Bethlehem, Palestine | The Church of Nativity
Which is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear of Bethlehem? Most of you must be thinking of the Crib, the three Magi and, of course, the Great Event that connects them all. The Nativity! But, what is going on in today’s Bethlehem, a place where Christians are now a minority, and the city has been taken hostage in the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
Following our visit to Jerusalem, (you can read the relevant article here) we headed for the little town of Palestine, which is only 10 kilometres away. On the way, I noticed that the initially lush vegetation was becoming sparser and sparser, while the huge cement wall was standing tall on the side of the road. Some people call it the wall of shame, while others call it a protection wall. It doesn’t really matter how you call it, as long asyou know that it separates Israeli from Palestinian grounds. And which town islocated on Palestinian ground? You have guessed right. Bethlehem.
The Israeli army have created a checkpoint at the entrance of the city and check everyone that comes inor out, thus causing great inconvenience both to the locals and the visitors. For unknown reasons, we didn’t pass the check carried out by the armed soldiers and so, after our driver made some arrangements, we entered the city. We dined at the restaurant of a local hotel, and we once again boarded the bus to visit the Church of Nativity.
Just imagine being at the same place where, according to Christianity, the life of the Saviour began. Watching as the Christmas story unravels in front of your eyes, from the Crib, to the slaughter of the infants by King Herod.
I was at the entrance of the second most important praying place in Christianity, right after the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. It has been been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012. Unfortunately, we chose to visit the Church during some restoration works, but we were lucky in that we we had the chance to visit the Cave of the Birth. The Church is one of the most ancient ones in global history and, even though it has suffered consecutive disasters, it still maintains its former prestige.
Crowds of people were queuing to go down the stone steps that lead to the Holy Cave which is under the Church. When I finally entered the place, I realised that it was being lit by dozens of candles. The most important spot in this small room is the star with the 14 rays which is on the marble floor. This spot, my friends, is the reason why thousands of worshippers visit the Church of Nativity every year. It is the exact place where, according to Christianity, the Holy Infant was born. I stayed there for a few minutes, watching as the people were praying and kneeling to worship the star at the place where Jesus was born.
In another part of the Church I met with Herod’s atrocious crime when, according to Christianity, as soon as he heard of the birth of Christ, he ordered the slaughter of all infants under the age of 2 years and of all pregnant women. So, in the Cave of the Holy Innocents you can take a look at their bones, which Saint Helen had collected and transferred to the Church.
I finished my guided tour inside the Church and I went outside. Then, I heard the Hodja’s voice from the mosque opposite the Church, calling the flock, and I thought to myself “God, how much contrast is there in this city!”. The experience of witnessing such great religious and cultural contrasts in a small town of 30,000 inhabitants is surreal. I wish I could say that the coexistence of these elements is smooth but unfortunately this is not always the case.
Bethlehem and the Holy Sites in general are not exclusively for those who are deeply religious and the worshippers. It is a place with amazing monuments, history and culture, well respected by almost every religion and culture in the world. No one can question their historical significance, and I am sure that in the future more and more people will feel safe enough to travel there. So, choose the Holy Sites as your next destination and you will not regret it.
Watch the brief video that follows with highlights from my recent trip to the city of Bethlehem.
Until next time xoxo