Thursday, October 13, 2022

[BETHLEHEM] The Manger Was Here


Don’t ask me how to DIY Palestine. I just don’t know the answer. I suppose there is some form of public transportation for locals for the Bethlehem – Jerusalem route, but I’m just not familiar with it, which is why I just decided to book a tour on Viator. It was a tandem Bethlehem/Jerusalem tour. If you want a more in-depth tour of the West Bank, then I suggest the tours that combine Bethlehem, Jerico, and the Dead Sea. As for me, I just wanted to cross out a UN+ country off my list and hey, I was curious about Jesus’ birthplace so why not, right?


Bethlehem came first in our combo tour. The drive from Jerusalem did not take an hour. The Israeli guide explained that it is mandated by law to have a local Palestinian guide in Bethlehem, which meant he disappeared for the entire duration of our Bethlehem trip and just reappeared at lunch time. The sole itinerary in Bethlehem is the Church of the Nativity, widely believed to be the location where Jesus was born. You know those nativity dioramas your parents put on display every Christmas? This is exactly what that is all about.


Yup, according to Matthew and Luke, the manger was here. Christmas is a big celebration in both Bethlehem and Nazareth, or so I’ve heard. If you are visiting during other times, then what’s waiting for you is the church along with the very long lines going down to the grotto which is believed to be the exact location of JC’s birth. Our group no longer bothered to line up because there are other places of interest to see anyway. As with most Christian sites in the Holy Land, the Church of the Nativity is also a bone of contention among many Christian denominations that have divided the whole place among them.


That means access might be forbidden here or there depending on who is holding the rights. The main entrance to the church is a low ceiling hole on the wall, after which you emerge at the main hall with chandeliers and wall paintings galore. The long line down to the grotto will be to your right. The hall to the left has an entrance to the courtyard where you can cross to the other side to visit the adjoining Church of Saint Catherine.


The Church of Saint Catherine has accessible caves right under it, some of which are said to be the burying ground for the firstborns that Herod had murdered in an effort to find baby JC. There is also an altar down there dedicated to Saint Jerome who is credited as the guy responsible for translating the bible to Latin, which of course paved the way for it to be translated to various European Languages from the Vulgate later on. That was the highlight of our tour, after which we made a detour to visit the Milk Grotto.


Milk what? The tour guide said that this is not in the bible. So, if we compare it to the Marvel Universe, perhaps we can say that this is not canon. LOL. Oral tradition passed on from many generations has it that the location of the Milk Grotto is where the Holy Family sought refuge when firstborns were being massacred before they eventually fled to Egypt. There is a grotto inside along with a prayer hall where there’s always at least one nun praying 24/7. You can see the nun from behind a plexiglass window. I forgot to ask if Valak drops by once in a while for a cameo appearance. Creepy, nonetheless.


After a buffet lunch which was an additional NIS80 (~PHP1350), we headed back to our tour bus to return to Jerusalem. Anyway, on the way to Bethlehem you have an obligatory stopover at a souvenir shop which sells a lot of Nativity themed art, some of them in metal and wood. They look amazing and a bit on the expensive side. I had to back out from shopping because I will be staying in Riyadh for a few days en route back to Manila, and these items are considered forbidden, so I’ve heard. The cashier said that they ship to anywhere in the world, though, but I’m a bit skeptical.

[BETHLEHEM] The Manger Was Here

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