In Jerusalem at Easter.
From "With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem".Pages: <1>
All who had not been to Jordan already journeyed hurriedly thither on Monday of Holy Week, judging the baptism in the holy stream an indispensable preparation before receiving the sacrament and entering upon the mysteries of Easter. Many pilgrims also went to Duba on the plains of Mamri, where still lives the oak under which Abraham entertained the three angels manifesting the Trinity. On the Wednesday I met my old man from Tobolsk Government, the one to whom I gave sixpence on the pilgrim boat. He had just come back from Duba.
"A tremendous oak!" said he. "To think that it has lived all these thousands of years, and that my unworthy eyes should survive to see it!"
Other pilgrims went to Bethlehem, amongst them the boy from the Ural; he had five roubles from people in his village to give to the monks there. Altogether there was an immense amount of going in and out, and the city of Jerusalem was like an ant heap swarming with ants.
Yevgeny and I went to the cave of St. Pelagia once more, and the spot on which Jesus is supposed to have stood when He taught the disciples the Lord's Prayer. It was here that the apostles set up the first cross that was used as a symbol of the Christian religion, "How many millions of crosses have been made since then," said Yevgeny, "crosses of wood, crosses of stone, crosses of metal, crosses of spirit, the crosses which you make with your hand!"
The old man removed his hat and made the sign of the cross over his black-robed chest.
Dear old Dyadya went with others and lived a night in the tomb of the Virgin. Hundreds of lamps were burning in the dark cave-temple. "It was so sweet and comforting that I felt just as if she had covered me with her sacred veil," said the gentle pilgrim.
Philip I found to be taking batches of peasant women to booths opposite the Armenian Monastery of St. James, there to be tattooed on the arm by nimble Arab craftsmen sitting on three-leg stools and jabbing the bare flesh of clients with their tattooing needles. Here figures of the Saviour were worked on the arm, also figures of the Mother and Child, of Nicholas the wonder-worker, and other favourite saints. Besides the little pictures, most pilgrims had the word Jerusalem printed, and the year 1912, and some ornamentation of flowers. The process was quickly accomplished considering the art in the work, but all the same it was slower and more painful than being vaccinated. One girl of seventeen wept bitterly all the while the operation was proceeding. When the pricking was done the Arabs covered up the places with black plaster, and their victims were released with great black patches on their arms. In a day they might take off the plaster and they would find the picture fixed beneath. The Arabs took a shilling a time, and Philip his commission. It was a shame, though, to deface girls' arms in such a way. There would be too much leisure to repent - a whole lifetime perhaps. What is worse, the picture is only clear for a year or so, and then blurs to an ugly smudge and a discoloration. However, in defence I must add a note. When I returned to Russia after the pilgrimage, and was telling an old Armenian woman of my experiences, she turned on me with a -
"Show me the picture on your arm."
I could show her none, of course.
She looked at me with doubt and incredulity. She wasn't going to believe I had been to Jerusalem unless I had got the word branded on my arm.
Philip told me in confidence that he was going to pay a doctor five roubles some day to clear his arm of his own old tattoo marks. He thought it bad to be marked for life with a smudge, but he took the women all the same. I didn't see much of Philip in Holy Week except when he came past me with his sacks of purchases - he was a busy man.
Of course commercial Jerusalem grew happier and happier as the city filled, and the final orgy of keepsake-buying grew to a climax. The shops were crushed from morning till night.
A new feature in the hostelry life was the appearance of rows of sacred pictures, gigantic bead-embroidered Madonnas as big as house doors, and sold with packing cases all ready for transmission on board. These almost life-sized representations of the Virgin might have been thought to do some shame to the sacred womanhood, but I did not hear any objection on the part of the pilgrims. The pictures were designed as gifts for village churches, and were too big to accommodate in shops. One peasant woman took one on trust, and sat beside it all Holy Week begging money to pay for it. By Good Friday she had obtained the price, and it was packed in her name for her little village away in Penza province. To-day, no doubt, it looks out from a wall of her village church, and she regards it with pride. She paid a lot for it, too, I suppose; the pilgrims pay heavily for all the little things they want. Some would say they are swindled. But pilgrims never do anything but gain by sacred things. As Yevgeny said to me one day, pointing to a crowd of hawkers and pilgrims, "Look at our peasants ransoming the crosses and the holy things from the Jews and the infidel."
If the Arabs were busy in the streets the commercial monks were busy in the courts of temples, playing their old shabby game of blessing selling. Whenever the keeper of the hostelry wasn't looking, in popped an austere looking Greek monk with a brief-case and a bag in his arms. One came up to me on the Tuesday afternoon.
"You have a list of souls from Russia, no doubt," said he. "Give it to me and let our brotherhood pray for them. So you will enable us to build our monastery of St. Joachim in the Desert."
"No souls," said I lazily, handing him a piastre, for I knew it was money he wanted.
"Why so little?" said he in an authoritative, angry tone like a Russian official to a peasant. "That is not enough. Give me more!"
I put out my hand and took the piastre back laconically.
I turned to something else. When I turned back he was still standing waiting, so I asked him what more he wanted.
"The money," said he, painedly.
"But you didn't want it," said I. "You gave it me back."
"Give me the piastre," said he.
"Oh no," said I, "it's too little for you. You don't get it from me now. I'll keep my piastre for something else."
At this moment he caught sight of the keeper, and bobbed round a corner very unceremoniously and disappeared.
On Holy Thursday, at the Grave, when the Patriarch washed the feet of twelve of his clergy, a number of pilgrims were put into good places, and they looked on happily and simply, and enjoyed the spectacle, crossing themselves and praising God. What was their astonishment when after the service they were confronted by a military-looking Greek monk who suddenly called out, "Get your money ready." Poor mouzhiks, they had each to pay a rouble for a compulsory blessing. I heard that nothing less than a rouble would be taken, but I suppose in some cases the monk took less, for "ye canna tak' the breeks off a Hielander." It is a good arrangement of the Palestine Society, that ten shilling deduction which is made from the pilgrim's money on the day of arrival in Jerusalem, and paid to him on the day when he departs. But for that the poor peasants had surely finished up destitute. There was plenty of incident in the too-full hostelries during Holy Week. On Tuesday night a great stir was caused by a madman running about in his shirt and bellowing. This strange fellow was a penniless, -one-eyed beggar who had begged his way from his native village. At Jerusalem he had not a halfpenny, and he was allowed to sweep the floors of our hostelry for his keep. We were all wakened up by his strange lapse and the overseer was brought; the old man was captured and prevailed upon to lie down again and sleep. As I had been wakened up I came round and sat with the overseer by the old fellow's bench. He was evidently anxious as to what the madman might do next. He thought such characters should not be allowed in the hostelries; they were thought holy in their native Russian villages and did no harm, but here under the influence of Jerusalem excitement who could tell what might happen? No, he didn't believe that the old man was poor. He might easily be frightfully rich. "They are all gatherers and misers, that sort," said he. "Last year just such an one died in one of the small rooms. She had locked herself in and no one could get to her for a long time. When the door was forced the baba was found dead. She had died of starvation. And of how much money do you think she died possessed? You'd never guess. . . five thousand piastres. There was a whole pailful of Turkish ha'pennies alone."