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GROTTO OF THE NATIVITY.
the messenger of the Most High-the stable, the manger, and the infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. I had felt in my heart his divine presence, which the lapse of time had not permitted me to behold there; I blessed the happy hour of my life when I said: "Let us go to Bethlehem and see."
And I returned glorifying and praising God.
The clock struck two as I got back to my cell.
Glory to God, my dear friend, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men! Amen!
BETHLEHEM- THE MONASTERY-CHURCHES-DESCRIPTION OF THE SACRED GROTTO - ST. JEROME - ST. PAULA AND HER DAUGHTER EUSTOCHIUM-SANCTUARY OF THE NATIVITY- THE MANGER - THE MAGI-SOLEMN PROCESSION AT MIDNIGHT.
Bethlehem, January 9th, 1832.
Has it not sometimes happened to you, my friend, in treating of what is dear to you, that you have noted down your thoughts, your feelings; your remarks, that you have delineated places, persons, things; much less intent on arranging your ideas than on recording the impressions which you have received, and giving full scope to the effusions of your heart, without knowing when to finish? Such is the predicament in which I am in regard to Bethlehem: if you find reason to complain of my prolixity, I hope at least to interest you by the details.
Bethlehem is situated in the centre of Judea, about two leagues from Jerusalem. It was called in Hebrew
NAMES GIVEN TO BETHLEHEM.
Beth-Lechem, a name given to it by Abraham, signify-ing house of bread. It was likewise called Ephrata, fruitful, after Caleb's wife. It was in allusion to the meaning of these two names that St. Paula, on reaching the place which bore them, exclaimed, full of joy: “I salute thee, Bethlehem, true house of bread, where was born the bread that came down from heaven! I salute thee, Ephrata, fertile land, where God came into the world!"
Bethlehem was likewise called City of David, because it was the birth-place of that prince, one of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, and the most illustrious of the kings of Israel. Lastly, it is sometimes designated in Scripture as Bethlehem of Judah, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem, situated in Galilee, dependent on the tribe of Zebulon, but in no way remarkable.
I will not conceal from you, my dear friend, that the surname of Ephrata, given to Bethlehem, as well as to its environs, has drawn a smile of pity from some philosophic travellers by whom it has been visited. They had before their eyes the real causes of the deplorable state in which they found a land, whose fertility is attested by the ancient historians most worthy of credit; but, misled by their prepossessions against Christianity, they have deemed it more philosophic to find fault with the soil itself for its present sterility, than with the oppressors who enchain it, who mutilate the arms necessary for its cultivation, and scarcely leave to the wretched, haggard, and emaciated inhabitants the scanty resources obtained by a toil with which they are more and more disgusted by the abject servitude to which they are re
duced. The truth is, that, at the present day, in places cleared of briars and stones, the soil is extremely fertile. Figs and grapes abound there, and are delicious; every thing thrives there.
The first house in which I set foot on my arrival in Bethlehem, was, as I have told you, the monastery. It is a very extensive structure, the walls of which, built of enormous stones, exhibit, in their height and thickness, the appearance of a fortress. The door is so narrow, and so low, that you are forced to stoop and to squeeze yourself through. It has been made thus to render it more difficult for the Arabs to penetrate into the building, and to prevent several of them from entering at once-a precaution the more necessary in this country, as the people fall foul of the monks, especially when they are burdened by any new impost. They then see no other means of ridding themselves of it, than by throwing the weight of it on the unfortunate Fathers.
The monastery is divided into three parts, occupied separately by the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Catholics. The church is contiguous to the courtyard of the monastery.
On this spot, the first Christians had built a chapel, in which was enclosed the stable where our Saviour came into the world. They thronged thither from all parts, to adore, on that very spot, Him, who humbled himself so low, as to take the form of a little child, out of love to us. For the purpose of driving away the believers, and holding up their mysteries to the derision of the pagans, the emperor Adrian caused a statue to be erected there
CHURCH AT BETHLEHEM.
to Adonis, and instituted in honour of him a particular worship, which subsisted till the reign of Constantine. Helena, the mother of that prince, during her sojourn in the Holy Land, added to the immense benefits by which she had already signalized her piety that of causing the infamous idol to be demolished, and the worship of it to be forbidden; and, through her means, arose, on the same spot, the church which at this day bears the name of Mary.
This church, though it has undergone great alterations and been frequently repaired, still bears unequivocal marks of its ancient and glorious origin. It is built in the form of a cross, and adorned with forty-eight marble columns of the Corinthian order. The Greeks and the Armenians have possessed themselves of it, as of many other places which belonged to the Latins; and their gold, profusely dispensed to the pacha of Damascus and the Porte, now secures to them the peaceful occupation.
The principal nave is separated from the choir and the transept by a thick wall. It belongs to the Greeks and the Armenians, who hold divine service there. The other parts are extremely neglected, no service being ever performed in them. The pavement is in such a wretched condition, that you cannot walk upon it without running the risk of dangerous falls. On the walls are to be seen some paintings, which appear to date back to the infancy of the art among us, and a few fragments of shattered mosaics.
Close to St. Mary's, there is another church, called St. Catherine's, which belongs to the Catholics. It is far too small for the number of the congregation. Its
CHURCH AT BETHLEHEM.
principal ornament is an excellent organ, which I frequently go to play upon; and with the more pleasure, since the harmony of that instrument adds greatly, in my opinion, to the tenderness of the emotions that one feels, particularly at Bethlehem.
Through this church the Catholics now pass to the sacred grotto, instead of going the way which they formerly took. The continual cavils which the Greeks and the Armenians are incessantly raising against our good Fathers of the Holy Land, have given occasion to this change and to some others. I beg you to bear this in mind, my dear friend, that you may not be surprised if my account differs in some points from what you may have read in other travellers.
Oh! that I could now transfuse, in some measure, my soul into your's, with the thoughts, the affections, the feelings wherewith it is filled by the presence of all that I have the favour to behold! Collect yourself, prepare your heart; I am about to usher you into a grotto, where the profane man perceives, it is true, such objects only as he deems worthy of his contempt-a stable, a manger, an infant, poor, and almost deserving of pity! But for Christians-and Heaven has granted us the grace to be so for Christians, that stable is a temple, that manger a sanctuary, that infant a Saviour, a God; a God, before whom the empires, which, to our petty vision, appear so vast, are scarcely what an atom of dust is to us; and those kings, and those nations, who so fiercely dispute a title belonging, by right, to Him alone, who are bent on being sovereigns, even without his grace-make a little noise to-day, gather a little of what