Monday, July 30, 2018

Israel Day 7/12 - Shepherd's Field

Our next stop was Shepherds' Field, in an area known as Beit Sahur. This area has been known for grazing sheep for thousands of years, and still is today.

The place we visited is the Catholic site with the Chapel of the Angels and a couple of other smaller caves and chapels for small group worship. The Chapel adjoins the remains of a 4th century church.

While we were in one of the caves the weather changed and for the first time we got RAIN! Pouring rain. It was nice that it didn't last long. But it didn't really do anything to cool the temperature either...

The inside of the church is painted with pictures depicting the story from Luke 2:8-20

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Many sheep and shepherd themed items can been seen there...

Israel Day 7/12- Manger Square

Manger Square is the center of Bethlehem's religious hub with the Church of the Nativity, the Church of St Catherine,  the Mosque of Omar, and the Palestinian Peace Center. Because Bethlehem is where Jesus was born, it is especially busy in December and January. Since 1999 it has been open to only pedestrian traffic.

 The first Church of the Nativity was built around 330 AD by the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. It was nearly completely destroyed around 529 AD but parts of the mosaic floor remain...

Then Emperor Justinian rebuilt a bigger, grander church, much of which still remains today.

The church was spared when the Persians invaded because of the mosaic showing the Magi visiting the baby Jesus.

The biggest changes were made by the Crusaders, including the mosaics on the walls and column paintings...

Another big change came much later, the Door of Humility. But it isn't, in fact, about humbly entering this great church. It was about stopping looters from coming in with horses and carts and camels.

Now the interior is a rather confusing mixture of traditions and decor...

Because of the three groups and their inability to get along, the Ottomans instituted the "Status Quo." This is a set of unwritten rules that mandate how things are done, the way they've always been done. It doesn't seem to have helped much. The tension in the place is palpable. But it wasn't helped by priests yelling for people to "shut up." And on Christmas Eve such a fight broke out over cleaning these chandeliers that several holy men ended up in the hospital.

It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. When it was discovered that the building was in such disrepair that it had become dangerous, a $15 million restoration project was begun in 2013. It is still going on now...

All of the hanging cloths for the work were covered in signatures from 
visitors all over the world

After waiting in line for nearly an hour, we got our chance to make our way down to the Grotto of the Nativity, a cave in the basement of the church where it is believed that Jesus was born. Then it got really intense! Turns out people are willing to push, shove and force their way through to get to the place where Mary birthed Jesus, to kiss the icons of the Virgin and pray on the spot.

From there passageways lead to the Church of St Catherine, the parish church for Bethlehem's Catholics and where Midnight Mass is held and broadcast from Bethlehem. It was built in 1882 on the site of a Crusader church and monastery.

Outside in the courtyard of St Catherine's is a statue of St. Jerome. You can access his cave under the Church of the Nativity from St Catherine's. It is there that he spent 30 years translating the Bible into Latin starting around the year 386. Around the time Jerome was in Bethlehem, the Grotto of the Nativity was enlarged and a silver manger was placed there. Jerome was not happy...

“If I could only see that manger in which the Lord lay! Now, as if to honour the Christ, we have removed the poor one and placed there a silver one; however, for me the one which was removed is more precious . . . .”