Basilica of Nativity – Bethlehem

After the Solemn Processional we left St. Catherine’s Church and ducked into the Basilica of Nativity. (Note: the entire compound including St. Catherine’s Church and the many adjoining chapels is called the Church of Nativity. The basilica is the largest portion of the Church and contains the Grotto of Nativity). The basilica is an interesting church; from the outside it looks like a fortress (1). It is largely unornamented with boxed walls, unlike many of the more extravagant European cathedrals, and is falling apart rapidly: the roof is rotting and leaking and there are bullet holes in the walls from the 2002 siege on the church.  (As part of Operation Defense Shield Israel occupied Bethlehem and militants took refuge in the church, which was then besieged by the IDF for 39 days).

The basilica can only be described as humble. You enter through a very small opening, called the “Door of Humility” (3) and are greeted with a large open space flanked by five aisles of columns (4). On the left you see a small trap door revealing an old floor tile mosaic (5) and in front, an altar and worship area (6-9). Underneath the worship area is the Grotto of Nativity (10-14), a cave underneath the basilica that houses the exact spot (marked by a star) where Christ was born.

We entered the basilica and “lined up” with probably 200 Indians tourists to enter the grotto. We were in “line” for no longer than 10 minutes when once again, a wall of more Indians tourists pushed up from behind us, leaving us trapped again, much like earlier this evening. As the priests inside the grotto finished their prayers, the “line” began to push inwards. What was probably now 300 of us were trying to squeeze through an opening half the size of a normal door at the same time. For a place so holy this was probably the most digusting way to enter (11, 12). We were eventually pushed through and were able to touch and pray at the spot where Christ was born, on the day he was born (14), something I will not soon forget. But as soon as we did we were rushed out by more people and we quickly left, not wanting to be caught in what could have been our third mob of the night. At this point it was about 3am so we walked past the now sleepy Manger Square to our hotel.

Sleepy Manger Square

~ by jonathanmtsai on December 28, 2010.

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