I stepped inside the location of the real Nativity scene at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Byzantine church that has survived so many centuries of war and strife still stands with an ancient feel, since the Greek Orthodox Church upkeeps it without extensive renovations. Without the restorations, everything you see is original from either the Byzantine period or the Crusader period. Though the wall frescos were faded, I knew I saw the same paint from the Crusader’s time and nothing else. Hanging lamps from the Orthodox influence of the church hung everywhere, supplemented by light beams shining across the church like light from the star of Bethlehem.
Underneath the altar, I walked into the Grotto, which is the cave believed to be where Jesus was born. “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” sung by a church group in Latin from inside the Grotto set the Christmas mood for the tiny cavern once used as a barn and now decorated in remembrance of Jesus’ birth. For a little while I just stood looking at the star marking the traditional spot of the Nativity while listening to calming religious songs.
Although it is completely heartbreaking to see the wall built around Bethlehem because it is in Palestinian territory, my trip made me realize hope still remained for the city’s future. The friendly and sweet people I met in the churches, market and traditional Arab restaurant made the town one of the highlights of the trip. My Palestinian guide, Maher Desouki, said the fact that the Christians and Muslims have been living together happily for so many years by going to shared schools and businesses proves the power of peace. The town mentioned in so many Christmas carols should definitely be included on any pilgrimage to Israel.
Church of the Nativity
Grotto of the Nativity
Traditional Palestinian meal