Holy Land Pilgrimage Part 2 – Bethlehem

Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Friday 29th October

Ein Karem.  To start the day, we visited the “City of Judah” which was associated with the life of John the Baptist.   Firstly, we visited the Church of the Visitation, where the Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth.   We then visited the Church of St John the Baptist which is built over his birthplace which is an underground natural cave.  The star under the altar in the grotto chapel marks the place where St John the Baptist was born.   The next stop was a slight detour from the Biblical Story, as we visited the Orthodox Church of St Nicholas which has a huge amount of icons which were recently refurbished by Ian Knowles who has made the triptych for our Memorial Chapel (soon to be unveiled).  The church also includes a cave which was St Nicholas’ hiding place.   Back to the Christmas Story, and we visited the Shepherd’s Field which is east of Bethlehem in a village called Beit Sahur, where the Angel appeared to the shepherds and announced the birth of Jesus.   There is a Greek Orthodox Church on the site, and a cave which could have been used by the shepherds as a place of shelter.     From here we moved onto the Basilica of the Nativity, which is part of the current Manger Square.   This is a complex set of intertwined buildings, and we started off our visit in the underground Chapel of St Jerome where we celebrated Mass, next to the Tomb of St Jerome.   Moving back out into the square via the Franciscan Church of St Catherine, we joined the throng of people waiting to enter the Basilica of the Nativity.   The Basilica was built by Justinian in 530, and from the outside, very much resembles a fortress.   We queued for sometime before moving down into the cave below the sanctuary floor where we were able to see, and touch the silver star set in the floor marking the spot where Jesus was born.   The inscription around the edge reads: Hic De Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.”   In the evening, we had a meal in a Bedouin Tent in Bethlehem where there was much laughter and merriment (please see the blog on the page Holy Land Part 1).  

Saturday 30th October

On the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives is the ancient village of Bethany where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.   Here, we visited the Franciscan Sanctuary of Bethany, followed by the actual Tomb of Lazarus.   Elsewhere on the Mount of Olives, we visited the Dome of Ascension, where Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after His Resurrection.   Although a mosque today, this small building is used by various Christian denominations to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension.   Jesus’ footprint has been left in the floor of the building as he ascended, and is now encased within a rectangular stone frame.    From there, we went to Pater Noster Church which includes a cavern where Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples, where we too paused to pray the same prayer.   The prayer is depicted round the walls of the building and cloisters in more than sixty languages.   As we approached the ancient city of Jerusalem, we paused to take pictures of the city from a short distance away, showing clearly the Dome of the Rock in the centre (see pictures below), the double domes of the Holy Sepulchre just behind it, the Jewish Cemetery in the foreground in the Kidron Valley (traditionally believed to be the Universal Resurrection site when the trumpets will sound and the Last Judgement will take place), and the route into the walled city that Jesus would have taken to enter into the Temple Mount.   We then walked part of the Palm Sunday route, and stopped in the Dominus Flevit Church for Mass, where Jesus wept for the fate of the City of Jerusalem.   Through the window at the back of the sanctuary, you could see the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock.  After lunch, we went to Emmaus where Jesus met Cleophas and Simon after His Resurrection and ate with them.   Here now stands the Church of Emmaus set in beautiful grounds with an underground spring.   On the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives, stands the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed whilst his disciples fell asleep.   There are eight olive trees still standing in this part of the gardens, which have been dated using modern dating methods as being at least two thousand years old.   Next door, the Basilica of the Agony or the Church of All Nations which contains the rock where Jesus prayed and sweated blood on the night before His arrest.   Then we visited the Dormition Church where Mary fell into eternal sleep.   Then onto the Upper Room which is somewhat grander and larger then the original room on this site is, nevertheless, the site of the Last Supper.   The final stop of the day, was the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu, which stands on the site of the of the house of Ciaphas, the High Priest, where traditionally, Peter denied knowing his master three times before the cock crowed.   Below the house is the dungeon where Jesus was kept on the night before his death, being lowered through a hole in the floor of the room above.   On the south wall can be found a silhouette of a praying figure, said to be Jesus.   We paused in silence and joined Him in prayer.

Andrew Richardson