Posts Tagged ‘bethlehem’

pilgrimage day 3 – the holy triangle

November 18, 2008

After the airport-heavy first two days, people woke up acting and feeling much more civilised on the third day. Breakfast featured lots of hummus which was something we would come to eat in dollops with just about every meal. We were told that there was a lot on the schedule and we should not stop to shop as we would be taken to a nice shop with all the souvenirs we could possibly want at a set time in the day. After that preface, we drove to Ein Kerem, which is where Elizabeth, Mary’s sister, and her husband Zachariah lived. These fine folk were also John the Baptist’s parents. We started by walking up a steep hill (which caused lots of huffing and puffing) to the Church of the Visitation a really beautiful Franciscan church with an awesome view and two towers and some striking artwork fo the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth and of John the Baptist escaping death by Herod’s soldiers (who were killing all the boys in Israel at the time to try and off Jesus). There was even a rock which John the B supposedly hid behind to escape the soldiers (but I was kind of sceptical about that). In the entrance courtyard of the place there are many plaques with the Magnificat (a.k.a. Mary’s Song) prayer in different languages. This prayer is made up of the words of Mary when she visited Elizabeth, then barren and old, and Elizabeth realised that she was pregnant (with ‘ol John the B). This is a pretty important prayer said by priests every single day. We had mass in a very light and airy chapel of the church with amazing artwork and a floor of mosaics of fierce and docile animals. This was supposed to represent the coming together of meekness and power at the visitation and, to boot, there was a bunny mosaic which made my morning 😉 After Mass we walked back down the hill, where Isabel and I grabbed some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. We walked to a church built over the place where tradition holds that John the B himself was born. The Church was very blue and full of mosaics and remnants of Byzantine and Crusader churches that used to stand at that spot. The church also has some nice traditions around it; apparently it is where pregnant women go with their friends to discuss their coming baby and choose his/her name – kind of a baby shower church if you will!

Church of the Visitation

Church of the Visitation

Mary floats above the music

Mary floats above the music

bunny mosaic!

bunny mosaic!

Next we went to Jerusalem, Frank also tells us that Bethlehem, Ein Kerem and Jerusalem are all 7km’s apart and, therefore, form what’s known as the Holy Triangle. We don’t go into Jerusalem but stop off at the Israel Museum which houses two famous exhibits: the Shrine of the Book which houses the Dead Sea scrolls and a large model of Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple (which was when Jesus was around). That temple was eventually destroyed (by the dastardly Romans) and today that place in occupied by a mosque known as the Dome of the Rock which is the third most holy place in the world for Muslims. All that remains of the Temple is its wall – a.k.a. The Wailing Wall, which is the most holy of all places in the world for Jews. It really was striking to me how all these different religions deem the same place so holy – there’s got to be something to it. Anyway, the model was in this open air amphitheater and it took us about 20 minutes to walk around it while Frank pointed out different significant parts of it. It was incredibly detailed and well made – you can take a virtual tour of this model here. Sadly were was no time to see any other parts of the museum, there was barely time to go to the bathroom and Cynthia got herself in an absolute panic trying to buy a map of the model in the bookstore and get back to the bus on time. I had to help her count out money because it seemed she might faint from the stress of it all.

 

Israel Museum

Israel Museum

Next we drove back to Bethlehem, back through the Palestinian checkpoint and through town to a place called the Shepherd’s Fields. This involved another short uphill walk to a small, beautiful church. The church was built by an Italian master architect who designed a number of important churches in the Holy Land (I can’t remember his name tho!). The Shepherd’s Field church has a tent shape since the shepherds stayed in tents while tending flocks at night. It was one of my favourite churches of the trip, full of blue light and beautiful paintings showing the angels appearing to the shepherds to announced Jesus’ birth and the shepherd’s fear and. later, happiness at the event. We didn’t hang around for very long before going to a nearby cave which seemed to have little significance besides having a genuine Byzantine era mosaic on its floor. At this stage I started wonder what all the Byzantine stuff was about since we kept hearing about it (yep colour me a dumb pilgrim). Basically, the way I understand it, the Byzantine Era refers to the time when the Emperor Constantine started to promote the worship of a Christian monotheistic God and there were Crusades and lots of building of churches, particularly on sites believed to be holy or related to Jesus. Even though many Byzantine churches were destroyed there are still lots of remains of them visible even in places were other churches were built over them. After the Shepherd’s field area we were taken to a mom ‘n pop joint for falafels which were delicious. These were followed by tiny cups of Turkish coffee which we all found to be utterly vile.

Oh Holy Night

Oh Holy Night

Next we drove to a place close to Bethlehem whose name I can’t remember but I think it was pronounced something like Beth-she-ahn. There was no holy site here but we went to a Salesian monastery where a very charming man, who looked like Geri from Pixar’s short film Geri’s Game, told us about the beginnings of the Salesian order and their missions throughout world and, especially, Africa (which Tia found very interesting since she is always keeping her ears open for more funding for her school in Nampula, MZ). The monastery we were visiting has taken to producing wine as a way of sustaining themselves. We a wine tasting (the port was really good) and some people bought stuff. Then off we went to…. mmm hard to remember… ah yes back to Bethlehem. When we thought we couldn’t go to anymore places we were driven back to the centre of town and walked some more, past the Church of the Nativity that we had already visited the milk grotto which was a visual treat of beige stone and red. This place were apparently where Mary had the idea to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Joseph and also… well this bit I don’t know about, but apparently Mary was breastfeeding Jesus there and a drop of her breast milk fell to the ground and turned the while grotto white. I don’t know about that – there is nothing in the Bible remotely mentioning it and that rock looked pretty much just like all the other light coloured rock in Bethlehem.

Milk Grotto

Milk Grotto

We felt finished after this but the last stop was one that lots of people had been looking forward – the big souvenir shop! All day people had been resisting the many peddlers selling rosaries, singing camel teddies, shepherd flutes and embroidered bags. As we drove, Frank told up there Christians are in an extreme minority in Israel (in Jerusalem there are something like 1.8% Christians) and its tough going if you’re Christian. He also told us that the shop we were going to visit supports 16 Christian families and that he feels that if you are going to buy stuff in Israel you should try and buy from Christians. So we arrive at the shop and really, it was hardly the last Christian outpost that Frank had described. It was more like a Christian knick-knack emporium and wow were the shopkeepers slick. We first were herded around a main counter with about 4 shopkeepers behind it, one of whom introduced himself and showed us some of the things the shop had on offer. He pointed out the quality difference between machine-made and hand-carved statues, showed us the three different types of rosaries varying in quality and laid out an astounding variety of religious bling. At one stage he showed us a necklace with a very sparkly diamond Jerusalem cross which is swooshed into the air in one swift motion to reveal that the cross could be unfolded to look a bit like a triangular skyline. People milled around for a long time and they spent a lot of money under the assumption that this was the only tour-approved shop we would be taken to. I bought some wooden jewelery and rosaries. But Cynthia, she went large, she kind of accidentally bought that slick Jerusalem cross/skyline necklace not realising that the price was in dollars and not Rands making for an impulse splurge of over R10 000! This was *the* tragic event of the trip – she only realised what she had done when the credit card had been swiped and she was too shy to go back and undo the transaction even though we urged her to. Finally we went back the hotel where we were told that we would be leaving Bethlehem the next day for Nazareth and would have to get up extra early. Also we would not be staying for breakfast but would have breakfast on the road packed into boxes. Amazingly this caused a fair amount of dissent among some folks, which I thought was just silly. Later I managed to find some Internet and chat to Dave, which was very exciting because I had no idea if he and the bunnies had arrived so I slept very happy.

Tally for the day: 3 churches, 1 museum, 1 monastery, 2 cave/grottos, and 1 tourist trap

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piligrimage day 1 & 2 – oh. my. God.

November 6, 2008

its hot

it's all a blur

This is going to be long one – Day 1 and 2 kind of go together because basically they were put into a large shaker and rolled through three flights, four airports, one bus ride and one church- grotto combo with very fuzzy results. On the Sunday morning that we left, tensions were running slightly high in our house what with a total five sisters trying to get to the airport on time. At Cape Town International Airport we met our tour organiser and group. Since we don’t belong the parish that most of the group was from, we had no idea who the other people were and I think I expected many of the older folks to be staid and conservative. We flew to Johannesburg airport where we had a few hours wait for a flight to Cairo. In a very bizarre coincidence we ran into just about all the relatives we have in Jo-burg (and we’re Portuguese so that is quite a lot). They were all there to see off my uncle who is a widow. His wife was the first of my mom’s sisters to pass away and she’s been gone for about two years now. It turned out that Tio was leaving for Madeira indefinitely to meet up with a new woman in his life who he might marry (ah autumn love!).

After this chance encounter we waited for a couple of hours for our next flight and began seven hours to Cairo. It was not a great flight for me and I hardly slept, but that’s how long haul flying is for me – either I sleep great or not at all. When we got to Cairo, we went through passport control which was well… ambiguous. The airport officials seemed especially irritable and rough. Here we also got our first warning from our tour organizer about slowness which was something along the lines of ‘Those of you who are slow, well you’re going to have to change your ways. When we’re in the Holy Land and we have places booked you can’t be late’. So already we found ourselves trying to make sure Mae and Tia were keeping up, which only served to make Mae super crabby.Cairo airport was also where the group introduced themselves to each other in a big howdy-ice-breaker circle where we did the ‘Hi, my name is…’ thing. After some hours we caught our short flight to Tel Aviv, ‘Aahh soon we will be at the hotel’ I thought to myself. We arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday after 12pm and I was very, very, very tired (having been awake since Sunday morning). Passport control involved some Q&A and we eventually got onto a tour bus where a guide, Frank*, introduced himself and started talking about the church we were going to visit. Wait? Church? We’re *not* going to a hotel or perhaps even a bathroom?? In my very tired state I had started to feel light headed and this news made me fall into a bit of despair. I used the bus drive to Bethlehem to try steel myself for a few hard hours ahead. Luisa was worrying about everyone, Mae was annoying and everyone was ratty and stinky. Luckily Frank was very charismatic and handled everyone with aplomb as he handed out matching hats to everyone and asked that we wear the hats when out at sites. Wow thanks, nothing screams ‘Tourists ahoy!’ more loudly than a bunch of lost looking people wondering around in matching hats. I ended up sitting next to Cynthia, who tells me that she needs to wear her own hat because she’s had skin cancer.

We drove from Tel Aviv through Jerusalem to get to Bethlehem which did not live up to the fuzzy, Christmassy images one conjures when one thinks ‘Bethlehem’. The thing about Bethlehem is that it is under Palestinian rule, and it has a huge, grey, depressing wall around one side to separate it from the rest of Israel. To get into Bethlehem you have a cross a border checkpoint with Palestinian soldiers who swagger around stylishly toting large guns and looking a bit like they belong on a movie set. Once inside, what really struck me were the prevalent pieces of graffiti commenting on and berating the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. We parked and walked uphill to the Church of the Nativity. Along the way there were many peddlers on the street thrusting various things at us like bottled water and rosary 50-packs.

We walked a fairly short while before reaching the Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. It is built over the place traditionally believed to be Jesus’ birthplace (there is a difference between a site where there is evidence that something or other happened there and ones which are believed in by tradition). There was a lot of very earnest talking by Frank about the Bible and translations but I was feeling way too dizzy to focus and spent most of my time on my haunches staring at the ground, which I think made Luisa worry even more. Then we had Mass in one of the Franciscan chapels that surrounds the main church. I didn’t focus very well though because the woman who was reading at the Mass asked me to video record her and I was spent most of the time fuzzily trying to figure out her video recorder. After that there was more talking by Frank about mosaics and the Byzantine era which I couldn’t focus on. We then went into the main part of the church which is Greek Orthodox; we entered through a low doorway and looked at a big square hole in the floor but I was completely missing the explanations of everything. Now that I’ve Wikipedia the church I see that the low doorway is the Door of Humility and the big square opening reveals the floor of the original Roman church that used to stand there. The next part I did manage to follow though, we climbed down to the Grotto of the Nativity which is an underground cave where Jesus was supposedly born (this kind of didn’t figure for me on account of it being a cave but whatever). We even got to see his supposed manger. The grotto itself was very dark and mysterious looking with golden lamps hanging everywhere and candles all over the show.

grotto of the nativity

grotto of the nativity

After walking back from the Church in the heat we were finally taken to our hotel…er no to some arbitrary $10 lunch for a whole hour which not everyone chose to have so there were lots of people just sitting around getting more and more ratty. And *then* we were taken to our hotel, the Inter Continental, a ridiculously palatial haunt in the middle of a dusty rundown Bethlehem. Best hotel arrival ev-*snore*.

torn

torn

Tally for the day: 4 airports, 3 flights, 1 church, 1 grotto, 1 new hotel