Friday, April 25, 2014

London’s Globe Theater and Shakespeare's 450th birthday

LONDONApril 25, 2014 — Earlier this week the theatrical world celebrated the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. And what better venue to view Elizabethan drama the way it was once performed than at the Globe Theater in London

For more than half of his life Sam Wanamaker’s passion was to rebuild Shakespeare’s Globe. Today the thatched roof building enjoys its seventeenth season, and this London stage recreates theater  almost as it was four and a half centuries ago.

Shakespeare’s Globe thrives in downtown London thanks to Wanamaker’s relentless dedication. As a functioning reconstruction of an Elizabethan playhouse in the Borough of Southwark, the Globe is a tribute to William Shakespeare’s contributions to the theater, to literature and to preserving the beauty of the English language.

The modern day Globe, built in 1997, is an open-air theater built about 750 feet from the original site. It has a threefold purpose; an interactive museum, a source for literary education and research, and a functioning playhouse with performances from May to October.

It was impossible to build the contemporary version of the Globe to exact specifications due to modern-day fire codes and other restrictions. Beyond those limitations however, the contemporary  reconstruction is an academic approximation based upon available evidence from both the 1599 and 1614 buildings.
Every effort was made to recreate the playhouse atmosphere that existed during Shakespeare’s time. Plays are open-air performances conducted during daylight hours and in the evenings.

Just as it was in the 17th century, a thrust stage projects into a large circular yard where “groundling” can stand during performances. The only covered portions of the venue are the stage and the three tiers of raked seating. Perhaps most amazing is the fact that Shakespeare’s Globe is today the first and only thatched roof building in the city of London since the year 1666.

Stage techniques and sound effects are created just as they were nearly 500 years ago. Actors use no microphones. There are no speakers, amplification or spotlights. Music is performed live using period instruments. For sound effects, traditional techniques of the day are used, such as rolling a heavy iron ball down a ramp backstage to create thunder.

Capacity is slightly more than 850 in the seating areas plus 700 more in the pit for the groundlings, making the audience size approximately half of the typical patronage in Shakespeare’s time.

Constructed of English oak using mortise and tenon joints, the Globe incorporates authentic 17th century architecture. No structural steel was used in the design. Even the seats are nothing more than simple benches, though cushions can be rented during performances.

This incarnation of the Globe became the dream of American actor Sam Wanamaker when he traveled to London for the first time in 1949. Wanamaker visited the site where Shakespeare’s Globe once stood on the banks of the River Thames.

Dismayed when he discovered that all that signified the importance of the location where so much literary and theatrical history had taken place was a dingy marker at an abandoned brewery, Wanamaker set about his project of rebuilding the Globe.

Despite nearly insurmountable objections by local government due to fears of fire and a steady paradeof visitors and tourists, Wanamaker persevered and finally purchased the building along with the necessary permissions. Wanamaker established the Shakespeare Globe Trust to rebuild the theater as close to the original site, and as historically accurate, as possible.  The dream became an obsession that would challenge Wanamaker for the rest of his life.

In 1997 the new Globe Theater opened  to the public with a production of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Wanamaker never witnessed the results of his dream. He died of prostate cancer in 1993, but his creation lives on for future generations to learn, study and celebrate the Bard some 450 years after his birth.

Surely Wanamaker’s “Much Ado About Something” would have Mr. Shakespeare enjoying the theater today just “As He Liked It” in the 16th century. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The crucifixion of Jesus and the Garden Tomb of Jerusalem

JERUSALEMApril 19, 2014 – One of the first things visitors to the Holy Land are told is that many religious sites cannot be specifically identified.

For some the idea of approximating the location of major biblical events is perplexing. For others, it matters only to be standing in the vicinity of where their faith evolved.

No other destination in the world can claim more layers of history and conflict than Jerusalem where three major religions converge. So complex and intertwined is the mixture of centuries of civilization, invasion and architecture that it would be impossible to reassemble the jigsaw puzzle of history into definitive sites and specific events.

Excavating present day Old Jerusalem would be a never-ending mingling of events that would boggle the mind. Little wonder the Holy Land is a place of generalities that, for most, is good enough.
Using that background as a premise, one of the most intriguing sites around the ancient city of Jerusalem is the Garden Tomb of Jesus. The traditional location of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection is situated at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but during the 19th century some doubts were raised about its authenticity.

The most popular alternative to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the Garden Tomb, which many believe was the garden and sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea. In a land with thousands of years of heritage, the Garden Tomb theory is embryonic by comparison, dating only to 1842.

In that year, Otto Therius, a German theologian, presented the idea that an outcropping of rock in the Garden Tomb might be the site of the crucifixion. Four decades would pass before Therius’ suggestion gained serious consideration. While on sabbatical in 1893, General Charles Gordon, an important member of British society, became curious about the name of the rock cliff in the garden known as “Skull Hill."

Whether a person calls the crucifixion site Golgotha (Aramaic, and the language of Jesus) or Calvary (Latin), both terms mean “the place of the skull” when translated. The appropriately named cliff resembles the face of a skull when viewed from several angles.

Slim evidence to be sure, but the story is bewitching enough to capture the imagination and arouse curiosity. Garden Tomb officials make no claims that their site is the indisputable place where Jesus was interred. What they will state however, is there are several features about the area that coincide with biblical accounts of the crucifixion. 

The Bible says Golgotha was located outside the city walls of Jerusalem. It was along a busy thoroughfare near a gate of the city at a place of execution with a garden nearby, and the site was shaped like a skull.

The tomb itself was located in a garden belonging to a rich man, and Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy. It was hewn out of rock, entered through a low doorway with a burial chamber located to the right of the entrance and sealed by a rolling stone.

All of these elements are found at the Garden Tomb
In the “Gospel According to John” in the King James Version of the Bible, John specifically states that Jesus’ tomb was located in a garden
John 19:41: "Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid."

Two important discoveries, an ancient wine press and a cistern, are cited as proof the area was once a garden. Both would have only been owned by someone of means and were typical items in a garden of the time.

As expected, many authorities have opposing archaeological concerns about the authenticity of the Garden Tomb as the true site of the crucifixion and resurrection.

Despite those beliefs, the Garden Tomb has become a popular pilgrimage site, especially for Protestants. Academicians and biblical scholars can, and most assuredly will, debate the validity of multitudes of historic sites throughout Israel and the Holy Land until Judgment Day.

For travelers however, whether the Garden Tomb or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the actual spot where Jesus died and was resurrected is a matter of personal conviction.

Admission to the Garden Tomb is free, but a $5 donation is suggested. Garden hours are Monday through Saturday between 8:30 am and 12:00 and from 2:00 pm until 5:30 pm.

It would be impossible to measure the emotion of knowingly standing at the precise locations where such major events occurred. Even so, the personal experience of walking in places so familiar to people of faith from around the globe is spiritually powerful.

In that sense, the Garden Tomb offers serenity, solitude and meditation with a unique reverence for events that changed the world more than two thousand years ago. In a city where the layers of time have hidden so many answers to questions we will forever pose, the Garden Tomb is a venue that looks and feels the way we have always imagined it.

Therein lies the magic, for as one Catholic priest once put it, “If the Garden Tomb is not the right place, then it should be.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter in Jerusalem: Where Jesus walked

JERUSALEM, April 16, 2014 – Jerusalem has been a crossroads of religion for centuries.

For travelers to the Holy Land, it’s those constantly changing layers of history that make Jerusalem a challenging destination to absorb. Unlike Rome’s Colosseum or Notre Dame in Paris or the Tower in London, much of Jerusalem lies buried or undiscovered. Guides often tell you, “This may not be the site, but we know it’s near the place where it happened.”

Many visitors annually make pilgrimages to the Holy Land to experience places familiar to them from biblical text. As a result, not being able to see specific locations where particular events took place can, at times, be frustrating. There tends to be a void that lies just beyond the grasp of someone seeking confirmation of their lifelong beliefs.

A good example of this conflict occurs at Via Dolorosa, Latin for the “Way of Grief” or the “Way of Suffering,” which is the path that Jesus took while carrying the cross to his crucifixion. Today, a labyrinth of narrow passageways between a myriad of shops and stalls lines the route from the Lion’s Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Each year thousands of pilgrims walk the route, a distance of just under a half a mile, as the most significant highlight of their journey. Fourteen stations mark the way, representing important events that occurred during Christ’s excruciating ordeal.

Over the centuries, the route of the Via Dolorosa has changed a number of times, which means that it is virtually impossible to do the walk as Jesus did it. In Christ’s day, the path was relatively straight from beginning to end. Though the Old Jerusalem of today retains many ancient sensations, the layers of history have buried Christ’s original course, leaving much to a visitor’s imagination.

Thankfully, the historic stations provide specific locations to aid travelers in comprehending the dramatic events of the day. Among the most popular are stations one, two, three, four, seven and nine. Numbers one and two are said to mark Jesus’ encounters with Pontius Pilate. Many scholars now believe however, that Pilate made his judgments in another part of the city at Herod’s Palace; an example of the conundrums faced by visitors attempting to attach meanings to their faith.

Stations three, seven and nine signify locations where Christ is said to have fallen during his arduous trek. Earlier accounts claim that Jesus stumbled seven times. The falls have become a tradition, but there is no evidence that Christ literally dropped to the ground in the true sense of falling down.

The fourth station claims to be the site where Jesus encountered his mother though there is no mention of any such meeting in the New Testament. This is not an indictment against a visit to the Holy Land. Rather it is meant to emphasize that the anticipated epiphany for travelers may have some limitations. Having said that, the beginning of the Easter story does feature many inspirational sites that conjure scenes that probably look very much at they did more than 2,000 years ago.

One of Jesus’ favorite places was a mountain ridge just beyond the walls of the Old City called the Mount of Olives. It was so named because of the olive groves that once covered its slopes. Used as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3,000 years, there are roughly 150,000 graves at the site.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus traveled across and down the mount riding a donkey to enter Jerusalem. Though the olive trees no longer spread across the slope, thousands of graves can be viewed from its summit. The golden light that pervades the city, especially in early morning or late afternoon, is awe inspiring. From the crest of the mount, the Old City exudes an aura that feels much as it was two millennia ago. Also visible from the Mount of Olives is the Lion’s Gate which is situated just a short distance away across a small valley. The gate marks the entrance Christ used for the last walk from prison to his crucifixion.

While the walls of the Old City have changed over the centuries, they still surround the dusky desert hues of a place that altered the course of history for all mankind. The serpentine road down the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane just beneath it will give even the hardiest traveler a workout. It is deceptively steep and can have you rubbing your calves when you arrive.

Gethsemane is not large, and here the olive trees have, indeed, survived. With their ancient, gnarly appearance, the trees create a sensation that they could have actually been there during those historic events. It was at the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas betrayed Christ, arriving with soldiers, high priests and Pharisees to arrest him.

Jerusalem is a city where three great religions converge. It has witnessed more than its share of conflict and, if history is any indicator, it will continue to do so. Jerusalem is a place where the layers of time will continue to add to its mystery, perhaps creating more questions than answers.

Even so, there is an undeniable aura in Jerusalem where history merges with faith and its stories and, and legends are waiting to be uncovered.