O' Little Town of Bethlehem...How different you are than the song! You are not so little. We drove through the border check between Israel and the West Bank which is Palestinian. We immediately pulled over so we could add a guide who was a Palestinian. He talked about how Bethlehem had changed since the birth of Christ and was happy to show us his city.
This birthplace of Christ has sweeter meaning to Christians than any other place on Earth. The name Bethlehem means bread in Hebrew and Aramaic, and house of meat in Arabic. Bethlehem was mentioned in the Bible many times...with the death of Rachel; the friendship of Ruth and Boaz; the birth and anointing of King David and the birth of Jesus Christ. Bethlehem lies south of Jerusalem, surrounded by rolling hills that stretch east to the Judean desert. All around there are views of ancient olive trees, vineyards and other tiny villages. Today, Bethlehem is one of the most prosperous towns in Palestine. There are products sold in markets, businesses that produce plastics, furniture, textiles, and jewelry. It is best known for its olive-wood carvings, its mother-of-pearl jewelry and embroidery. It is also a major tourist
attraction with all the commercialism that comes with it. Bethlehem's real charm is in the side streets and the pilgrim sites.
We parked the bus and walked to Manger Square in the middle of the city. The Church of the Nativity is located there and is the major tourist attraction in Bethlehem. We walked through a tiny door into the church and were thrilled when we found a very small line to the Grotto of the Nativity. We joined the line and waited patiently to step down into the grotto. According to Christian tradition, this grotto is where Jesus was born. As we descended into the Grotto, we came upon a beautiful 14 pointed silver star attached to the marble floor. It was surrounded by small lamps giving it a warm glow. This is the spot Jesus was born. After touching it and saying a prayer, We moved to the other side of the Grotto and saw the spot Jesus had been placed in the manger. Now I see it...O' Little Town of Bethlehem...
Next door was the Church of St. Catherine which is connected to The Church of the Nativity. It is a Franciscan monastery and was
very peaceful. The Cloister and garden was filled with flowers and statues by Barluzzi using columns and capitals from the 12th century monastery. The inside of the church was filled with stained glass depicting the Nativity scenes. It was a quiet contrast to the Church of the Nativity.
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