Visiting Golgotha in Jerusalem is a Sublime Experience

Golgotha (along with Christ's tomb) is located within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the walled Old City of Jerusalem.

(photo: Pixabay/CC0)

The “Place of the Skull”, Calvary, Golgotha is the epicenter of Christianity and our “holy of holies”; indeed, the spiritual center of the entire universe, for this is the spot where our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was crucified and died for our sake.

Golgotha (along with Christ's tomb) is located within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the walled Old City of Jerusalem. I visited it in October 2014, as part of a pilgrimage party of five. Though I've written professionally for over twenty years, I found it very difficult to describe what I felt in this holiest of places. Six days after I returned for the second time, for a Mass right next to it, I gave it a shot:

It's the most spiritually powerful and moving place I've ever experienced. It pulsates with an ultimately indescribable immense spiritual energy and intensity.

That might perhaps provide some dim reflection of what it was like. It shows, at the very least, the gripping impact that it had on my own soul. On the night of our first visit, in my hotel room, I wrote a diary-like account:

We both had a feeling of being overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and a tangible sensation of being physically weak and helpless. My heart was pounding in anticipation. I have used the metaphor of “spiritual electricity” more than once on this pilgrimage. Here that feeling of power and God's presence was exponentially magnified all the more so: like being in the center of the sun (if indeed that were possible). The feeling of awe and reverence is simply indescribable and beyond all words (yet we inadequately try to convey it, anyway). This must have been what it felt like for the high priests to enter the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and temple.

My wife Judy and fellow pilgrim Margie Prox Sindelar did far better in describing the feelings involved, with the special ability that women so often have, to movingly convey powerful emotions and experiences. First, Margie:

It was the most powerful spiritual experience of my life to this day. I knew I had to find the cross, and I found it and went up there, and I got to a painting of Jesus being nailed to the cross, and I started to feel suffering. Then I saw the shrine of the sorrowful mother, and again, the closer I got, the more power I felt. I was weak, shaking, and sobbing, and felt a sorrow, suffering, and joy all at the same time. I wanted it to stop, but I didn't want it to, because I was so close to Jesus. So it was worth it.

Then I had to sit in a chair, because I couldn't take it any more. I sat there and had to sob for a while before I could go on. I couldn't control myself. The whole thing changed me in a very big way, but I can't explain how. Something happened very big spiritually, to my soul, and I can't put it into words, but I know I'm different.

Judy's “testimony” was scarcely less extraordinary:

As soon as we hit the courtyard, my knees became weak. Then when we went up the stairs to Golgotha, that was unbelievable. I felt a crushing weight on my shoulders, and my whole body felt crushed, like what Jesus would have felt. It took every ounce of my being to walk up those stairs. Dave and I and Margie experienced a lot of common things.           

When we got to the top of the stairs, I literally felt that my heart was ripped in two. When we were waiting in line and saw the image of the crucifixion, and when we knelt under the altar, then I felt a little piece of what Mary felt and I thought, “I can't take this.” I could visually see her weeping and trying to comfort her Son, and I wanted to do that, too.           

But when we knelt under the altar I felt a piercing that just gripped me. I was crying so hard and I wanted the tears to land on Jesus to soothe Him. I sat on a chair nearby and wanted to just scream out in agony, so in order to avoid that I wanted to be by ourselves. And when we were by ourselves, that's when I was able to let it out in tears.           

When we went to the chapel of St. Helena, where she found the cross, I walked into that room, not knowing what it was, and it was like a magnet pulling my knees to the ground at the altar. I couldn't get up. I thought that this experience had to confirm the authenticity of the holy place. I never felt anything like that in my life. I was so scared that I thought I would die.

We went to a Mass in Polish, and I recognized the priest saying “Mary Magdalene,” telling the story, and a rush of joy came over me, like when she comes to the tomb and she sees Jesus, and runs back with such joy to tell the apostles, “He's risen.” At Holy Communion I received the gift of tears: tears of joy about all that He had done for me; but tears of sorrow for people who don't get what Jesus has done for them.

Clearly, we Catholics are quite capable of entering into a “personal relationship with Jesus” every bit as profound as that of Protestants, who often emphasize this aspect of Christianity (especially evangelicals: my own particular Protestant background). These accounts of my wife and Margie reminded me so much of the great Catholic mystics that I have read, in compiling a book of their quotations.

Readers interested in a fuller account of my own pilgrimage to Israel (along with reports of lots of new, exciting biblical archaeology), may be interested in my book, Footsteps That Echo Forever.