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Published: December 28th 2015
After all the excitement of the old city of Jerusalem we headed off for lunch at a kibbutz. I was very disappointed to find out that the kibbutz concept no longer exists, having failed as a social system. Apparently no one wanted to carry the burden for the old people who could no longer contribute to the kibbutz. Another 60s socialist ideal smashed to bits! Dad would have been horrified.
Anyway the kibbutz has been taken over by a hotel and we had lunch in the gargantuan dining hall. It sat about 800 people which gives you an idea of how many people must have lived there in its heyday.
The special event for the afternoon was to cross into Palestine and visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I was completely unprepared for how incredible this would be. The wall is very high here. We were given an Israeli explanation for the housing construction in the New Territories. We felt that it was little lacking in fact.
It took a little while to pass from Israel to Palestine. The border was well guarded and only Palestinians with a permit are able to traverse it. The rest
of them are stuck.
The Church of the Nativity
was originally commissioned in 327 by Constantine and his mother Helena over the site that is still considered to be located over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus. No, not a stable, a cave. The Church of the Nativity site's original basilica was completed in 339 and destroyed by fire during the Samaritan revolts in the 6th century. A new basilica was built 565 by Justinian, the Byzantine, restoring the architectural tone of the original. Due to its cultural and geographical history, the site holds a prominent religious significance to those of both Christian and Muslin faiths.
You enter the church through the Door of Humility
, a very small rectangular entrance which was created in Ottoman times to prevent carts being driven in by looters, and to force even the most important visitor to dismount from his horse as he entered the holy place. The doorway was reduced from an earlier Crusader doorway, the pointed arch of which could be seen above the current door. The outline of the crusaders square entrance could be seen above that.
The Grotto of the Nativity
a rectangular cavern beneath the church, is the Church of the Nativity's focal point. Entered by a steep and uneven flight of steps by the church altar, this is the cave that has been honored as the site of Christ's birth since at least the 2nd century.
A silver star
in the floor marks the very spot where Christ is believed to have been born. The star's Latin inscription reads, "Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born — 1717." The floor is paved in marble, and 15 lamps hang above the star (six belong to the Greeks, five to the Armenians and four to the Latins).
We managed to go into, see and touch many of these religious treasures. It was very crowded and a bit claustrophobic which added to the sense of mystery and wonder. I was in a daze seeing things like the cave that was the manger, the silver star and other miraculous artefacts.
The church of the Nativity is shared by Jewish, Christian and orthodox religious groups who celebrate Christmas on different days. Apparently each denomination is allowed to have sole use of the church for their special day.
There are churches of other faiths adjoining the site. It all seems very amicable on the surface. To see this most holy place on the day before the biggest celebration was magic and then......I had my second fall of the day.
Every year the service from the Church of Nazareth is broadcast around the world and the media were beginning to set up their equipment so you can imagine the square was getting pretty hectic. Somehow I managed to trip over some metal gates that had been plonked in the square. This time I fell on my right side. I had a little lay down with my eyes shut this time. I didn't bounce as quickly as I had earlier in the day. I hit my chin on a metal railing but luckily I am made of titanium and I came away with a small bruise. Battered and beaten, I was carefully led down the street by Peter and Liz and deposited in the bus and told not to move.
Little did we know this would be the beginning of a long and difficult drive home through an insane Middle East traffic jam. We hadn't realised about the
shooting at this stage and were a little taken aback by the military and police everywhere. The bus driver ended up in a rabbit warren of narrow windy streets. It's amazing that a narrow one way street can be made into 3 lanes which a bus can traverse! The driver deserved a medal for valour. There was a bit of shouting and a lot of horn beeping but we came out unscathed. I think a few side mirrors may have been demolished.
We returned late to the ship but fortunately they waited for us. Apparently there were a number of buses behind us. Glad to be aboard, completely shattered and with me limping along we again made for the bar and had a celebratory drink. It was an incredible day full of amazing and unexpected experiences and one that I won't ever forget. Love sandra and peter
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