I sent an email to Father Angelo, a Franciscan monk I met a week ago, to see if we would be able to sing in his church (Terra Sancta - near the church of the Holy Sepulcre.). This church is huge and has AMAZING acoustics. He sent me an email back with his cell number and a time to call him. He said that he was busy with masses most of the morning but we could meet up around noon. So we ventured out of the center in the morning and explored the whole Kidron Valley. I mean the whole thing...from the top where our road begins to the city of David. It was so cool. We saw a bunch of tombs, lots of Olive trees and gardens and passed underneath Orson Hyde Park entering into Gethsemane. We then went in to the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane. Our goal was to sing "Dona Nobis Pacem" in as many churches as we possibly could. So we went in to see how we would fare. On the way in I saw a friendly looking monk. I came back out of the church, saw him happily sitting there on one of the pillars. I asked him if he spoke English. "no english" I then asked: "Hablas Espanol o Italiano?" and he said Si los dos! (Yes both!) So I went on to ask him if it would be ok for us to sing this beautiful Latin Franciscan hymn in the church. He said "Claro!..but not right now...there is a service going on for another 30 min. Come back then and you sing for me..." So we walked to Mary's tomb which also had a service going on because it was Sunday. We also saw Judas' grotto (where they say he betrayed the Lord). After that we came back and sang Dona Nobis Pacem (which means Give Us Peace - significant to sing in a place like this) in the Church of All Nations. It was beautiful! The Acoustics were...wow.
We went from there and continued on through the Kidron. We threw some rocks at Absalom's Pillar on the way up to the south eastern corner of the city. We entered the Western Wall complex and walked through the Jewish Quarter looking in a few shops and then met up with FAther Angelo at 12 noon. We then sang for him. He is a jolly little (yet chubby) Philipino Franciscan monk who was very excited to see us again and to hear us sing. He brought us into the Terrae Sancta Church which also has huge vaulted cielings and amazing acoustics and he said: Ok sing! We sang Dona Nobis Pacem again and it sounded wonderful. He liked it so much that he said Oh, I loved it. Please sing another. We said we didn't have any other catholic latin hymns prepared, but he said "well sing something else". So we opened the hymn book and sand "Nearer My God to Thee" but this time all the 8 students joined in and it was very beautiful. He had moist eyes at the end. He said, "thank you for that. I love that hymn even though it is protestant...it was so beautiful it made me cry".
Then he paused, and thought for a minute and said..."I want to show you something." He told us to wait there for a minute as if he were making sure the coast was clear). He checked something and came back. Then he brought the eight of us into this room deep within the Franciscan complex. He opened a door and said we don't really show this to people, but it is something very interesting and important to history. We entered into an old museum looking room that had a 30 foot ceiling and glass walls all displaying some artifact of sort. He explained that all of the things were from the 1100s to the 1700s and that they were robes of kings and priests, many of which were enlaced with gold lace and looked very old and very royal. Many very old crosses. And then He said, "I want to show you something that is very rare here in the holy land. It dates back to the 14th century. A Tifuna..." "It is the original book where the Gregorian Chants were written and sang from..." He then proceeded to open this large cupboard behind which were probably fifteen large books (probably 1.5 cubits by 2.5 cubits when closed).
Here is Father Angelo telling us about the book
He took out a smaller one on top and asked us to help him lift out the larger one. We arranged some chairs to place the large book on. We set it down on the chairs (it was really heavy). And then all just got goosebumps looking at it. It had a brass binding with crusader crosses engraved in it. We were just amazed that we could even look at it and touch the outside. Then...he just opened it up and began turning the gigantic pages made of Vellum. Each page was adorned with music and Latin songs that were the Gregorian Chants.
He said: "this book took a monk like me a lifetime to create". He then let us all turn the pages. Isaac tried to read the music but it was different because it was on four lines instead of five so he was a little stumped. This thing was bar-none the most beautiful piece of art work I have ever seen. This was Pre-Gutenberg and all the notes and words were written in by hand. The first letter of the first word of all the chants was remarkably immaculate. It was an art masterpiece and all of them were garnished with gold leaf! Lots of gold leaf. This was surely funded by royalty. He even let us touch the gold leaf! I was going nuts! If the internet wasn't so lame, I would show you pictures of all this because I took tons and video too. All in due time. Anyways. Just think of it. We were fiddling with a book that predates the Declaration of Independence by around 400 years! AHHH! Holy Smokes. Then came the cool part. He opened it up to a page where he pointed out and said: "look this is what you sang" and pointed in the book on the music where it said "Dona Nobis Pacem"!!!!!! It was one of those moments where we transcended time. 700 years vanished before our eyes. I thought of my favorite quote about books:
"The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men's hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
They still live on. It was an amazing experience to say the very least. It is hard to explain with words. I will tell you more in person, but it was an amazing day. And tonight I am going to listen to some Mozart and Brahms at a cello/viola/piano trio playing at our Jerusalem Center.