Wednesday, June 22, 2011

O Little Town of Bethlehem...

After visiting Jericho we stopped for the most delicious lunch ever at what I believe was a Greek Orthodox Monastery.   Then we traveled on to Bethlehem.  Before my trip I guess I had rashly assumed that the whole West Bank was divided off from Israel by a wall, just as it appears on the map, but apparently that is not the case at all.

I'm still not clear on what the case actually IS, other than that the country is divided into Section A, Section B, and Section C, and individual cities in Palestine have their own walls.

Anyway, though it may be confusing (to some) it's all very interesting.  Here are some photos of the barrier wall surrounding the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

It was no trouble at all getting inside.  Our first stop once there was at the Milk Grotto.  This church is considered sacred because Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus took shelter here during King Herod's slaughter of the innocents.

It is called the Milk Grotto because it is said that while Mary was nursing her child Jesus, a drop of milk fell on a rock in the cave and it turned white.  There is a large piece of rock in the cave ceiling that is indeed white and chalky, in contrast to the rest, and it has long been a place for Christian women to come who are praying for fertility.  It also contains supposedly the only painting of the Holy Mother depicting her breast.

Next we stopped at Shepherds' Field, identified as the place where the Angel visited the shepherds and told them that Jesus was born.  Anyway, there is a beautiful and quite peaceful little church here.

Palestinian Police Officer

Finally, we went to the Church of the Nativity, one of (if not the oldest) churches in the world, built over the cave where Jesus was born.  The area surrounding the church is called Manger Square, which as you might imagine is a teeeeny bit of a popular place to gather on Christmas Eve.

The entrance! The arch is visible, blocked in in the 6th Century

The inside of the church itself was breathtaking; the different layers of the ages are clearly visible.  There are sections of beautiful golden mosaics on the walls which have mostly decayed away, and on the upper halves of the columns you can see that they were once entirely painted with elaborate scenes.

The original Roman mosaic floor has since been covered over, but there are trap doors in the modern floor which reveal a piece of the original.  It is saddening to see that the church is in such a bad state of disrepair due to its sheer age.

That is true of nearly everything here, really... several of the wonderful things I have experienced may not exist for my children to see someday.  Even the entire Dead Sea.  But at least I'm getting to see it now, and also take lots of  pictures. :)

Touching the spot where Jesus was born in the cave below.

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