Investigating Jerusalem (part 2 of 3).


In the same year 1878 as the White Fathers began their work at St. Anne's Church and its attached Melkite seminary, which lies in the north-east quarter of Jerusalem's old city, the famous Charles George Gordon, who later became General Gordon of Khartoum, was also staying in the City a few hundred yards away. He lived for over a year as a guest of the ''Palestinian Exploration'' team and had an apartment overlooking the north wall by the Damascus Gate.

Gordon, like his father before him, joined the Royal Engineers and studied Surveying with Civil Engineering. At 20 he was made a lieutenant and rose to fame in the eyes of the British public, having successfully led his engineers to fortify and hold the Port of Shanghai against the Taiping rebels for 16 months. He returned to England richly rewarded by the Emperor of China. Within a year he was again dispatched with an engineering team to map out and establish “Trading Stations'' all along the Upper Nile. He also set up the governance of a province in the southern Sudan called “Equatoria”.

The ‘Nile venture' allowed British and French expansionist interests to follow on the success of the opening of the Suez Canal. These Explorations were also eagerly featured by the Media to feed the public appetite for news from geographic discoveries ever since the earlier discovery of the source of the Nile and the recovery of the long lost Scottish Missionary, Dr. Livingston, by the journalist Henry Stanley. This cosmopolitan involvement of founding trading stations along African rivers, became an important stage in the “Scramble for Africa'' by the European Colonists. At some time or another, Gordon would have met with many English and French Missionary Societies trekking into the interior, missionaries who were held in some high regard by local governors, as they too were also involved in bringing aid and education to the poor and ridding the country of Slavery. However, after some years, when many of Gordon's close colleagues became debilitated, and some mortally affected by tropical fever, Gordon went down with fatigue, if not Malaria, having spent long periods of time in the “Sudd” a notorious 300 square miles of swamp along the southern Sudanese Nile. (1)

To convalesce, Gordon, in 1878, found himself a guest of Lieutenant Claude Conder, also of the Royal Engineers, in a rented property by the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Conder himself was commissioned by the Foreign Office to head up a team which included another surveyor and soldier in the R.E, a certain Lieutenant H.H. Kitchener (Horatio Herbert). They were to map out western Palestine, from Jerusalem to Haifa. It was at this time in Gordon's life, being a convert to Evangelism and well-versed in Biblical studies that he became intrigued with the legends about an old quarry whose long white cliff face he looked at daily as it is sited some several hundred yards to the north of the Damascus Gate. The rocky outcrop stands 2550 ft.| above sea level, at the highest point north of the city and from which the City walls slope gently away to the Kidron Valley, almost a mile to the south. The quarry site, from ancient lore, was a mound known as the “Place of the Skull''. At this one point which is still very visible today the cliff face shows caves and splits in the quartz blocks and features appear, such as two eye sockets, a nasal crevasse and vertical cracks in the white rock which look like teeth, giving it all the unmistakable image marking a skull. All this is set in the quarry face of the long white quartz escarpment which runs west to east, and parallel with the northern walls of the City of Jerusalem. (Pictures supplied)

There was also a large cave to the east of ''The Skull'' anciently referred to as “Jeremiah’s Grotto'' where the prophet supposedly wrote his “Lamentations'' at the fall of the City to the Babylonians, and where the prophet writes that he too, (like Jesus), wept over Jerusalem. Today however, the ground is leveled in front of the Grotto and is now a football-pitch sized Bus-station, (picture supplied). In 1880, “Jeremiahs Grotto'' had been used by a Syrio-Greek merchant as a food store, while another local man rented the ground in front of “The Skull” as an allotment. Further east along the escarpment and still visited today, though only by enthusiasts, is another vast cavern known as the “Cave of Zacharia” with its long held reputation of being the Quarry of Solomon. It is therefore not remarkable that Freemasons still hold an Annual Lodge meeting in “Zachariah's Cave” every June to elect their 'Master for Jerusalem'.

Gordon therefore, stirred by the many legends connected with the ''Skull' reputedly had a ‘Clairvoyant’ vision, from which he became convinced that below the spoil in front of the “Skull” lay other secrets? He consulted with his friends and agreed that a large sum of his own money could be paid out to purchase the allotment and pay for the removal of the soil from the front of the cliff wall. He hoped that graves or tombs would be uncovered there. The need to excavate was also prompted by Lieutenant Conder's own findings, in which he noted, that according to the local Sephardic Jews, the site was a place ‘anciently cursed’ and to be avoided by the Orthodox Jew at all costs. For centuries it seemed the site had been a place where the unrighteous were taken to be executed and their bodies left there, for it was known as the place of execution by stoning. The accused, legend said, would be hauled to the top of the |”skull mound'' and hurled down. Stones were then thrown on top of them, which pile became their permanent grave. If this were true, it would also most likely be the site of St. Stephens' witness and martyrdom outside the City Wall as described in Acts. Ch.7. v57. The scripture also relates in Acts, Ch.8. v2, that ‘devout men came later and took the body away for burial and made great lamentation over him’.

Incredibly, this place of death, the ''Skull'' is directly opposite the Damascus Gate which is the oldest and busiest access to Jerusalem. This is also the beginning of the main road to Damascus via Nablus in the Hills of Samaria north of Jerusalem. This would also put the vision and conversion of St. Paul, after his participation in Stephen’s death, into a more meaningful light especially if, by some chance, this site was also the real “place of the Skull' called in Hebrew “Golgotha'' (Latin: Calva for ‘bare head’) that is, the site of the Crucifixion. (see Part 3).

Gordon paid for a wide slit trench to be dug out by a labour gang working for the German Lutheran clergy who were laying foundations for their grand Cathedral in the west of the City. The tall white Italianate Campanile of the Lutheran church is still the tallest tower in the Old City, sited only a hundred yards or so from the Holy Sepulcher Church which stands on the northern slopes of Mount Zion, east of the Jaffa Gate (2). The dig uncovered a 1st century tomb, carved out of the living rock face below and some 100 yards west of the mound called the “Skull”. There were other smaller ‘cataphalque' shelves and ossuaries unearthed nearby, all hacked out of the limestone. However, it seems that very little notice or detailed catalogues were kept of the earth-spoil, or where the debris was dumped in this primary excavation. But shortly after the exposure of the Rock Tomb, Gordon was called back to London and he was pressurized to relieve Khartoum from the uprising of the Islamic Fundamentalists under the Mhadi by whose warriors he met his death in 1885.

Slowly but surely over the following years, the work of excavation continued with a growing interest in the site of the “Skull” and the ground around the Tomb was bought by a British trust Association who in 1882 first raised over £4,000 for the secure purchase of the excavated plot. After the turn of the century, the owners of the site became known as “The English Garden Tomb Association”. In fact the whole site was for years, commonly referred to as “Gordon's Calvary”. The owners, whose registered office was in London, also bid at auction for the foreground of the plot which faced the Damascus Gate but this part of the plot was acquired by the Dominicans whose later 4-floor College of Theology stands on that spot to this day. As a result of that sale, a short lane had to be constructed at the rear of their plot to give access to the Tomb from the Nablus Road, set in its present large garden. Furthermore, a wall had to be built along the top of the escarpment to stop the dumping of rubbish into the excavated area as had happened for many years because the Muslim population used the field above and behind the “Skull'' as a cemetery. Also at the turn the century, the Anglican Community in Jerusalem bought some acres of land on the north edge the Muslim cemetery and built a Cathedral and College there, after which, both plots witnessed many contentious issues resulting in the Tomb Association appointing a live-in Custodian to look after the newly excavated site.

Around 1890 the Association appointed a Danish carpenter called Pedar Beckholdt to be Caretaker of the Site, so he and his wife built a small house in the Garden and lived on the site till 1909. The Association, through some early journals, recorded some of Pedar's life-story. It seems that at 16 years of age, Pedar, with his mother and younger sister, left Denmark in the hope of joining their father who had traveled to California to prospect for gold in the 1860's. The family crossed the Panama Isthmus where the building of a railway had just begun, but it was still some 50 years before the Canal was built and the journey proved too much for the mother and sister who died on the journey due to Yellow Fever, even before they reached the Pacific ocean. It seems that Pedar was taken on board a ship bound for Sacramento, where he met up with his father. After a fruitless year or so, the father headed off to the Yukon along with 30,000 other drifters still in the hope of finding gold. There seemed to be little more fortune in the Alaskan area for their great labour and in 1870 Pedar and his now ailing father set off for South Africa on the prospect of doing better in the Kimberley mines called the “Rand Goldfield”. That rich mine was eventually bought by the Politician’s family called Kruger! Then the father died and Pedar looked about for other work. He claimed that he joined one of Stanley’s major European expeditions into the interior of Africa about to trek up the Congo. But as Pedar didn’t state specifically which Expedition he had joined and the search for Dr. Livingstone was already under way in 1870, when Pedar had just arrived in South Africa, I believe he joined Stanley’s 3rd Expedition. This was arranged to bring ‘Relief’ to the Sudanese province of Equatoria where the government under the pro-European Governor Emin Pasha was cut off by the Mahdi after Gordon's death in 1885.

Unlike other expeditions to the interior, Stanley set off to sail round the Cape via Zanzibar so that they could travel West to East up the Congo River. The Caravan eventually assembled at the mouth of the Congo where Stanley had been promised total support from King Leopold of the Belgians. This resulted in a plan to traverse the Congo River using a number of steamers and haulage barges with 800 cart-loads of goods to trade for food and supplies. In the Cape, the Committee picked up the last of their ‘Trekkers’ and I believe it was there that Pedar joined as a jobbing carpenter. The caravan then had over 1000 men in all. To add colour to this event the gift of machine gun, made by Hiram Maxim, was mounted on the leading steamer, the first of its kind seen outside Europe. Already running behind schedule the Expedition set off up the river at the end of April 1887. The vanguard of the expedition only reached Lake Albert at the end of December 1887 as they were totally unprepared for the extremities of such a journey and so much uncharted and difficult country beyond the rivers. In one instance, in the dark dense Ituri forest of the upper Congo, a local Pygmy tribe took the Caravan to be Slave traders and shot over 200 bearers with poisoned arrows. Other parts of the expedition were waylaid and didn't meet up for months. It was in this period that help was given to the expedition by the White Fathers on mission stations in Uganda and in the area of the Lakes. In April 1888 the Emin and his entourage came up the Nile to meet up with Stanley, who was astonished to find the Pasha was wholly indifferent to the Relief offered. In fact Emin Pasha was annoyed that Stanley had lost or traded away arms for food and ended up giving Stanley supplies and relief instead.

It took the whole of 1888 for Stanley to gather up all the sections and rearguard of the Caravan where only 580 men survived. Scores had deserted or been sent back down the Congo with various illnesses. He also tried restructuring the Expedition for the homebound journey, especially as Emin was by then reluctant to give up his leadership of the Equatoria Province where the Mahdi had died and his follower’s fortunes were failing. Stanley and the Pasha' s party eventually set off eastward for Zanzibar in September 1889. In January 1890, the remnant returned to Cairo and onto Europe where Pedar relates that he got back to Denmark and married his childhood sweetheart Johanna. At her request they decided to spend their honeymoon in Palestine and visit the Holy Places. It was while they were there that Pedar heard about and took the position of the “Garden Tomb" Custodian in 1892. Pastor Lehnsberg, a Lutheran chaplain, replaced Pedar on his retirement. (3)

When the 1st World War broke out the Turkish Commandant for the area was invited to use the Garden house by the German Lutherans. Up to then, from 1902 to 1912, about 800 pilgrims a year visited the Garden Tomb. The property and records were later restored to the English, as soon as Field Marshal Allenby's army relieved Jerusalem in December 1917. From that time and for 30 years, there followed a period when the Government of Palestine was directed from Whitehall. This was known as the “British Mandate Era'' in which a 2 Nation solution to appease the indigenous Palestinian people of the region was made, as well as allowing western Palestine to be set up as a settlement area for homeless Jewry. This followed certain promises made with some leading figures in Zionism who had helped the British War effort during the 1st War. However, this idea of a 2 Nation State in Palestine caused nothing but grief, especially after the 2nd World War and the Mandate was reluctantly abandoned in 1948, when, under pressure from a United Nation resolution, the British Government had to withdraw and the secular Zionist State of Israel was set up backed by funding from the United States. (4)

The discovery and development of the English Garden 1st century Rock Tomb continues to present serious questions about the authenticity of the true site of Calvary. One of the most important issues raised by Gordon's Calvary asks if the Holy Sepulcher area may indeed be in the wrong part of the City as many had contended even before the Tomb was uncovered! Therefore, in a third Essay in this vein, I will attempt to lay out the comparisons between these two sites – a task which will raise and belay many ghosts!

(1) Wikipedia - General Gordon & ''The White Nile'' by Alan Moorehead (Penguin UK 1972) et alia.
(2) Garden History from “A Garden in Jerusalem” by Rosalind Melon (Warden 1990 to 2010)
(3) ibidem.
(4) see Chaim Weizmann “Zionist” lst President of Israel - Balfour Declaration – in Wikipedia



Part 3