Maybe it was all those years of indoctrination as a child and as an adult. What would Christmas be without the traditional nativity scene. Thank you, St. Francis of Assisi.
Perhaps it was the tension that punctuated our border crossing between Jerusalem and Bethlehem that set the scene. The proliferation of armed guards wielding semi-automatics and the oppressive 26-foot tall concrete wall simply served to underscore the harsh reality of life along the West Bank barrier.
Apparently that looting included most of the interior’s original marble floor, which has been found in numerous sites around the area, including Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Portions of Constantine’s elaborate 4th century mosaic floor were displayed beneath several trap doors in the modern floor installed in the side aisles just beyond the large Corinthian columns.
Next to the ornate and gilded grotto was the Chapel of the Manger, where tradition suggests Mary placed the newborn child after giving birth. This portion of the Church of the Nativity belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church.
I truly can only speak for the day of my visit, though. I knew my presence felt intrusive; a clergyman shouted at us to move along as we descended the stairs to the grotto. Tourists do seem to have a knack for being intrusive when it comes to visiting active religious sites, particularly when those tourist numbers swell. Personally, I thought we were a swell group!
I'd wanted to spend more time, quality time, in this sacred spot; to truly feel Christ's presence, to pray, to simply feel the peace from such a life changing moment. A truly meaningful visit was lost in the chaos.
It felt good to move to the adjoining Cloister of St. Jerome, part of the religious complex of which the Church of the Nativity is the heart. We tourists were free to annoy one another (especially when it came to taking pictures devoid of other tourists) in more spacious confines without fear of the wrath of god.
At the age of 23, this highly educated virgin princess was tortured and then beheaded for her Christian beliefs under orders of pagan emperor Maxentius. You can snuff out a life (or simply reduce a visit to a holy site to chaos), but neither can damage the heart and soul of deep, abiding faith.