The Wilderness Of Judaea.
The Cell Of Saint Saba.
Approach To Bethlehem.
Leaving Mar Saba early the next morning, we gradually rode up from the wilderness, and far on in the day beheld, framed in a mass of old gray olive trees illumined by the setting sun, a village which we knew was Bethlehem. Surely if any place on earth should breathe of peace and good-will to mankind, it is this town of David, consecrated by the birth of Christ. But, alas! the reception given us was anything but peaceful. A veritable mob of beggars and street venders swarmed out to meet us on the road, and, in an uproarious babel of strange tongues they thrust upon us rosaries, crosses, beads, stars, canes and numberless other trinkets, all of which they declared were sacred, since they had rested on the Star of the Nativity. Our dragoman did not hesitate to strike a number of these hawkers with his whip, and I remember seeing one of them receive a cut across the face which must have disfigured him for many a day.
It is said that the inhabitants of Bethlehem are the fiercest and most lawless of any in Judaea, and that in riots and other disturbances they are invariably the ringleaders. Our own experience was sufficiently depressing, and, even now, it is impossible for any of our party to recall Bethlehem without the remembrance of that noisy and persistent mob, whose vociferations were still ringing in our ears as we finally hastened through the door, and entered the Church of the Nativity. It is an enormous edifice, consisting of a church and three convents, belonging respectively to the Latins, the Greeks, and the Armenians. Here, as in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, every spot that can be thought of in connection with the birth of Jesus is pointed out. Thus we were shown the place where the three wise men knelt, to give their presents to the new-born child. This is marked by a marble slab, and is surmounted by a painting representing the scene. Near this is the spot where the horses of the Magi were fed; the place where Joseph stood; the place where the ass was tethered; the "Milk Grotto," where Mary nursed her child; and even the locality where twelve thousand of the infants slain by the order of Herod were buried. But these of course do not vie in sanctity with the spot where it is said the Saviour of the world was born. That is called the Chapel of the Nativity, and was evidently once a cave. Believers in its authenticity maintain that it was at that time used as a stable, and was situated below the little caravansary, from which the Holy Family was excluded because "there was no room for them in the inn." Its walls are now of marble, and a silver star in the pavement marks the place where the manger stood.
Church Of The Nativity.
Chapel Of The Nativity.
There is this to be said in favor of the genuineness of the site of the Nativity: the tradition in regard to it is far older than the time of Constantine and his mother, Helena.
Early in the second century the place of Jesus' birth was affirmed to have been a cave close to the village of Bethlehem. The Empress Helena caused a church to be erected there, some portions of which still exist. Hence, it is the oldest existing Christian sanctuary in the world; and it is a touching fact that the Crusader, Baldwin I, when made King of Jerusalem, refused to wear a crown of gold in the city where his Lord and Master had been crowned with thorns, and therefore selected this church in Bethlehem, rather than Jerusalem, for the place of his coronation.
Close by the Chapel of the Nativity, and covered by the roof which canopies them both, is the tomb of Saint Jerome; and beside it we were shown the cavern in which that venerable father labored and prayed for more than thirty years. Here he achieved his immortal work of translating the Scriptures into the Latin tongue, and here also he wrote no less than one hundred and fifty epistles, sixteen theological treatises, and thirteen volumes of commentaries. And finally, here occurred the touching incident which has been immortalized by Domenichino, in his painting entitled " The Last Communion of Saint Jerome."