Journeys through the lands that Jesus walked

Journeys through the lands that Jesus walked Thousands of pilgrims raise their candles at midnight in celebration of the Resurrection at Easter time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.
An Irish Pilgrimage Guide to the Holy Land by Michael Kelly (Columba Books, €16.99/£14.99)

Michael has led some dozen pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and he is well aware of what information pilgrims would like to have, and what information they really need. The usual range of guide books are these days very internationalised and provide little that is really useful to the religious traveller or tourist.

This book rightly contains sensible advice on many aspects of travel in the Middle East. But the focus is on places of pilgrimage rather than the beaches of Tel-Aviv. It begins with an essay on the historical Jesus which reminds readers of essential facts and beliefs relating to the Christian faith.


The travelogue falls into four parts with the emphasis on Christian sites and shrines in Galilee, in the desert, around Bethlehem, and in Jerusalem, some 41 locations in all. If a pilgrim wishes to explore more than those, they would be as well to emigrate to the Holy Land, which is indeed what many devout Christians have done since the first century.

But Christianity in the Holy Land is essentially the faith of a people whose ancestors have lived there before the Romans came. Alas today many of local Christians are leaving the country; more of their nation live abroad than at home today.

Michael Kelly pays tribute to the books of Fr Murphy-O’Connor, the Irish prelate who wrote the best and fullest account of all these places and more.

Readers should also be aware of the Franciscan guide by Fr Eugene Hoade, based on older guides by his order that Fr Hoade revised and published continually in new editions over nearly half a century from 1942, which is full of recondite information.

That has been replaced by The New Pilgrims Guide to the Holy Land, by Fr Stephen Doyle, and that too can be commended.

However, Michael Kelly provides an accessible guide which is accurate and informative, without being over scholarly or over detailed. In fact it is the ideal vade mecum for the Irish pilgrim as it is expressly written for a person of Irish culture.

It has two special features: a chapter on the food of the Holy Land – you never really visit a country unless you eat the local food. Irish steak eaters will have to adapt.


There is also a chapter on the peoples and cultures of the Holy Land which many visitors, rightly confused about the conflicting claims of different cultures, will find very useful – it even has a section on the Druzes, which demonstrates the author’s eye for important detail.

Altogether into less than 200 pages Michael Kelly compresses a great deal of his own well – informed experiences over so many years. If you are off to Bethlehem for Christmas this is the book to carry.

He also has a section on Yad Vashem, the Israeli National Memorial to the Holocaust. He speaks of the “warped theology” that contributed to anti-Semitism. But I recall being taught that when the crowd below Pilate calling for Jesus to die, spoke as representative of sinful humanity, and not as Jews, a reminder that the burden of the sins Christ carried were our sins. In redeeming humanity Christ redeemed also the Jews.

One last word. Readers should be advised that the best time to read a guide book is before you leave home, when in comfort you can really absorb the information at leisure rather than in the brisk hurly-burly of the tour itself. When you arrive it will be essentially a matter of reminding yourself of what you have already learned, rather like “revising” for one’s Leaving Cert.

An Irish Pilgrimage Guide to the Holy Land is available to purchase at Columba Books.