into Jerusalem: The Visitation, shopping, The nativity, st. jerome's cave, the shepherd's field, milk grotto
This day had the most ups and down, figuratively and literally. Our first stop was the site of the first church, the Church of the Visitation, the oldest remaining, since it was left untouched by the Persians during the year 614, when all of the Christian churches were destroyed. Why? Because the church had pictures of the three Magi painted on it, so the invaders thought it was a church of their own people. It is located in Ein Karem on the west side of Jerusalem. This church had a very steep, 25-flights-of-stairs climb.
From there, we traveled to Bethlehem, having to travel though the gates, but we didn't get stopped coming or going. However, our guide told us to put all of our cameras away and not to try to take any pictures as we crossed through.
Then we went shopping in the Christian district of Palestine. The shops help support the few Christians who remain. Shafiq, our guide, says fewer and fewer choose to stay. The shops are famous for olive wood carvings, malachite jewelry, diamonds, Jerusalem crosses and Russian icons, dating from the 17th-19th century, These icons run anywhere from 1,500-50,000 U.S. dollars. Two of the gals on the tour bought one each. Shafiq says his favorite are the icons and he has several at his house. His preference is for depictions of St. George slaying the dragon. Mother purchased a Jerusalem cross for me with a Bethlehem star in the middle of it. I got some olive wood carvings of Mary holding the baby Jesus.
Then we had Shepherd's lunch at the Shepherd's Grotto. The lunch included many traditional salads of corn, carrots, lebne with cucumber, hummus, pasta, slaw and a Shepherd's lamb stew along with pita bread and baklawa for dessert.
After we headed to the Church of the Nativity and the spot where Jesus lay in the manger. This site has two churches, one Catholic and one Orthodox and it was here that we had the downer of the day. A group of Russians got split up and tried to push in front of us. Our guide instructed us to stick together and not let them around. Their guide started shouting at us while we were in the holy site, marked by a 14-point star, representing the 14 generations before Jesus's birth. Our guide kept his cool, but the orthodox priest did not step in to quiet, probably since she too was orthodox and the orthodox control that portion of the site.
So our visit wasn't the quiet contemplation site we envisioned after all since she kept yelling until we left.
Then we visited the grotto/cave where St. Gerome, spent 30 years translating the bible. It was here that father said mass today.
Shepherd's field with another church and finally the grotto/cave where the shepherds kept watch over their flocks when they heard about Jesus's birth. And finally, we visited the Milk Grotto, supposedly where Mary and Joseph lived before fleeing to Egypt. Here it was said she was feeding the baby when a drop of her milk fell to the ground. Then the cave turned to white powder inside. Some purchased a packet of white chalk from the grotto for $2. Surprisingly, most prices are in U.S. dollars, no need for shekels.
This grotto is also of significance because it shows what a house would have been like, with a place for the parents in the back and the children below hollowed out spots where the food would have been stored to keep the critters away from it. And an "inn," our guide explained, was probably a house that was being rented out during a busy time. He said his own grandmother would make the whole family move to the in-laws house during Easter so they could rent out their modest one-room home for $20. They were very poor and needed the money.
Again, it was a very full day, with the most ups and downs (46 flights of stairs) yet.