It was now time for the main centre point of the thing for this trip, so I was quite excited.
Outside is this conference centre, decorated with Palestinian flags. Before going into the church’s entrance there were photographs canvassing our party for impromptu souvenir pictures, this consists of sitting in a big row in front of the church, which a picture of the group is done and a print is provided in a presentation cardboard frame. The group I was with, a Filipino church here on the coach trip did this, I was in it, but didn’t opt to buy a picture, I think copies of the prints (assuming the photographer could guarantee at least say, 20 copies of a average typical coach party) were quite a reasonable price I think.
Generic picture I found, as I didnt have a good shot of the front of the church, note, its probably very rare that its this quiet!!
The door way opening to the church is very short for some reason, odd for the importance of this place and considering how big it is inside. Going in, and it looks fairly similar to a number of other church like the Church of Ascension in Jerusalem, large pictures of Jesus, Mary and the Apostles in big gaudy guilded frames, all types of candlesticks, and various other typical church decorations.
There were people lined up in a queue for something, I wasn’t sure what. I decided to join in with the rest of our party, I was guessing the trip to the actual grotto would outside somewhere a bit later. Therefore this queue was a bit of a mystery what I was in for. Queuing of course, I use the term loosely as its more like funnelling people into a tight space down some steps into another small doorway.
I suppose a grotto wherever this term came from would be an accurate phrase, its normally something associated with Santa Claus’s domain, but as anyone who grew up as a small child who visited a Father Christmas in a department store you would go into a cave like place, queuing often for a long time. Easy comparison really.
Once in the narrow cave like corridor that was under the church floor, people were crowded around something but one of the staff of the church was trying to get people to move around away from it, ie: you could not block the main passage way.
So here it is, there is the place were Jesus was most likely to be born in a manger at the stable by the inn in Bethlehem.
Below the archway in the picture is a tiny gap, a small shrine where the expected place our Lord was born was.
On the right here, you can see they have made the shrine very small, it just looks horribly artificial.
The story of the nativity tells us about Christ’s birth in a simple place, a stable, not the place you would expect a king to have been born, however the masses of decoration and clutter around the place does spoil it, I was hoping to see a simple stable but the church structure and decorations have been built over it, somehow taking away the simple notion of a place our Lord came to this world. A bit disappointing really. Its kind of like a waiting ages in a restaurant for a nice meal and then your food arrives, but someone’s added every type of sauce and condiment to it making a bit a mess.
Before going home through to the border, our tour guide, a Palestinian Christian invited us to meet his family at his house for dinner, yes about 30 people! We had some big platters of chicken, plenty of vegetables and heaps of rice, all of us were crammed into this first floor flat not that far away from the main part of Bethlehem city square.
I did feel sorry for the fact that Christian Palestinians don’t get the ability to travel easily through the borders easily and it is easy to see why they blame Israel for that, however given the very real threat of terrorism, the borders have to be tightly controlled, and there isn’t much you can do. It was nice that the tour guide invited us for dinner and to meet his family, there was a chance to visit his family’s shop underneath but as this had some simple cheap souvenirs like olive wood crosses and scented oils, it was clear that they were genuinely hospitable and not really after our money.
On the whole I really enjoyed this trip, any chance to see the places Jesus lived is exciting, Nazareth is high up on my to do list now!!