The season of Lent and Easter is perhaps the most popular – and meaningful – time to visit some of the most important Christian holy sites.
There may not be a more powerful travel experience than visiting the sites of Jesus’ last days, the days that would form the foundation of the Christian faith.
There’s a lot to see in the Holy Land, and a lot to know if you’re planning a trip – a trip that every Christian will find life-changing.
Since there were no planes, trains, or cars in Jesus’ day, most of the most precious holy sites that memorialize his life on Earth are in close proximity to each other. After all, Jesus and his disciples – as well as almost everyone at the time – didn’t have the ability to travel very long distances.
You can follow in the footsteps of Jesus and experience the culture of this ancient land any time of year, but this holy season offers a special opportunity to connect (or reconnect) with our Christian roots.
Walking in His footsteps…
It’s hard to even comprehend sometimes that so many miraculous events occurred in Israel and the surrounding areas.
When you think about Jesus – our Lord, God in human form – having walked on the same ground you are visiting, it can be mind-boggling.
Inspirational, yes. Awe-inspiring, of course. But mind-boggling, nonetheless.
This is the trip of a lifetime, and one that will not only leave you with special memories, but ones that will have a profound effect on your spirit.
This is where it all started…
There are many places where Jesus traveled, visited friends and loved ones, performed miracles, or came to teach and pray.
But for the Christian traveler, there are some can’t-miss sites that formed the basis of his life, his teachings, and ultimately, his sacrifice.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem marks the general spot of Jesus’ birth when Mary and Joseph traveled to the City of David to be counted in the census. This is a particularly meaningful destination at Christmastime, of course, but should not be missed on any trip to the Holy Land.
The Jordan River and Sea of Galilee are less than 30 miles from one another, and both bodies of water were a major part of Jesus’ life. He was baptized in the Jordan by his cousin John the Baptist, a tradition that we carry on in His name to this day when we pledge our lives to Christ.
The Sea of Galilee was an area heavily traveled by Jesus and his disciples – fishermen, of course – and the scene of Scriptural accounts where Jesus calmed the waters and more.
Both can be visited on boating tours, where you can really take in the geography of the area and get a sense of the importance of these waters so often mentioned in the Bible.
Nearby Capernaum is the location of many miracles performed by Jesus. It is here that you can visit the site of Peter’s home, where Jesus healed his mother-in-law and traveled many times with the man who would become the first head of his church.
And where it all unfolded…
During this time of Lenten preparation, there is perhaps no more significant path to walk than that of Jesus’ journey to the Cross.
The Garden of Gethsemane is where Jesus prayed in agony, knowing what was to come, and where he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, just as he knew he would be. It was here that he prayed “in agony. He prayed more earnestly. Then his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
Today, the site is a Catholic monastery complete with an olive grove where some of the trees are said to date all the way back to Jesus’ time.
The Via Dolorosa has been walked by Christians since the early days of pilgrimage to follow the last path Christ took in the city.
The sacred moments of this agonizing journey are now landmarks on the Via Dolorosa and are known by the Church as the Stations of the Cross – an important reminder of what Jesus experienced in those final hours and a part of many church services during this holy season.
On the Via Dolorosa, Jesus walked to the site of the Crucifixion, Golgotha – the “place of the skull” — Calvariæ Locus in Latin – or Calvary, as it is more commonly referred to.
It is here where one of the most significant Christian holy sites is located – the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. This is the believed location of the Crucifixion and nearby tomb of Jesus – a tomb that would be empty three days later.
A few words of caution…
If you’re planning a trip to Israel to see the holy sites, there are a few things you should know.
Sadly, this place where Christ taught and preached patience, understanding, acceptance, and love for all humankind has experienced its fair share of violence and unrest in recent decades.
Terrorism is on the rise, and travelers have a right to be worried. But there are ways you can keep yourself and your travel companions safe if your heart is set on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.
First of all, the best way to see the Holy Land is with a guided tour from one of the many local tour companies.
They understand the culture, the trouble spots, the best times to visit the sites, and best safety practices. You’ll also get a lot more information on the history and significance from the people whose job it is to teach and preserve this history for the future.
Before you go, take a look at the U.S. State Department’s advisory pages for international travel. It is updated on a regular basis, and is not meant to scare you off, but keep you aware and safe.
Research local customs and culture before you go. If it is your first time visiting Israel, it may be best to travel with someone who has been there before or has extensive knowledge of the area.
Just like with any trip, wear comfortable, appropriate clothing and keep your belongings secure. If you’re doing a lot of walking, carry the minimum of what you might need for the day.
It is also recommended that you avoid large events and crowds, as these can be targets for terrorist activity. Use your best judgment, stay together as a group, and always have a plan.
If you prefer a private tour, many companies offer those as well. They’ll keep you safe and informed, but also help you avoid what some people would rather avoid – a crowded, noisy bus while you’re trying to pray and meditate.
Above all, take time to reflect on all the significance of this ancient land. It is not only the birthplace of Christianity, but also a variety of different cultures and historical events.
For more tips on planning your trip to Israel, read Proud American Traveler’s review.
Enjoy this beautiful land as you focus on your faith – the place where it all started.
(h/t Proud American Traveler)