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Wonders Of The World:
St. Mark's Church
Tower Of London
Cathedral Of Antwerp
The Taj Mahal
Cathedral Of Notre Dame
Cathedral Of York
Mosque Of Omar
Cathedral Of Burgos
The Pyramids
Saint Peter's Cathedral
Cathedral Of Strasburg
The Shway Dagohn
Cathedral Of Siena
Town Hall Of Louvain
Cathedral Of Seville
Windsor Castle
Cathedral of Cologne
Palce Of Versailles
Cathedral Of Lincoln

The Mosque Of Omar

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

I am enchanted today by the spell of Islam, by the newly-risen sun, by the Spring which warms the air. Moreover, we will direct our steps this morning towards the holy spot of the Arabs, towards the Mosque of Omar, accounted marvellous and honoured throughout the world. Jerusalem, city sacred to Christians and Jews, is also, after Mecca, the most sacred Mohammedan city. The French consul-general and Father S-, a Dominican, celebrated for his Biblical erudition, gladly accompanied us, and a janizary of the consulate preceded us, without whom even the approaches of the Mosque would have been forbidden.

We walked along the narrow streets, gloomy notwithstanding the sunlight, and between the old windowless walls, made of the debris of all epochs of history and into which Hebraic stones and Roman marbles are fitted here and there. As we advanced towards the sacred quarter everything became more ruined, more devastated, more dead, - infinite desolation, which even surrounded the Mosque, the entrances to which are guarded by Turkish sentinels who prohibit passage to Christians.

Thanks to the janizary, we clear this zone of fanatics, and then, by a series of little dilapidated doors, we pass into a gigantic court, a kind of melancholy desert where the grass pushes up between the stones as it does in a meadow where no humanfoot ever treads : - this is Haram es Sherif (The Sacred Enclosure). In the centre, and very far from us, there rises a solitary and surprising edifice, all blue, but of a blue so exquisite and rare that it seems to be some old enchanted palace made of turquoise; this is the Mosque of Omar, the marvel of all Islam.

How wild and magnificent is the solitude that the Arabs have succeeded in preserving around their Mosque of blue!

On each of its sides, which are at least five hundred metres long, this square is hemmed in with sombre buildings, shapeless by reason of decay, incomprehensible by reason of restorations and changes made at various epochs of ancient history: at the base are Cyclopean rocks, remnants of the walls of Solomon; above, the debris of Herod's citadel, the debris of the pratorium where Pontius Pilate was enthroned and whence Christ departed for Calvary; then the Saracens, and, after them, the Crusaders, left everything in a confused heap, and, finally, the Saracens, again having become the masters of this spot, burned or walled-up the windows, raised their minarets at hap-hazard, and placed at the top of the buildings the points of their sharp battlements.

Time, the leveller, has thrown over everything a uniform colour of old reddish terra-cotta, and given to all the buildings the same vegetation, the same decay, the same dust. This bewildering chaos of bits and fragments, formidable in its hoary age, speaks the nothingness of man, the decay of civilizations and races, and bestows infinite sadness upon this little desert beyond which rises in its solitude the beautiful blue palace surmounted by its cupola and crescent, -the marvellous and incomparable Mosque of Omar.

As we advance through this desert broken by large white stones and grass, giving it the feeling of a cemetery, the casing of the blue Mosque becomes more defined: we seem to see on its walls jewels of many colours and brilliantly cut, equally divided into pale turquoise and a deep lapis-lazuli, with a little yellow, a little white, a little green, and a little black, soberly combined in very delicate arabesques.

Among some cypresses, nearly sapless, several very ancient and dying olives, a series of secondary edicules more numerous towards the centre of the great court, lead to the Mosque, the great wonder of the square. Dotted about are some little marble mihrabs, some light arches, some little triumphal arches, and a kiosk with columns, which also seems covered with blue jewels. Yet here in this immense square, which centuries have rendered so iesert-like, so melancholy, and so forsaken, Spring has placed amid the stones her garlands of daisies, buttercups, and wild peonies.

Coming nearer, we perceive that these elegant and frail little Saracen buildings are composed of the debris of Christian churches and antique temples; the columns and the marble friezes have all vanished, torn away from a chapel of the Crusaders, from a basilica of the Greek Emperors, from a temple of Venus, or from a synagogue. If the general arrangement is Arab, calm and stamped with the grace of Aladdin's palace, the detail is full of instruction regarding the frailty of religions and empires; this detail perpetuates the memory of great exterminating wars, of horrible sacks, of days when blood ran here like water and when the wholesale slaughtering "did not end until the soldiers were weary with killing."

In all this conglomeration only that blue kiosk, neighbour of the blue Mosque, can tell its companion of Jerusalem's terrible past. Its double row of marble columns is like a museum of debris from all countries; we see Greek, Roman, Byzantine, or Hebraic capitals, others of an undetermined age, of a wild style almost unknown.

Now the tranquillity of death has settled over all; the remnants of so many various sanctuaries at enmity have been grouped, in honour of the God of Islam, in an unexpected harmony, and this will perhaps continue until they crumble into dust. When one recalls the troublous past it is strange to find this silence, this desolation, and this supreme peace in the centre of a court whose white stones are invaded by the daisies and weeds of the field.

Let us enter this mysterious mosque surrounded by death and the desert. At first it seems dark as night: we have a bewildering sense of fairy-like splendour. A very faint light penetrates the panes, which are famed throughout the Orient and which fill the row of little windows above; we fancy that the light is passing through flowers and arabesques of precious stones regularly arranged, and this is the illusion intended by the inimitable glass-workers of old. Gradually, as our eyes grow accustomed to the dim light, the walls, arches, and vaults seem to be covered with some rich embroidered fabric of raised mother-ofpearl and gold on a foundation of green. Perhaps it is an old brocade of flowers and leaves, perhaps precious leather from Cordova, or perhaps something even more beautiful and rare than either, which we shall recognize presently when our eyes have recovered from the blinding effect of the sun on the flags outside and have adjusted themselves to the dusk of this most holy sanctuary. The mosque, octagonal in form, is supported within by two concentric rows of pillars, the first octagonal, and the second circular, sustaining the magnificent dome.

Each column with its gilded capital is composed of a different and priceless material: one of violet marble veined with white; another of red porphyry; another of that marble, for centuries lost, known as antique verde. The entire base of the walls, as high as the line where the green and gold embroideries begin, is cased with marble. Great slabs cut lengthwise are arranged in symmetrical designs like those produced in cabinet-work by inlaid woods.

The little windows placed close to the dome, from which altitude falls the reflected light as though from jewels, are all of different colours and designs; one is shaped like a daisy and composed of ruby glass; another of delicate arabesques of sapphire mingled with the yellow of the topaz; and a third of emerald sprinkled with rose.

What makes the beauty of these, as of all Arabian windows, is that the various colours are not separated, like ours, by lines of lead, but the framework of the window is a plate of thick stucco pierced with an infinite number of little holes, ever changing with the light; the effect is always some new and beautiful design; the pieces of transparent blue, yellow, rose, or green, are inserted deep in the thickness of the setting so that they seem to be surrounded by a kind of nimbus caused by the reflected light along the sides of the thick apertures, and the result is a deep and soft glow over all, and through this light gleam and sparkle the pearl, and precious stones.

Now we begin to distinguish what we supposed was tapestry over the masonry: it consists of marvellous mosaics covering everything and simulating brocades and embroideries, but far more beautiful and durable than any woven tissue, for its lustre and diaper-work have been preserved through long centuries because it is formed of almost imperishable matter, - myriads of fragments of marble, with mother-of-pearl and gold. Throughout the whole, green and gold predominate. The designs are numbers of strange vases holding stiff and symmetrical bouquets: conventional foliage of a bygone period, dream flowers fashioned in ancient days. Above these are antique vine-branches composed of an infinite variety of green marbles, stems of archaic rigidity bearing grapes of gold and clusters of pearl. Here and there, to break the monotony of the green, twin-petals of great, red flowers, shaded with minute fragments of pink marble and porphyry, are thrown upon a background of gold.

In the glow of colour streaming through the windows all the splendours of Oriental tales seem to be revealed, vibrating through the twilight and silence of this sanctuary which is always open and surrounded by the spacious courtyard in which we stroll alone. Little birds, quite at home in the mosque, fly in and out of the open, bronze doors, and alight on the porphyry cornices and on the pearl and gold, and are benevolently regarded by the two or three venerable and white-bearded officials who are praying in the shadowy recesses. On the marble pavement are spread several antique Persian and Turkish rugs of the most delicate, faded hues.

On entering this circular mosque its vast centre is invisible, as it is surrounded by a double screen. The first is of wood, finely carved in the style of the Mozarabians; the second, of Gothic iron-work, placed there by the Crusaders when they used it temporarily as a Christian fane. Mounting some marble steps, our eyes at last rest upon this jealously-guarded interior.

Considering all the surrounding splendour, we now expect even more marvellous riches to be revealed, but we are awed by an apparition of quite a different nature, - a vague and gloomy shape seems to have its abode amid the shadows of this gorgeous precinct; a mass, as yet undefined, seems to surge through the semi-darkness like a great, black, solidified wave.

This is the summit of Mount Moriah, sacred alike to the Israelites, Mussulmans, and Christians; this is the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, where King David saw the Destroying Angel holding in his hand the destroying sword stretched out over Jerusalem

Here David built an altar of burnt-offering and here his son Solomon raised the Temple, levelling the surroundings at great cost, but preserving the irregularities of this peak because the foot of the angel had touched it. cc Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem in Mount Moriah, where the Lord appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshing-floor of Oman the Jebusite" (2 Chronicles iii. 1).

We know through what scenes of inconceivable magnificence and desolating fury this mountain of Moriah passed during the ages. The Temple that crowned it, razed by Nebuchadnezzar, rebuilt on the return from the captivity in Babylon, and again destroyed under Antonius IV., was again rebuilt by Herod: it saw Jesus pass by; His voice was heard upon its summit.

Therefore, each of those mighty edifices which cost the ransom of an empire, and whose almost superhuman foundations are still found buried in the earth, confound the imagination of us moderns. After the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, a Temple of Jupiter was erected under Hadrian's reign, replacing the Temple of the Saviour. Later, the early Christians, to spite the Jews, kept this sacred peak covered with debris and dirt, and it was the Caliph Omar who piously caused it to be cleared as soon as he had conquered Palestine; and finally, his successor, the Caliph Abd-el-Melek, about the year 690, enclosed it with the lovely Mosque that is still standing.

With the exception of the dome, restored during the Twelfth and Fourteenth Centuries, the Crusaders found it in its present condition, already ancient and bearing the same relation to them that the Gothic cathedrals do to us, for it was clothed with the same fadeless embroideries of gold and marble and with its glistening brocades which are almost imperishable. Converting it into a church, they placed their marble altar in the centre on David's rock. On the fall of the Franks, Saladin, after long purifications by sprinklings of rose-water, restored it to the Faith of Allah.

Inscriptions of gold in old Cufic characters above the friezes speak of Christ after the Koran, and their deep wisdom is such as to sow disquietude in Christian souls: " O ye who have received the scriptures, exceed not the just bounds of your religion. Verily Christ Jesus is the son of Mary, the apostle of God, and his Word which he conveyed unto Mary. Believe then in God and in his Apostle, but say not there is a Trinity, forbear this, it will be better for you. God is but one. It is not meet that God should have a son. When He decreeth a thing He only saith unto it: 'Be'; and it is." (Sura iv. 19.)

A dread Past, crushing to our modern puerility, is evoked by this black rock, this dead and mummified mountain peak, on which the dew of Heaven never falls, which never produces a plant, nor a spray of moss, but which lies like the Pharaohs in their sarcophagi, and which, after two thousand years of troubles, has now been sheltered for thirteen centuries beneath the brooding of this golden dome and these marvellous walls raised for it alone.

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