|Sanctuary at the Church of the Nativity|
Today was a great day of reflection at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. After 7:15 Morning Prayer and breakfast, the bus departed for Bethlehem, a short ride, since Bethlehem is only 6 miles from Jerusalem. When we arrived at the site of the Nativity, we were overjoyed at this opportunity to see the place where Jesus was born.
As usual, the site exceeded our expectations. There is something about the holy sites in general that leave you in a state of awe. The grandeur of the construction of this church was spectacular. It is like entering into a different world. In fact, the main entrance to the church is very small, compared to other great churches. Even the shortest people need to stoop down to enter through the opening. This is because the sill of the door was lowered down each time over the years, as the church changed hands between the Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, and Ottomans.
Once inside, we saw the huge pillars that support the main basilica. Each pillar is buried deep below the floor and interconnected in order to provide added support in the event of an earthquake. Sections of the floors and walls are blanketed with colorful mosaics, but some sections were dark, having been damaged over the years.
The sanctuary is extraordinary and depicts the great tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church. The walls are covered with golden and silver icons representing Jesus, Mary, the Saints, and Prophets.
Down the sanctuary is the Grotto of the Nativity, the very spot where Jesus entered the world. In reality, this is a really small place. Beneath the altar is a fourteen-pointed silver start representing fourteen generations, from David to Joseph. After we spent a couple of minutes in prayer, we gathered in a corner of the Grotto and sang the “Salve Regina” in honor of Mary.
Another interesting spot on our visit was St. Jerome’s chapel. A short distance from the cave of the Nativity, it was here that Saint Jerome spent many years translating the Bible. Although, very small compared to the Church of the Nativity, we chose to gather here as pilgrims to celebrate the Eucharist. After Mass we had the opportunity to reflect on the great event of the Nativity, and the meaning of it for us.
Next, we visited the Milk Grotto Church, which is believed to be the place where the Holy Family took refuge during the slaughter of the innocents. It is believed that the white stones from the Milk Grotto help to enhance fertility. Tradition holds that this is where Mary dropped a drop of milk while nursing Jesus. In fact, there are about 3000 cases registered in the miraculous list of events attributed to this place. Certainly, it is all about faith, said the Franciscan father who welcomed us to this site.
Today was great day in which we learned, reflected, and nourished our spiritual life. It was one more day to know more about the history of Christianity, one more day to meditate in the great mystery of salvation and one more day to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.