National Geographic : 1954 Dec
846 John Scofleld, National Geographic Staff An Armenian Priest Kneels in the Sepulcher, Christendom's Holiest Shrine The rock-cut tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, to which Jesus' body was carried from the Cross, was a great prize of the Crusades. Jerusalem's streets ran with blood as the knights hacked their way toward the goal in 1099; later they built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher over it (opposite). Less than a century passed before Saladin wrested the city from the Christians. Church keys still belong to a Moslem family by right of inheritance, and its members unlock the doors daily. Only two or three worshipers can squeeze into the tiny crypt. Marble now covers the shelf from which Jesus rose on Easter morning. The villagers soon discover, however, that spraying can destroy insect pests in the fruit orchards as well as in their houses.* Tradition holds firm in the remote villages, where a mobile clinic is more of a marvel than a plane. Young Syrian instructors in home making and hygiene often wear old-style na tive dress to reassure village women to whom prenatal care and the cure of worms in chil dren are unknown. Since the Near East Foundation and its Syrian assistants alike can spend little money, they work chiefly with the tools of the coun tryside, often using donkey power, or some times camel transport, to take a nurse on rounds of distant homes. Young girls flock to the sewing and home making classes in winter, when they can be spared from field work. These young women of the renovated villages are gaining a secret pride. They are beginning to dress and keep house like city women. They point to their medical clinic and exclaim, "It's like Damas cus." The center of Damascus is still the great Omayyad Mosque. Going toward it, you find the plate-glass windows in the covered bazaar streets filled with the shoes, the mechanical gadgets, and especially the Syrian silk gar ments of today. Then, emerging from the shadows of bustling trade, you step into the blaze of the vast courtyard and feel as if you had come through an ageless portal. If you look closely at this mosque, you will perceive its ties to early Christianity. It was built in the first years of the eighth cen tury when the swift expansion of Islam had gone beyond the frontiers of the Roman Em pire to the Bay of Biscay in the West and the * See "Report from the Locust Wars," by Tony and Dickey Chapelle, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1953.