The Significance of the Western Wall for Christians
The Western Wall is one of four retaining walls that surrounded the Temple Mount at the end of the Second Temple Period. It is a place of great holiness and as such not to be missed on a trip to Israel.
The ancient Jews brought sacrifices to the Temple, and study and prayer were conducted there as well. As noted in the Bible, Jesus was a frequent visitor to the Temple, and this is where he challenged the local authorities, a move that eventually led to his arrest and crucifixion.
The construction of the Western Wall began during the reign of King Herod, but more layers were added from the seventh century CE onwards. When the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, the only remnant was the Western Wall. The steps which led to the Temple Mount from the southern end of the Western Wall did not survive, but a section of the arch which held them up has been excavated. Known today as Robinson's Arch, it is considered by scholars to be the way in which Jesus and his disciples likely entered and exited the Temple on their visits.
For many centuries, Jews came to pray at the wall, both for individual requests and for the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of sovereignty to the Jewish people.
During the years leading up to Israel's War of Independence, the wall was a nearly constant source of strife between Arabs and Jews. Many in the Arab leadership did everything they could to prevent Jewish prayer at the holy site. They finally succeeded when Jordan captured the Old City during the 1948 war. For 19 years, when the wall was under Jordanian jurisdiction, Israelis would stand on the roof of King David's Tomb on nearby Mount Zion in order to catch a glimpse of the wall. In the Six Day War of 1967, Jerusalem was reunited, and the Western Wall once again became the most important synagogue in Israel.
People of all religions come to pray at the wall, although only Jewish services are held publicly. It is established practice to place a note with a specific request in between the stones of the Western Wall. Political and religious figures have placed notes in the Wall, including Pope John Paul II, many entertainers and heads of state. Over a million notes are placed in the wall each year, and twice a year the rabbi of the Western Wall collects the notes and buries them in a dedicated area of the Mount of Olives cemetery.
Some rules of etiquette do apply at the Western Wall. Modest dress is required, and men must wear a head covering. Photos are not permitted on Saturdays and Jewish holidays, and you should always be discreet in your picture taking. It is customary to leave the Western Wall plaza by walking backwards, in order not to turn your back on the holy site in haste.