I played tourist today and visited the Church of the Nativity. This was the spot tradition says Jesus was born. Of course all we have is tradition, which we may assume is fairly reliable. The first generation after Jesus knew where the bodies were buried and born and ate. The first structure was built by Constantine in the 4th C, an octagonal church, destroyed and replaced by Justintiian in the 7th C, using some of the previous materials. The mosaic floor of the first church still survive beneath the second.
I went up on the altar area to watch the other tourists, rushed through by their guides. Tourists from all centuries have left their mark. It is not an ornate place by any standards, dark, almost mysterious. Now the scaffolding is up, for a new roof it appears, not much different from the support and access given by religious “scaffolding” of paintings, candles, windows, pulpits and kneelers.
Below the church lies the grotto, the place of birth and location of the manger. I sat for about a half hour to reflect. I have to say it didn’t do much for me. Should I have been more impacted? The manger area is part of a cave, which were often part of and used as an extra space for the home, especially to keep animals.
As I walk around Bethlehem, I find, as I have everywhere here, people very friendly, engaging, always willing to share there story with humility. It feels very safe as opposed to Tel Aviv, from where my new flatmate just arrived, telling me she heard the missiles pass over just after she arrived.