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Father Hartman Father Louis Hartman in the garden of the American School, Jerusalem on Christmas Eve, 1959.

Letter 1: The Journey to the Holy Land


Jerusalem, Jordan
September 22, 1959


Dear Relatives and Friends:

Since it would be impossible for me to write a separate account to each and every one of you in order to give you some of the details of my journey from New York to Jerusalem, I thought it well to write a sort of circular letter so that you may not be without some news from me. Unfortunately such a letter cannot have any personal references to the recipient, but I trust you will understand.

My departure from New York on Wednesday, August 26th, would have been perfect except for two things: the heat and the immense crowd of people who went on board the Queen Elizabeth to say goodby to us departing passengers. It was only for this occasion that I wish I had gone first class, instead of the cabin class or middle class, which I had chosen. In first class I would have had plenty of space to entertain the many relatives and friends who came to see me off, and besides, they would have had a chance to see what an immense and magnificent ship this Queen is-- in first class only!

Otherwise, I was perfectly content with my cabin class, and I am certain that I met nicer people here than I would have in first class. To be sure, the cabin that I shared with my confrere, Father Francis X. Murphy, was of a very diminutive size, but it did have its own private (equally diminutive) bath attached, which was an advantage.

Cabin class on this voyage of the Queen Elizabeth had its full quota of passengers, which necessitated a second serving for each meal. Father Murphy and I were late in signing up for places at table, and so we had no choice; only places at the second serving were available. But this worked no hardship. Rather, we had the good luck of being assigned to the same table with five other very nice people, and of having a remarkably jovial waiter, with the strange name of Billy Goater. The food was excellent, and mealtime with these pleasant people was always most enjoyable.

The ship was scheduled to sail at noon. According to the "abstract of the log" handed out at the end of the voyage, it "left Pier 90, New York, at 11:57 DST." When my relatives and friends had gone ashore at about 11:15, I sat for a while all by myself in the deserted "Lounge," in order to rest up a bit from all the excitement. Then I went with Father Murphy to the railing on the top deck, to watch the actual departure. Crowds of people were on the pier, waving to their friends, but I did not bother to look them over, since I had told my folks not to wait around for the ship to leave the pier.

After staying on deck to watch the skyline of New York fade away in the distance and see the ship pass through the narrows, we went to the dining room for lunch. The ship must have been near the Ambrose Channel Light Ship when to my utter amazement I was called from the dining room to answer the phone. It was my friend, John Crawley, the Bible publisher, calling by ship-to-shore phone, to tell me that he had gone on board the ship to see me off, but could not find me in my cabin or anywhere else. He saw Father Murphy, but did not know that I was traveling with him, and so did not ask him about me. He waited patiently on the pier till the ship sailed and saw me standing on the deck, but could not attract my attention. Later the ship offered for sale photos taken of the people standing on the pier. And sure enough, there was John Crawley, standing there and looking like the saddest man in the world.

There was no rock and roll at all to the ship. Even though the official log of the ship described the first day out as "rippled sea, low swell," and the other three days as "moderate sea, low swell," an old off-shore fishermen like me would have considered the ocean as relatively calm for the entire voyage, almost always sunny, though sometimes partly cloudy. As far as I know, no one on board was seasick. But leave it to me to get sick, not seasick of course, but slightly feverish for one day. I had delayed getting my injections against typhoid fever; on the evening of the second day at sea I got my third and last typhoid shot. The next morning I got up for Mass, but the rest of the day, till the evening meal, I stayed in bed. (I got the injection from the ship's "surgeon," with the assistance of a nurse, whom he addressed as "Sister." Cost: $2.00). The next day I was all better and, thank God, I have been feeling fine ever since.

Of course, there was the usual round of activities on board to keep the passengers busy. On two days I went swimming with Fr. Murphy in the nice pool, down in the hold of the ship. (It's not on deck, so that it can be used all year round.) The water was surprisingly warm. I asked the pool steward if it was heated. He said, no, it was just the water of the Gulf Stream, which remains fairly warm almost all the way to England. We also went a couple of times to the movies (quite recent pictures) in the pretty theater, used by all classes on board. On the stage of this theater we also said Mass each morning. Father Theobald, S.V.D., said Mass after me and Fr. Murphy. He was also a cabin-class passenger, an American returning to his teaching job at the SVB preparatory college in England. We were the only three priests on board. A surprisingly large number of people attended even the weekday Masses, and many of them went to Holy Communion.

According to the earlier schedule that I had received in Washington, our ship was supposed to reach Cherbourg, France, in the "early P.M." of Monday, Aug. 31, and Southampton, England, in the "late P.M." of the same day. I had thus thought that, even though I would miss the opening talks of the Oxford meeting on the evening of Aug. 31, I would be there for the morning talks on Sep. 1. Actually, the ship reached Cherbourg at 7:15 in the morning of Aug. 31, but did not dock at Southampton till 10 o'clock that night. At Cherbourg the wind and tide prevented the ship from tying up at the pier. It anchored out in the harbor, and the passengers landing there went ashore in a tender. The printed "log" that was handed out that day (the ship has its own printing press, of course), stated that the ship made the passage from New York to Cherbourg (3,l23 miles) in 4 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes, at an average speed of 28.85 knots. (This for the benefit of people interested in such nautical lore.) It was ridiculous to cross the ocean that fast, and then take a whole day to go from Cherbourg across the English Channel (64 miles here) to Southampton. The thing that caused the trouble was the tide. After staying about two hours at Cherbourg, the ship crossed the Channel in a little over two hours, and then slowed down and anchored at 11 A.M. south of the Isle of Wight. Here it lay at anchor all afternoon and the first part of the evening. It could only go up the tricky channel of the Solent and up the shallow Southampton Water at high tide. This part of the voyage would have been very interesting in daylight. All we could see were the many lights along the shore. It was 10 P.M. before we tied up to the pier at Southampton. Only those in a great hurry went ashore at that hour. The rest of us stayed on board overnight.

After saying Mass and having breakfast, I left the ship, and for the first of many times in Europe and the Near East, I went through the complicated process of passing the Immigration Authorities and the Customs. Though Fr. Murphy went his own way, I was not alone on the train ride to Oxford. Before the ship left New York I met among the cabin-class passengers an old friend of mine, Professor Merrill Parvis, of Emory University, Georgia, who was also going to Oxford. We spent a couple of hours walking around together in the quaint old city of Southampton. I was surprised to see that a good part of the medieval walls of this city are still well preserved. We could have got a train right away for London, which is northeast of Southampton, but Oxford lies almost directly north of Southampton, and there is direct train between the two cities. The only trouble was that our Oxford train did not leave till about 10 o'clock and did not get to Oxford till noontime. So I missed the first morning talks at Oxford too. The train ride there was very enjoyable, through lovely rolling hill-country, intensely farmed. Parvis and I sat opposite a talkative English chap, who turned out to have the name of Kenny and was a fallen-away Catholic.

If the first talks at this 5-day "Third International Congress of Old Testament Scholars" at Oxford were as poor as the remaining ones, which I heard, I did not miss very much. After all the fuss in arranging the program, most of the "papers" read were decided second-rate, at least in my opinion. We had a better program at the recent meeting of the Catholic Biblical Association at Manhattanville College, even though I must say so myself. But the days that I spent at Oxford were worthwhile because of the many famous scholars whom I met and also because of the town itself, which is like no other place in the world.

As soon as I arrived at Christ College, my residence in Oxford, I was met by Father Siegman, my colleague at C.U. in Washington, who had been spending the past year in Rome. It was like old times to be with him again. The only other American member of the CBA at Oxford was Fr. John McKenzie, S.J. But there were a few other American priests there, who had been studying in Europe, as well as several English and Irish priests. There were likewise many Catholic scholars present from the Continent, though few from France.

Oxford is not much else than a city of colleges. There are some two dozen colleges, I believe, which make up the "University." (I forget the exact number.) Each college is practically independent, with a residence and a place of study and class for its students and faculty. But to get degrees, the students must pass the examinations made out for all the colleges by the university as such. The meetings of our "Congress" were held in the "Examinations Building," an elaborate structure several blocks away from Christ College where I had my bed and board. A good many, perhaps most of the colleges, were founded before the Reformation and bear good old Catholic names. Genuine old Gothic architecture abounds all over. Christ College is a relatively recent college. Most of its buildings were erected by Cardinal Wolsey in the reign of Henry VIII, just before the Reformation. The dining hall here is a tremendously high and handsome structure, dark and gloomy inside beneath its lofty rafters, as becomes such venerable age. It took me some time before I could find my way alone through the various wide courtyards and cloister walks in this college. The sad part is that a part of this is a medieval priory, where holy monks once lived. I was assigned a very large bedroom (with an extremely hard bed), with an equally large "sitting room" attached--the apartment of a senior, when the students are there. With those stone floors and no heating, it must be a frightfully cold place in winter. The man who took care of the place, known as a "scout," proudly pointed out to me the new sink with running water in the bedroom; it had just been put in this summer. Previously, the students washed at a basin with water from a pitcher. Four floors up (that's right, 4) there were two compartments marked "W.C." (for "water closet"), the symbol used throughout Europe for "toilet." The plumbing in these two "W.C."s looked as if it had been salvaged from the American Civil War.

I stayed at Oxford from noon on Tuesday, Sep. 1, till early afternoon on Saturday, Sep. 5. On each of these days I made efforts to put a phone call through to C.S. Lewis, the well-known English author, who lives in a suburb of Oxford and whom I know through a mutual friend in Washington. My first trouble was to find a phone. There was no phone that the guests could use at Christ College. There are no public phones in any stores in England, at least not at Oxford. But after some inquiry I learned of the locations of two different public phone booths in the streets. When I finally reached one of these, there was always a long line or "cue" of people waiting to use it. I seldom had time between the various talks, etc. of the meeting to wait on such a line. Finally I did persevere on the "cue," only to discover in the booth that a person must have exactly three tuppence pieces in order to make a call. No other coins would do. As luck would have it, I did not have the right kind of coins with me. On Friday I did succeed in putting the call through, but no one answered the phone. Finally on Saturday I got some one to answer the call I put through: Yes, this was Dr. Lewis' residence, but he himself was not at home and would not be back till late that evening. Since I was expected in London that evening, I never did get to meet Dr. Lewis, the author of "The Screwtape Letters," etc.

One of the troubles for an American traveling abroad is the matter of foreign currency, not only in getting a certain amount of U.S.A. money changed into the local currency, but in doing a lot of mental arithmetic to find what a certain thing costs in terms of American money. It was bad enough for me to remember at Brussels that a Belgian Franc was worth $0.02 and to remember in Switzerland that a Swiss Franc was worth $0.233, but at least in these places the divisions of the Franc is on the decimal system, 100 Centimes making 1 Franc. But the English system is most baffling. The English Pound is now worth about $2.85. Since there are 20 Shillings to a Pound, 1 Shilling is worth about $0.l42. There are twelve pence to a Shilling, so that 1 penny is just a little more than $0.01. To make things interesting there is a common coin called a Half Crown and worth 2 1/2 Shillings, even though there is no coin called a Crown. The prices of expensive articles in the stores are listed in Guineas; if there were a Guinea coin (there ain't), it would be worth 21 Shillings or 1 Pound and 1 Shilling--a sort of baker's dozen in money.

I must say, however, to the credit of the English that I found them astonishly honest. Despite my many dealings in their crazy money system, I was never shortchanged, as far as I am aware. In Oxford there were almost as many bicycles as there were people. It's a dickens of a job to cross the streets between all the bikes, especially since all traffic keeps to the left in England, which should be the death of many an American. Anyway, at Oxford there were many places called "cycle parks," where people can park their bicycles free. Nobody guards them and no chains are put on them. People just come back and go off with their own bikes with no one questioning them. The bicycle thief is apparently a rare bird in England. Either Englishmen just don't do such things, or perhaps, the system of having a license on a bike, just as on a car, in England discourages theft.

The afternoon of Thursday, Sep. 3, had no session of learned "papers," but was left free for an excursion by bus to Windsor Castle and nearby Eaton College. Eaton did not impress me very much, except as a place where wealthy English boys are taught to be snobs. But Windsor Castle, the oldest parts of which date back to William the Conqueror, is certainly one of the great show-places of England--a tremendous complex of towers, walls and fortresses, set on a high hill. We took the tour through the "State Apartments," where the royal family entertains foreign potentates, etc.--something like a tour through the White House, but on a much grander style.

On the afternoon of Sat., Sep. 5, I went with Father Daly, an Irish O.M.I., by train from Oxford to London. At Oxford I had said Mass each day in the Jesuit house, known as Campion Hall. At London I had no trouble saying Mass, for I stayed with my confreres, the Redemptorists, in the section of south London called Clapham. That Saturday afternoon and a good part of the following Monday I had to go from one place to another attending to certain complications which arose regarding my baggage and also regarding my ticket for the last leg of my journey, from Beirut to Jerusalem. It was a tedious business for me then, and it would be too tedious to recount here. But most of Sunday and Monday I spent sight-seeing in London, the famous Tower of London, where St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, among others, were kept as prisoners before their martyrdom, the British Museum, and all the other things that tourists are expected to see in London.

Tuesday morning, Sep. 8, I flew from London to Brussels. I went to this city primarily to see Louis de Cartier, one of the officials of the Brepols publishing company, on business. The Brussels airport, which lies a good way out of the city, is connected with the city by a fast electric train that comes right into the central railroad station in the heart of Brussels--the best arrangement that I have ever seen in any American or foreign city. From the station I took a cab to the Brussels office of the Brepols company, where Mr. de Cartier had come to meet me. His main office is at Turnhout, several miles to the north. After a friendly meeting, he had one of his men drive me downtown and put me up at Brepols' expense in the "Hotel Central," which, as its name implies, is in the middle of medieval Brussels. In the late afternoon and evening I roamed around the streets of this noisy, busy city with its sidewalks lined with outdoor beer gardens (every one drinks beer in Brussels, a bottle of Heineken costing only 18 cents, as I found out when I ordered one), and its big electric signs looking like Times Square at night.

The next morning, after saying Mass in the ancient medieval chapel of St. Nicholas, right off the renowned market place of Brussels, I took the plane to Zurich, the largest city of Switzerland. At Zurich I was surprised to see my friend Martina Gugger (an ancient retired schoolteacher) meet me at the airport. She now lives with some relatives in Kriens, a suburb of Lucerne. Here I stayed for a very enjoyable vacation from Wed., the 9th, to Sunday, the 13th. I said Mass in the ultra-modernistic parish church of Kriens; on Sunday I even said one of the parish Masses here, though of course I did not preach--my German is not that good! My friends here had arranged some glorious excursions for me. Lucerne is ideally situated for this, lying as it does at the head of a large lake that is surrounded by towering mountains. One day we went to the very top of Mount Pilatus by way of cable cars that makes one dizzy to look down at the awfully empty space below. Pilatus is only one of the midgets among the Alps, being a mere 8,000 feet high. But it offers splendid views of the snow-clad Alps to the east and the south. After spending most of the day on the bald summit of this mountain, I came back to Kriens with as sunburnt a face as if I had been at Jones Beach all day. Another day we went to the town of Einsiedeln in the old Canton of Schwyz (that gave its name to all Switzerland). Here, connected with an ancient Benedictine Abbey, is a great baroque church, within which is a small, ornate chapel containing the "Gnadenbild" or miraculous image of Our Lady. This is a black statue, dressed in silk garments. This shrine of Our Lady of Einsiedeln is one of the most popular pilgrimage places in Europe, drawing big crowds of pilgrims every day.

I had to go back to Zurich on Sunday afternoon, Sep. 13, because my plane was flying from this city at 7 o'clock the next morning. So that Sunday night I stayed at a guest-house for priests, a sort of Leo-House, run by Franciscan Sisters. I stayed here because I had heard that all the hotels were full, and also because it gave me a chance to say Mass on Monday morning. It was a lovely place, and my nice room cost only about $2.00. Since the Sisters always get up at 4:45 a.m., I said Mass at 5 a.m., had breakfast, and was all ready at 6 a.m. for the taxi that the Sister called for me. My bus for the airport was due to leave the downtown air terminal at 6:l5. But I waited and waited for my taxi, which did not show up till 6:15! The driver drove like mad through the city, and I caught my airport bus just as it was about to leave at 6:20. It was a narrow escape. Missing that plane would have thrown out my whole schedule.

This was my day for going to the Near East. But I first had to go to Geneva, Switzerland, to get a plane on the Middle East Airlines for Beirut. The plane ride from Zurich to Geneva, took only 50 minutes. But my plane from Geneva to Beirut did not leave till 1:40 p.m., so I had all morning to go sight-seeing in this city. This was the only time on my trip on which I had some rain. For a short while that morning in Geneva a slight drizzle fell. I spent the time writing some postcards. Geneva is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and mostly Protestant. Some of the old medieval churches here are still Catholic, but most of them are Protestant. Everything looks different than in German-speaking Switzerland. Things are not nearly as neat and clean as in the German-speaking parts. The city reminds one more of Italy than of Germany. I would have liked to go out to nearby Annecy, the home of St. Francis de Sales, where the Protestants would not let him function as bishop of Geneva, but I was afraid that I would get lost and so miss my plane.

That afternoon and evening I had my longest plane ride: from Geneva to Beirut, with only one stop, at Athens. On all the other, shorter plane rides I had fine weather and enjoyed the interesting views of the land below. But as luck would have it, this part of the trip, which would have been best of all, since the plane had to fly over the main part of the Alps, was a complete disappointment. The Alps were entirely covered with clouds. Even the whole way down the western coast of Italy, we could see nothing but clouds below us. It was not much consolation to hear the pilot announce over the loudspeaker: "Just below us is Mount Blanc, the highest of the Alps, hidden in the clouds," or, "Just to the left, beneath the clouds, is the city of Rome." Only when we crossed over the "toe" in the boot of southern Italy did the clouds disappear and we could see the barren mountains of Calabria. But it got dark as we were flying over the Ionian Sea, and it was night when we flew over Greece and landed at Athens. Here the plane made a 40-minute stop for refueling, and we went into the waiting room of the airport for some refreshments. Although all my planes in Europe were "tourist," not "first" class, good meals were served on all of them.

From Athens to Beirut I had a very interesting young man sit next to me--Joe Fakhr, Mail Manager of the Middle East Airlines. He was a Maronite Catholic, and he could not have been kinder to me. In fact, he was a God-send. My plane landed at the Beirut airport at 11 p.m., and I was without hotel reservations in strange, Arabic and French-speaking city. But Mr. Fakhr arranged everything for me. He not only phoned from the airport for reservations for me at the Hotel Plaza, but he had his cab driver take me there before he himself went in the cab to his summer home on the mountain behind the city.

The sight of the Hotel Plaza frightened me at first. As its name implied, it resembled the hotel by the same name in New York, though on a much smaller scale. But the price for my room with private bath, plus breakfast, cost only six dollars. Besides, just a few blocks away was a nice Capuchin church, with a boys' school attached, where I said Mass on my two mornings in Beirut. I stayed my second night at the same hotel, rather than try to get cheaper lodgings at the college of the French Jesuits. My French is abominable, and I gladly pay more for the convenience of speaking English, Italian or German instead of French. My Arabic, of course, is hopeless, though possibly I may pick up a bit of it before my year at Jerusalem is over.

My hotel was on El-Hamra Street, the new ritzy European street in upper Beirut, but only about a fifteen minute walk from the heart of old downtown Beirut. This big port city lies right on the Mediterranean Sea, and its sun was scorching hot even on these mid-September days. But I enjoyed walking through the heavy traffic of its crowded market streets and along the shore drive with its luxurious modern hotels.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, Sep. 16, I flew the last leg of my journey on Air Jordan from Beirut to Jerusalem. We had magnificent views of Mount Lebanon, the great valley of the Biqe'a, Mount Hermon, Damascus, the black rocks of the Hauran, and the hills of Basan, on our way to Amman, where the plane first stopped. The plane had to go in this rather round-about way in order to avoid flying over Israel. Again on the short flight from Amman to Jerusalem we had fine views of the land below, especially of the Jordan Valley and Jericho. At the Jerusalem airport I ran into some trouble with the custom officials. At Beirut I had bought a portable typewriter at what I think was a very good bargain, Beirut is a tax-free port, and many good things, such as Swiss watches, can be bought there cheaper than in most other places. When I was questioned at the Jerusalem airport about the typewriter, I had to admit that it was brandnew, just bought that morning. So I and the typewriter were hauled to the office of the Lord High Custom official. After much discussion in Arabic among the various men there, not a word of which I could understand, I was told that, since I had come as Annual Professor of the American School in Jerusalem and since I was going to use the typewriter for my work there, I would be let free of the custom duties this time; but don't do it again. I assured them that I had no intention of buying another typewriter in Lebanon or elsewhere.

This letter has gone too far already. I must save for another letter an account of Jerusalem and my first days here. It is now a month since I have left Washington. Though my long trip was very enjoyable, I am glad that it is over and that I can settle down, begin to feel that this is my new (temporary) home--and do some serious work.

Assuring you that I will not forget you in my prayers at the various holy places in the Holy City and the Holy Land,

Cordially yours, Louis F. Hartman, C.SS.R.

American School of Oriental Research Jerusalem, Jordan

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