We started with a visit to the Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem about five miles from Jerusalem, but in a lovely wooded area which reminded us of the pacific northwest. This was the home of John the Baptist, and we eventually visited the site of his birth there. Both churches were rather quiet and simple.
There was a group of German pilgrims singing Christmas carols which made for nice background music. At the church marking the birthplace of John the Baptist, I said special prayers and lit a candle for the folks at the Church of St John Baptist in Glendale.
It was onto Bethlehem, again through the heavily guarded wall and through many abandoned buildings. We stopped at the YMCA on the outskirts of town to visit one of many shepherd's fields, possible settings for the angels visiting the shepherds. This one also included a cave, and I could imagine such a setting for the first Christmas. I hunted around in the field to for a small chunk of rock to bring back to the Church of the Nativity for their new building.
We had lunch at a nice place that catered to tourists, "The Shepherds' Tent", which was a huge tent with comfy pillowed seats--the food was good though.
That fortified us for the trip up the hill to the Church of the Nativity. Even though our guides had timed it right, it was still jammed with tourists. The basilica itself is in bad shape, dark, with rotting timbers and leaking roofs and ill tempered Greek Orthodox monks. We got in line to see the grotto site where Jesus was supposedly born, and in spite of the crowds, it was somehow worth the wait, and that is the picture of the day. There were other places in the building to explore as well, and I especially enjoyed the tomb and cavelike study of St Jerome (the cranky but brilliant translator of Vulgate Bible), which as been recently renovated.
When we left the church we got caught in a violent shower, so when we got back on the bus we were quite wet and tired and were not too up for the trip to the souvenir shop our guide wanted to take us to--run by Palestinian Christians, it is one way of our helping that damaged economy. After a long
wait to get back through the checkpoint, we are now home for dinner and early bed before heading to Masada tomorrow.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad