I took a tour to Bethlehem Tuesday morning. We saw the Church of the Nativity… a church where three different Catholic denominations uneasily share the same building. The church is the traditional spot where Jesus was born. The church itself is something like 1500 years old… said to be the oldest Christian church anywhere. The original mosaic floors dating back to the time of Helena are visible under the present floor level. A long queue leads down into the cave/stable area where tradition says Mary gave birth to Jesus. A star on the floor marks the spot where He was born, and a few feet away is the place where He was placed in the manger.
One of the things I found interesting is the door to the church… you can see three different manifestations of it. The original was a couple of stories tall. That was blocked up so that just a one story arched door was left. The present incarnation is a tiny door that you have to duck to get through! It was made so small for protection… it slows down horses and soldiers trying to attack!
We also were rushed through the Milk Grotto, where tradition says Mary nursed Jesus and the Shepherds Field where the shepherds were told of Jesus’ birth. Both have churches associated with them, of course.
We needed to cross through the separation wall to reach Bethlehem. This is a controversial physical barrier put up by Israel to contain the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank. As foreign tourists we were barely delayed. Unfortunately it is not as easy on Palestinians. I personally have mixed feelings about the wall. It certainly is an injustice to the peaceful, law-abiding Palestinian majority contained behind the wall; however, it apparently has greatly reduced the incidents of terrorism in Jerusalem and other Israeli areas. I have compassion for both sides of the “fence”, but I don’t think it is my place to suppose I know the answer to this millennium old dilemma. All I can do is “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”.
On the tour I met two travelers from the San Francisco Bay area. Milton and Dean have been friends for awhile and seem to travel really well together. The Bethlehem tour only took up the morning… I spent the rest of the day walking the Old City of Jerusalem with them. We walked the Rampart’s Walk (the top of the city walls) from the Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall, and then we wandered over to the Holy Sepulcher. I helped them shop along the way… I am a ruthless bargainer! The Holy Sepulcher was the usual crowded, crazy place! The tourists and the devout bump into one another while the priests pull their hair out! Milton, Dean and I went up to the Calvary level and waited on line to touch the spot designated as the place where Jesus was crucified. It’s a tense place!
The priests are under such pressure! I really feel for them! For them, the Holy Sepulcher is THE holiest place on the face of the EARTH, and yet they have to contend with rival priestly sects, devotees and TOURISTS! I would think it would be enough to drive anyone nuts!
We were in line amongst a busload of Catholics. While we were waiting bells started ringing signaling the start of a “procession” of priests making their “rounds” of the various chapels within the church, swinging their incense burners. Each of the five sects that share the church has to send their own priests, in their own ritualistic fashion, so the whole procession can take quite awhile. The tour guide wanted to make sure the busload got through the line before the procession reached the upper chapel, so he started shouting at everyone to HURRY! The priest got into the act and started rushing everyone through as well… and not terribly politely!
There was a man two people ahead of Dean wearing a baseball cap… the priest ran up to him and knocked the cap off his head with many cross words in Greek! He then turned on Dean, who was wearing a hat as well. Dean managed to get the hat off his head just in the nick of time! But he wasn’t spared the tongue-lashing in Greek! Milton was a few people behind Dean (I had actually stepped out of line, since I had been there before). When he got up to the crucifixion spot, he naturally wanted a photo… I’m sure he didn’t realize that photos were forbidden!
The priest actually STRUCK Milton!
Poor Milton! We chuckled about it for the rest of the afternoon/evening, but I could tell he was actually hurt by the experience! I know that the poor priest must have been REALLY stressed to have done such a thing… but it really was terrible! I feel for both sides. I know Dean and Milton didn’t realize that they were being disrespectful. And I believe the priest would not have been so mean if he weren’t under terrible stress. It really is a shame!
I’ve had a bad case of laryngitis for the past few days. I talked a lot with Milton and Dean. I think that really set things off. Yesterday I shopped at the local produce market and could barely squeak! I’ve had bouts like this before and my doctor has always tells me it is from allergies. Today I’ve decided to spend the day inside, popping anti-histamines. I’m hoping a day in the air conditioning will help! I’ve been tidying and catching up on computer stuff. And it rained a little again today… maybe that will wash some of the pollen out of the air!
As always, I’m having a great time! My stay here is almost 2/3’s over! I don’t think I’m going to want to go home! I enjoy traveling too much!
Life’s a trip!