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Christianity in Prague vs. Jerusalem

May 7, 2010

Of all the major cities in Europe, Prague feels the oldest. Of all the cities in the world, Jerusalem feels the holiest. I visited both in the past month and couldn’t help but compare them.

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

One of the most beautiful Christian places of worship that I’ve ever seen is St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague (left), a place that has gone through various permutations for over a thousand years. On the other hand, the most important Christian place of worship in the world, to many, is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (right), which was said to have been first constructed in the fourth century. Click on the pictures above for larger versions.

In contrast to the breathtaking St. Vitus, which stands fully restored and alone inside a giant castle, the Holy Sepulcher is comparatively visually unimpressive, with a small entrance wedged between regular buildings on the street, and is all but falling to pieces inside. While awe inspiring and huge, it’s clearly in bad repair, and often looks as old as it really is.

The twelfth station of the cross, known as Golgotha, or the site of the crucifixion, is the most well maintained section of the church and is under Greek Orthodox control. I felt uncomfortable taking pictures of the long line of emotional pilgrims waiting to pray, so instead I took aim at one of the gorgeous murals to the right of the Golgotha, which looks even more amazing given that it’s surrounded by disrepair. Click the picture to see more details:

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Other parts of the church are literally disintegrating and are in desperate need of preservation. Having so many branches of Christianity under one roof — Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and the Syriac Orthodox — makes it impossible for anyone to agree on what needs to be done and how to do it. While the church is meaningful and beautiful in its own way, it’s a tragic waste that the strongest common link between these branches — Jesus! — can’t bring them together.

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