The story says that in the days of Omar, one of the faithful pilgrims came to this well to draw water. His bucket fell to the bottom, and he went down to get it. To his great surprise, a door opened before him, and he found himself in beautiful fragrant gardens, in which he walked for some time with great satisfaction.
Before leaving this delightful place he plucked a leaf from one of the many trees, stuck it behind his ear, and so ascended to the upper earth without difficulty, but there is no record of whether he brought his bucket up or not.
Of course, the story spread, till at last it reached the ears of Omar, but only as an impudent invention, for no door could be found by any investigating travelers. Omar, however, treated the rumor with respect, and said there was a prophecy that one of the faithful should enter Paradise alive. Everything depended on whether the leaf retained its verdure, and so could maintain its claim to have grown upon a tree of Paradise.
This test was triumphantly passed, for the leaf was green as ever, and so the story has lived to this day, and so it is always told on the brink of the “Well of the Leaf.”
The Mohammedans seem fond of tests. If the true believer can pass between two columns, outside the Mosque El Aksa, standing very close together, he leaves all his sins behind him. Now, the thinnest of our party could only just manage to squeeze through, and fair Mussulmans must assuredly find it difficult.
A still more difficult test is at another place, a little beyond the same mosque, where Solomon’s throne once stood. Here hangs—visible only to the eyes of the faithful—(and even they must wait for death to unseal their vision)—the bridge, thin as a hair, and sharp as a sword, between earth and Paradise. Beneath it yawns the abyss of Gehenna, and the faithless will miss their footing, and tumble headlong into its depths, while the true believer crosses the bridge easily and swiftly.
Passing still along the wall, we came to the garden gate. Within are most beautiful carvings, and some fine pillars, said to have been brought from Gaza, by the Queen of Sheba, as a present to Solomon. It was quite the afternoon before we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which occupies the site of the church built by Constantine over our Lord’s tomb.
Just inside the door is a slab on which is supposed the body of Christ was laid in order to be anointed, and it is worn quite into holes by the kisses of devout pilgrims. It is quite touching to see the faith these poor creatures place in every possible and impossible site.
Many of the peasants of the South of Russia save up their money for half a lifetime, in order to make this journey, which they perform in the most economical way possible. They travel as deck passengers on board ship, in all weathers, and walk when they are on land.
When, at last Jerusalem is reached, they take up their abode in the Russian hospice, and there the wretched priests never let them go till they have stripped them of their uttermost farthing, so that they literally have to beg their way back, and often starve on the roadside.
--Mrs. Strassey, in Fraser’s Magazine.
Published: January 4, 1880 Copyright © The New York Times