While I am not a super religious person, I was raised Christian and I have always wanted to see the birthplace of Jesus: Bethlehem and the Church of Nativity. Away in a Manger is one of my favourite Christmas Songs and I loved this bible story as a child.
As part of the Operation Groundswell’s itinerary for this trip we were permitted one week of independent travel and so I took advantage of that week and booked multiple tours to many different places in the West Bank, Israel and Jordan. My first trip was to Bethlehem, there were 3 other people on that tour and so we were lucky and got to take our time at the locations. Bethlehem, I believe is located under Palestinian Authority (correct me if I am wrong). Our tour guide was named Isa which is the Arabic name for Jesus, so he was the perfect tour guide!
The first stop is actually just outside Bethlehem, in Kanisat al-Ruwat and is a Greek Orthodox site believed to be the place of the Shepherd’s Field. There is an ancient cave where the shepherds lived and a Greek Orthodox Church.
In Bethlehem we went to the Church of Nativity and the Milk Grotto. The Church of Nativity is a UNESCO site and it is also on the list of Historical sites in danger (probably due to the rockets and wars).
To enter the Church of Nativity you can walk through the Door of Humility. You can see evidence of multiple door ways at this entrance, dating back different historical periods. The small doorway you see today was designed so people could not ride in on their horses or camels. There are three architectural designs to the church: Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic.
The star is said to be the exact spot where Jesus was born and the shelf near it is where the three Kings placed their gifts.
There is also the symbol of the five crosses, depicted in many of the historical places, specifically the Christian ones as they are meant to represent the five wounds of Jesus (2 for hands, 2 for feet and one for the side). I personally never learned this growing up so I am not sure the religious significance of it or if it is more Roman Catholic related but it was still interesting to learn about.
I really enjoy history and I like learning about religious history (which is why I love Jerusalem so much) and so the trip to Bethlehem was very intriguing to me and I am thankful I got to see the places with such a historical significance to religion.
On our way back to the check point we stopped by a shop where a woman (not sure if she is the owner or the wife of the owner) offered us tea while we shopped (another classic sign of Middle East hospitality). Even though it is very, very hot in the desert and I was probably sweating, the tea actually helped in a weird way and I felt cooler. In the shop I managed to buy a traditional Palestinian scarf.
Have you been to Bethlehem? What was your experience like?
The tour company I went with is called Abraham tours, you can find their site here. I also stayed in their hostel in Jerusalem, which I will write about in a separate post. This post is not sponsored by this tour group.