah, Cana, the town where Jesus made his first miracle.
The clerk of the Tourism Office advised me to take a bus to Cana, and then return to Nazareth passing through Marh’had and Zippory National Park. So did I. I headed for the bus stop and took the number 28 bus which dropped me off at Cana.
After a little while, I left Cana and headed for Marsh’had on foot. The road was uphill and without shaded areas. It was noon but all the way from Cana to Marsh’had there was a cool breeze blowing.
I reached Marsh’had after half an hour. At that time not many people were on the streets. I asked two or three passersby where the church dedicated to Jonah was. I expected to find at least a chapel. Unfortunately not many people in that town showed a good understanding of English, so I decided to have recourse to gesticulation.
After many attempts to find people who could understand me, I entered a fruit shop inside which were four or five women all dressed with traditional Arabic clothes. They all stared at me. They did not understand either my words or my gesticulation. Suddenly a fat sweated young man appears behind me.
“What do you want?”
“I am looking for a church.”
“The church is here above.”
I went uphill for a few meters when I took sight of a mosque. At that moment it was a quarter to one and the voice of the muezzin resounded in all the area.
I entered the mosque; I took off my shoes and went to the upper floor. I saw a few people standing. One of them came close to me and asked me what I was looking for.
“I am here to pray.”
“Okay, you can stay here.”
I sat close to two elder people who had a book with Arabic script.
There were also many young men and boys who peeped at me curiously.
While I was sitting I was thinking that if there is an upper, spiritual level where the souls live after the death, all the great men, saints, prophets and gods live together and in harmony without fighting or arguing against one another. I was imaging Mohamed, Krishna, Buddha and Jesus walking and talking together, wondering why humans were so divided because of them.
In the meantime all the people inside the mosque moved ahead and took position in front of the imam. The person, who previously had invited me to sit down, now asked me to go forward. He aligned me in the center of the carpet, and then at the voice of the imam we genuflected in the Muslim’s style several times. When the ceremony was over I collected my shoes and headed for Zippori, the next stage.
I asked some people the way for Zippori and they directed to me towards a road downhill. It was very hot and when, on my right I took sight of a stall where two people were selling prickly pears I stopped there with a sigh of relief. They sold their fruit in plastic baskets. One basket was too much for me, so I asked to buy only half of it. I sat down and a lady offered me a glass of cool orange juice. They peeled the prickly fruits; I ate them with gusto and asked for the bill.
“You can go, it’s free.”
I thanked them, and went on my way to Zippori. I took the road they had pointed to me but I was going further and further into the countryside. At a certain moment I arrived at a bifurcation. I did know which road to take. The sun was hotter and hotter but a cool breeze blew over me. I had the sensation that hundreds of powerful fans had been set over my head. Rare cars were passing by, but whenever I raised my arm to ask information they did not stop. Suddenly, a small car stopped upon my request. The driver lowered the window and looked at me.
“Do you know the way to Zippori?”
“This is Zippori.”
“But is not Zippori a town or a village? This is countryside!”
I showed him my Jesus’ Trail map and sneaked my head through the window, searching a relief to the scorching sun. He was scanning my map and I hoped ardently he would give me a ride.
“Come with me!” He suddenly said
I got into that car with the same relief feels a thirsty man who is offered a glass of water.
Before arriving to the village of Zippori, he drove for at least twenty minutes. In fact I had walked the wrong way to the direction opposite that of Zippori.
In the meanwhile we exchanged a few words.
“Are you Jewish?” I asked.
“No, I am Christian. My mother is Christian and my father is Jewish. I have followed my mother’s religion.”
“I’d like to deepen Jewish religion, but I do not have the possibility. By the way, when I was in Jerusalem at the Wailing Wall, a man wanted to give me a kind of black stirrup leather which contained a box also in black leather. Once he realized I was not Jewish he sent me back. Do you know what that object is?”
“Yes, I know. These are tefillin or phylacteries. Jewish people in their prayer roll one tefillah around the arm and another around the head. Inside the box they put passages of the Torah.”
“When I was in Jerusalem I noticed, parked on the street, a van with inside a man sitting, and on the table many Tefillin. When I got near the van I asked some information to him, but he did not want to give me any information, for I was not Jewish. Do you know why that van with the Tefillin was parked there?”
“Yes, I know. They are people who give you Tefillin so you can talk with God.”
“Now, I am beginning to learn something about Jewish religion. Jewish people aim to talk directly with God, without any intermediation, differently from most religions. Jewish religion is a very deep religion and I need to understand it better.”
In the meanwhile we arrived in Zippori. I gave my new friend my Israeli telephone number and he gave me his email and telephone number.
“Don’t be shy, if you have a problem hitchhike!”
Then he left. I walked uphill. Then, I headed for the main road that skirted the national park. I stopped a car which was going towards the direction opposite to mine.
“Could you tell me please, what is the direction to Nazareth?”
“Yes, this is the right road. I am coming back in seven minutes. If I see you I’ll drive you to Nazareth.”
That place ws shaded and, instead of going on, I decided to wait there for him. I looked at my watch and actually after seven minutes exactly the guy with the van pulled up to me. I got into his car, happy for having found a good ride to Nazareth. But after one or two minutes, less than one kilometer driven, we came to a crossroad. The driver stopped, letting pass the other cars that ran the main road and asked me:
“Have you seen Mary’s well?”
“Yes I have seen Mary’s well in Nazareth. Is there another well here?”
“Mary was from this area! This well is the real Mary’s well!”
For an instant I was hesitant between going to Nazareth and seeing this Mary’s well, new for me. The latter alternative prevailed.
“Yes I want to see this Mary’s well. Please let me get out. Tell me where it is.”
“It’s just fifty meters away from here. Cross over that field and you’ll see it. Good luck!”
I could not find the well; so I asked two people I met on the way. They both knew about Mary’s well.
“Yes, it is down there. Some people drink water from it.”
After having crossed over a garbage heap, finally I took sight of the well. I got close and was welcomed by the warm greetings of several kids.
“Shalom! Shalom! Shalom!”
“Shalom!” I answered.
They were bathing in the pool, jumping up and down the basin. In fact the well was a basin. The water had a bluish hue that degraded in light blue for ending in whitish colorlessness near the edge, exactly near where I was standing. I took off my shoes and trying to keep my balance while walking on uneven pointed stones, helping myself with my hand I sat on the edge and dipped my feet in the cool water, then I washed my face and my head
The basin was surrounded by ancient walls, one of them quite high. I never found any indication about this Mary’s well on the maps, but the blue color of the water and the atmosphere I had found here was really amazing and astonishing. I went out and saw the kids performing a Jewish dance in my honor. I told them goodbye and headed for the bus stop that was not far from there.
The next places of the Jesus Trail, marked on the map with the numbers from five to eight were Horns of Hattin, Nebi Shu’eb, Arbel and Migdal. I took the bus from Nazareth to Migdal which is the hometown of Saint Mary Magdalene
I walked for a while before getting a ride to Nebi Shu’eib. I passed through a wide square and I caught sight of a temple. A monk who seemed to be neither Muslim nor Jewish, invited me to put on a robe and a hat on my head. I was in the holy place of the Druses. I had never heard of this religion so far.
Inside the temple there was a room with many carpets on the floor, but they did not have a special orientation. On my right I saw a tomb covered with a multicolored cloth. Each color had a special meaning. People prayed and kissed the cloth. So did I.
Opposite the entrance of the room there were two footprints that were left from a Saint of Druse tradition. A woman kissed the footprints, rubbed her hands in the footprints and then she passed them over her face. So did I.
When I went out of the room I was asked to go out looking ahead, without showing my back to the tomb. A monk at the exit explained to me something about Druse Religion.
”Druse religion in Israel comes from Lebanon. Originally our religion was born in Egypt. Then he explained to me the meaning of the different colors of their flag.”
I went downstairs and sat close to some Druse persons and monks.
“How do you pray?” I asked to a Druze man.
“We are not allowed to pray in our religion. Only monks can pray, for only they know the secret prayer.”
“If you don’t pray, what are you doing in this holy place?”
“We just ask for graces.”
“I didn’t know about your religion.”
“Yes, actually it is not widespread. Almost one thousand years ago the acceptance to our religion was closed. From then on, only who is a child of a Druze can practice our religion.”
It was the first time in my life I had come across a closed religion which does not accept new followers. I think that through religions the ties of belonging to the same people are much more strengthened.
I left the temple and tried to reach Horns of Hattin, a place where a big battle happened between the Crusaders and the Muslims. Here, the Crusaders were beaten by the army leaden by the Caliph Saladin. I met two Druses who were serving in the Israeli army.
“Do you know,” I asked them, “where is Horns of Hattim, where the battle between the Crusaders and the Muslims occurred?”
“Yes, it is not far from here, but we advise you against going there, as you should walk and the sun is scorching. You should go there in the early morning or at sunset; it is cooler and you can have a complete outlook of the battlefield and also an amazing view of the Sea of Galilee. However, all the area was a battlefield, also where we are now. This sanctuary was built here just as a thanksgiving to God for the battle won.”
Actually, from that position I could catch a sight of the complex battlefield, and I revived the history of the Crusaders.
It is a commonplace that the Crusaders were moved by power, economic and political interests, but it is not like that. What a person should do when he is not allowed to attend his church or place of cult? There is no choice but to combat. That happened when the first Crusade was proclaimed. The caliph al-Hakim had ordered the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Without this action of intolerance the crusades would not be proclaimed.
Now it stretched before my eyes that battlefield of arid highs, elevations, cliffs, and some stretch of level ground. That battlefield seemed still impregnated by the blood of the warriors.
It was still possible to see the armies that faced each other. At the end the victory smiled on Saladin.
The continuation of Jesus Trail passed through the village of Ginosar marked on the map with the number 9. In this village archeologists had found a boat dating back to Jesus time. I entered the room where the boat was kept, I observed it carefully and in my mind I revived one of the most beautiful passages of the Gospel. Jesus was standing on the shoreline of the Lake of Genesareth, surrounded by the crowds who wanted to be taught by him. Jesus stepped aboard Peter’s boat and moved away from the shore to teach people from that position. Looking at that boat I envisioned Jesus with his white, coarse robe and long chestnut hair sitting on the deck of Peter’s boat and teaching people.
The following day I took a bus from Nazareth to Tiberias and then one more bus to Capernaum, the town of Peter. I wanted to visit Peter’s house.
The bus dropped me off in the road, so I walked for a while. Then I saw a signpost indicating the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter. It was by the lake. Outdoors had been created an amphitheater and an altar beyond which it was possible to see the lake.Unfortunately the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fish was closed and I could not visit it. So I headed for Capernaum on foot.
I walked for a while under the scorching sun when someone gave me a ride. He left me at the Orthodox Church of the Twelve Apostles, also by the shore of the lake. According to Orthodox tradition, Jesus performed many miracles in this place.
Above the house that is believed to have been Peter’s was a church. Not far from the Church it was possible to see the external walls of the ancient synagogue where Jesus used to go. I could notice the external walls were probably built by the Jews, while inside the walls had been created a colonnade whose beams and Corinthian capitals had the evident Roman stamp. Usually, the conquerors did not dare to destroy the temples consecrated to the divinity of the conquered country. They preferred to overlap their new temples dedicated to their gods upon the former temples. In Catholicism we have many cases of churches overlapped upon pagan temples. The synagogue of Capernaum was divided in two sections, one wider than the other. I sat on a bench and I tried to make out the possible spot from where Jesus used to teach.
I left Capernaum and headed for Mount of Beatitudes that it is believed the place where Jesus preached the Sermon of the Mount. Nowadays in that place lies a Franciscan Convent. Walking along the porch, it is possible to enjoy the sight of the valley and of Lake of Genesareth.
One of the places marked on Jesus Trail map is Yardenit, on the bank of the River Jordan where it is believed Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. I went by bus from Nazareth to Tiberias, and then I took a shared taxi from Tiberias to Kinneret. The minibus dropped me off on the road, so I walked for a few minutes up to the river.
I entered a wide lobby with many shops and after a quick look at the items displayed on the shelves I passed through a glass door and got onto a wide terrace. The color of the river was green, due to the reflection of the eucalyptus trees which bordered the banks. I had the feeling of being in a place full of peace and tranquility. There were many beavers and big fish. People enjoyed feeding beavers and fish. Fish and beavers at peacefully. Now and then, some turtle doves joined the beavers and ate with them.
I walked to the river and sat down on a step, dipping my feet into the water. Suddenly, my feet were surrounded by myriads of small fishes that started to sting them. At first, I had a sensation of repulsion as I thought they would bite me, but afterwards they brought me relief. I was food for fish and meanwhile they were cleansing my feet scrubbing my skin and massaging it. I enjoyed seeing all those minnows and if it had not been for the scorching sun, I would have stayed there for hours. It was a very quiet place, but the water of the river was different from that of Jesus’ time, as it flows and changes at every instant. Nevertheless, the soil was still pervaded with Jesus’ energy.
I left that place to go back to Tiberias and started to hitchhike. After many attempts a car stopped.
Inside was a Jewish couple. The man wore a kippa. I sat in the back seat, there was a mess of stuff and I spotted on the floor a ten shekel coin. I picked the coin up and gave it to the owner of the car.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“I found this coin on the floor of your car. Today you are lucky!”
He and his wife looked at each other and smiled.
“Where do you come from?”
“I come from Italy.”
“Do you know what a special day is today?”
“Yes, I heard about it. Someone told me that today August 9 is the anniversary of the destruction of the temple of Solomon. The second destruction, for the first temple was destroyed by Babylonians and the second by the Romans. I heard also that the date every year is different in our Gregorian calendar, while in your Jewish calendar the commemoration happens on the same day.”
“On this day, we don’t eat and drink all day long. It is a day of mourning, like when you go to a funeral. After sunset we can eat and drink. Anyway it is an honor for us you to come here in this day. You are welcome, even thogh you are Italian like the ancient Romans”.
“Indeed, I am from Sicily. The Romans never considered Sicily as Italy. In fact Sicily was the first Roman province. Yes, it was a province, like Judea. We had a Roman governor as well. You had Pontius Pilate and we had Verres who was terrible. He stripped off all the golden statues from the Sicilian temples. As for my town, he could not steal the statue of Demeter because it was too big, so he took the smaller statue of the Victory which Demeter held on her right hand.”
“The destruction of the temple of Solomon was due not to Romans but to the divisions inside Jewish people. We hate each other and we fought against each other. For that our temple was destroyed.”
“Anyway,” I said, “for me all people are the same. If the soul exists it is same in all human beings. I would like very much to come to a Synagogue and attend the ceremony on Sabbath, but I think that is impossible, for I will never be allowed.”
“No, it is not impossible. Now we’ll go together to see a Jewish temple, but only for a few minute. I have to take my car to the engineer.”
He parked his car in a square where on the left side that was the light of several candles that looked like a big fire. Going on, there were a few stands where they sold books and items connected to the place. Then we entered a lobby which led to another room divided in two, one for men and one for women, by a black curtain. It was not possible to get in without a kippa. So the man got me one. The room was square with a tomb inside. Half was at the side of men and the other half at the side of women. Many people prayed stuck to the grave. I too wanted to pray like them. I could notice many small pieces of paper driven into the gaps of the grave. I kissed the tomb and then I browsed through some books on display, all written in Hebrew but two written in French. I picked up the book written in French and the man who had given me the ride came close to me. I diverted my eyes from the book and looked at his face. He was a little bit taller than me. With a beard well maintained, a light over his face and an extraordinary resemblance to Jesus as he has been portrayed by traditional iconographers. The he began to talk.
“The book you have in your hands tells about ‘speech’ and how important is not backbiting others. You cannot go up to the heaven if you bad-mouth others. So you have to talk well about others and never be a backbiter.”
A we got out, I asked him to write down the name of the holy person whose tomb we had visited. He did and wrote the name RABBI MEIR VAL BAAL HANES. He said that he was a Roman who had converted to Judaism.
The next day I decided to continue my Jesus Trail going to visit Mount Tabor, the place where it is believed the Jesus Transfiguration happened. With the visit of this last place I would complete the entire loop of the Jesus Trail with the exception of Arbel, a place not easy to reach by bus.
I completed Jesus Trail in my own way, a trail rich of blessing and special meetings, beyond our daily routine life.
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
A Hidden Sicilian History
The Vibrations of Words
Travels of the Mind