5th April – Bethlehem, Palestine and Jerusalem, Israel.   Leave a comment

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The view from the Mount of Olives over Palestine showing the ‘separation barrier’ that divides the Israeli Arab area around the Mount from their kin in Palestine.

In 1986 Janet and I just drove the few miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, parked and had a look around the Church of the Nativity. Now things are very different. Israeli hire cars are not allowed to enter the now semi-independent Palestine Territories except on major roads, so to visit Bethlehem we had to book with an Israeli tour company which picked us up about 0715 and took us on a tour around Jerusalem in order to pick up the other clients. Eventually we crossed into Palestine and headed for the (little town of) Bethlehem. Our tour took us first to the Shepherds Fields where it is said that the Angels of the Lord announced the birth of Jesus, then to the Milk Grotto where tradition has it that Mary’s milk whilst nursing Jesus turned a red rock completely white, finally we arrived at Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. Fortunately our guide was able to by-pass the huge queue and we were able to see the spot where tradition has it that Jesus was born without delays. The church itself is the oldest Christian church in the world dating from the 4th century.

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The chapel at the Shepherd’s Fields – the tradition site for the visitation of the shepherd’s by the ‘multitude of heavenly hosts’

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The entrance to the Milk Grotto

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The ornate interior of the Grotto

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A sudden heavy shower had us running to the Church of the Nativity for shelter.

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The Church of the Nativity, said to be established in 326 AD by Helena, the mother of Roman emperor Constantine. It was later destroyed but was rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.

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Part of the original floor mosaic of the 4th century church.

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Pilgrims kneel to kiss the very spot where they believe that Jesus was born.

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Perhaps the low point of the day was passing through the ‘separation barrier’. Erected between 2000 – 2006 to separate Israeli and Palestinian areas, it has divided communities in two and has effectively imprisoned Palestinians within a stockade. Whilst understanding the Israeli’s need for security, it seems regrettable that 20 years after the Berlin Wall came down that this sort of structure should be necessary anywhere in the world.

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We were dropped on the far side of the Old City of Jerusalem and so made our way through the winding streets and along the famous Via Dolorosa to the Lion Gate. It was Friday afternoon and the Arab quarter was eerily quiet as they departed for Friday prayers, meanwhile Jews headed off for the Sabbath, whilst Christian organisations could be seen leading groups …

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.. or dodging their way past crowds at the many retail outlets.

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As we reached the Lion’s Gate we found masses of troops and police preparing to confront Muslims leaving the Al Aqsa Mosque. We heard shouting ahead and wondered if we should proceed, fortunately it was only boys selling food from carts to the emerging crowds.

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The long slog up to the Mount of Olives.

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Not many birds today, this Hooded Crow was all I got to photograph.

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There are a number of conflicting claims to the spot where Christ is said to have ascended to heaven. This small Mosque of the Ascension (Islam treats Jesus as a prophet of God) was next door to our hotel and has been in Muslim possession since the 12th century. The nearby Russian Church of the Ascension marks an alternative claim, but was closed that day.

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Today we saw locations commemorating the very start and very end of Jesus’ life. This stone marks the point where he was said to have ascended to heaven.

Posted May 8, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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