Today the focus was very much on the infancy traditions, as the course seeks—so far as possible—to follow the natural chronology of Jesus’ life.
After a briefing in the College lecture room, we began at Ein Kerem. This is the traditional site of the visitation of Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth. It also honours the birth of John the Baptist, who becomes a cousin of Jesus in the way that Luke tells the story. This lovely modern piece of outdoor art in the gardens of the Franciscan church at Ein Kerem celebrates this very human story of two pregnant cousins greeting one another after Mary’s arrival.
After leaving Ein Kerem we cut across the SW corner of Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem. First stop was the Bedouin-themed restaurant for lunch.
We then went to one of the three Shepherds Field sites. In this case, we went to the Franciscan site as the YMCA site was not open. We sat in one of the large limestones caves undoubtedly used to shelter flocks of an evening (even if not that ‘silent night’ of Christian legend), while the College chaplain led us in a reflection on the significance of the angels’ message to the shepherds.
We then had a couple of hours to explore the Church of the Nativity and the nearby holy places, including the Cave of St Jerome and the Milk Grotto Church. The church itself is under extensive renovation and repair, so the interior was filled with scaffolding and a false roof protects the interior from damage.