A narrative based on an experience which the writer believed, in substance, to represent the facts.

It was not a large house, but built solidly of stone and there were two doors only. This house was just within the City's limits in a narrow cobbled street and standing in its own ground. Behind the house there was a, small walled enclosure. This contained the household well and a fig tree against the wall. There was also a bushy thorn tree growing in a corner and this was in early bud. There were no figs visible on the tree but some young green leaves were showing. The well appeared to be half dry with very little water visible in its depths. Leaning against the house in this courtyard was a stone shelter which contained a carpenter's bench, chopped wood, also a large earthenware jar of wine and a flagon of olive oil. At the side of the house a wooden annexe had been built, a small stable, which was half filled with straw and housed a donkey who had just come in from work at the time of our visit.

The front door of this modest dwelling was flush with the street. On entering one found oneself in a room of some size, with a large hearth, stone slabbed. A deep alcove for cooking adjoined the living room. On the other side were two smaller rooms, used for sleeping quarters. When we arrived, which was towards eventide, two small children were asleep in one of these rooms. The other was empty. The beds consisted of straw mattresses raised from the floor on wooden trestles. No carpets were on the floors but these were partly covered by flaxen or fibrous mats into which coloured designs had been woven. The furnishing was simple but the whole house was scrupulously clean and well kept. The walls were bare except for two camel-hair rugs. These were hooded at one end and were evidently for use as cloaks in cold weather. You may ask why the contents of this particular house, humble dwelling as it is, should be described in so much detail. It happens to be a very important house indeed. A man bearing a pitcher of water had led us to the front door. He went in but we delayed our entry for awhile. He was a kinsman of the good man to whom this house belonged. The message which had followed on his heels made much stir and preparations were put in hand at once to get ready an upper room and to lay a meal for about a dozen people. Two of these had arrived with the water carrier.

On going upstairs we found that apart from one large room, almost under the eaves and in appearance not unlike an extensive garret, this upper floor only contained a small bed-room divided from the large room by a short passage. This smaller room was being converted into an annexe for the service of the meal in course of preparation downstairs. The warm smell of cooking reached us from below. A long narrow table on trestles almost filled the guest chamber and around it were being placed hand made stools with short legs and these appeared to be made of cedar or pear wood. The table itself had evidently been made by a master craftsman, and was in process of being oiled and polished. It was made of olive wood. There was no glass in the windows, which were covered with transparent gauze which let the light and air through but prevented the entry of mosquitoes and other insects. The day had been sultry and the atmosphere was close, most unusual for so early in the year. Behind the door a smaller table had been brought up from the living room. On it was laid a platter containing dried fish, a flask of olive oil and a basket filled with lettuce and other salad greens and bitter herbs. A plate made of baked clay filled with broken pieces of unleavened bread was already in place, also a bowl of' fruit, lemons, dried figs, dates and nuts. Towards the centre of the table, but on the floor beside it stood an earthenware jar containing wine. A stone pitcher of water kept it company.

No silver or china cups or metal mugs or plates were to be seen but there were hand made drinking vessels on the table. What seemed unusual was the presence of a large and fairly deep wooden bowl placed at the centre of the table, a bowl (now empty) which would be capable of holding a considerable quantity of wine or other liquid. It was the custom, in some Jewish households on ceremonial occasions to fill such bowls with wine. This perhaps explained the presence of the flagon of wine on the floor, the contents of which could be poured into the table bowl, as the need arose. One other detail. Near the stool on which the principal guest would be seated, had been placed a shallow saucer-like " Cup" made of glass, multicoloured yet silvery hued and of fine semi-transparent design. The giver of the feast or the principal guest would dip this " Cup" into the large bowl standing in the centre of the table, and after blessing it would pass it round to all present so that they might drink from it sacramentally one by one. I noticed three terra cotta " lamps" on the table, a large one near the centre and a smaller one at either end. These lamps were closed except for a small aperture in the spout where unlighted wicks were floating in the oil. In shape they were not unlike the modern teapot and probably contained enough oil to burn for several hours. In one of the corners of the room under the eaves an object was visible that looked like a kind of lantern, otherwise there appeared to be no further means for lighting the room when darkness descended. It did not seem likely that this chamber was in general use, only being opened up at the time of Passover and for similar ceremonial purposes.

As we left this upper room to go downstairs, a shaft of light from the setting sun lit it up and gave a certain splendour to the scene. When we met the good man of the house to say goodbye he told us that he was by trade a mason and also a wood carver. Evidently he was proud of the special office which he said he held, namely Convener of the Guild of Master Masons and Carpenters. I asked him about the " Cup" which has been described above. He told us that it was held in much reverence and he believed that it had been made by a craftsman of Antioch, near which city could be found in the desert, a particular "vein" of white silica suitable for glass making. Such hand made glassware was a feature of the industry of Antioch he said. It was still being sold and at modest prices throughout Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine and was even exported to Egypt, Italy and else- where in the Roman Empire.

In bidding us farewell he told us he understood that the approaching feast was to be a great occasion and that he and his good wife felt both honoured and humbled to think that their house had been chosen for the purpose, although it was a mystery to them because the guests to be expected were strangers so far as he then knew. Among them, he had been told, would be a very holy man, perhaps a " Master" and he asked us to hold himself and all his household in our thoughts and prayers.

On leaving the house my companion and I stood silent for awhile. Then he gave me his blessing and went his way, turning down a side-lane, crossing the brook and proceeding towards the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives.

I walked up the street in the opposite direction until I reached a vantage point from where the house we had just left was still in view. As I stood there, watching, the stars came out and an evening mist arose from the valley below. Dimly from afar I witnessed the arrival of the Master and his ten companions and saw them entering the house I had so recently and so reluctantly left behind me. It was then that I became aware of a deep but brilliant glow spreading from the house in all directions and illuminating the darkness of the night. Later still I heard the sound of singing. Then I went my way to my home on the other side of the City, filled with a feeling of impending tragedy and yet with an underlying sense of joy and thanksgiving which has remained with me ever since."


The Upper Room
 

Little St Michael's

 

 

The Lion's Head - Drinking area