Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem - Church of the Nativity

Last Tuesday, five of my friends from my program and I crossed the border into Bethlehem.

(Another 'duh' moment I had right before I came to Israel was that even though Bethlehem is less than half an hour away from Jerusalem, it is not in Israel, it is in the West Bank - it is an 'A' area meaning that it is under Palestinian control and Israeli citizens are not allowed in (unless they have another passport or special pass)

Needless to say, it takes a little bit of effort to get there. We caught an 'Arab' bus, which took us to the border, and then we had to cross by foot through the terminal and checkpoint. Going in was no problem. We then caught a cab to the Church of the Nativity. On the way, our cab driver told us how economically hard it had been in Bethlehem since the creation of the Wall - now Israelis cannot enter, and even tourists only enter to see the church and then leave, rather than staying for the night or spending money there. He said this had been especially true since the Gaza War, which caused tourism in the West Bank to all but disappear. He was very happy to drive us to the church and offered to wait for us and drive us wherever else we wanted to go.

To get to the place where the manger and Star of Bethlehem is, you have to descend stairs. We were right behind a huge tourist group, so it took quite a long time to get down there. The area is all covered in red and gold velvet cloth and is lit with candles - it has a very 'royal' feel to it. Groups at the bottom were singing hymns in Russian, which made the atmosphere all the more religious feeling.
This is the area that marks the manger. Many people reach candles in and light their flames from the candles inside. There were several people meditating nearby, but everyone else was taking tons of pictures, so I took one as well, even though I felt weird about it.

This star marks the place where it is traditionally believed that Jesus was born. It is covered by a sort of altar, and to touch it, you have to get down on your hands and knees. Many people crawl and kiss the star, or reach their hand in the center part, which is hollow.

The church is large and cavernous, and the stone makes it have an almost cold feeling inside. Of course, it is also extremely intricately decorated, with ornate crosses and all sorts of lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
Here is the entrance and outside of the church of the Nativity.

1 comment:

Victor said...

Interesting. I hope you rubbed the star and got some healing for my allergies! :-)