Bethlehem is a Palestinian city located in the West Bank, Palestine, 10 km (6.2 miles) south of Jerusalem.
The city is first mentioned in the Old Testament as the place near where Rachel died in childbirth (Genesis 35:19) and the birthplace of David who was later anointed king by the Prophet Samuel (I Samuel 16:1-13).
In the New Testament, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke identify Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-7). We will visit the UNESCO site of the Basilica of the Nativity, one of the oldest surviving Christian churches in the world. The focal point is the Grotto of the Nativity which is a rectangular cave beneath the Church and believed to be the location of the birth of Jesus.
The Franciscan Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria was built in 1882 on the site of ruins of the Crusader church and Augustinian monastery. Part of the ruins were incorporated into the newer structure. The stairway leads down into a complex of caves and stone chambers where we will see where it is believed that St. Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the Latin Vulgate (4th century).
We will have lunch in Bethlehem (buffet style, around $15). There will be time for shopping for souvenirs in the local shops. The region is famous for olive wood carvings of the Nativity as well as other items you are sure to enjoy!
After this we will depart for the Holy City of Old Jerusalem. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and the political, historical and spiritual center of the Jewish people as well as a holy destination for pilgrims of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There are four major quarters to the city, divided from the 18th century according to religious or ethnic identity: Jewish, Moslem, Christian and Armenian. Altogether, the Old City covers an area of about 220 acres (1km).
Our walk will take us to one of the world’s most holy site for Christians, The Holy Sepulcher Church which contains the last five stations of the Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa in Latin). On this site, it is believed that Jesus was crucified and died.
Nearby is the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, one of the oldest protestant churches in the Middle East. As we continue our walk, we will enter the Armenian quarter and visit the magnificent domed St. James Cathedral built in the 12th century. Inside is the burial vault of James, the Disciple of Jesus.
On Mount Zion, we will see more holy places, including the Cenacle, also known as the Last Supper Room where Jesus broke bread and drank wine with the disciples before His betrayal and arrest. Nearby is the Tomb of King David. The hill of Mount Zion is the highest point in ancient Jerusalem and the site of the Church of Dormition, built to commemorate Virgin Mary.
The remains of ancient walls of Jerusalem have been excavated and we will visit the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall) built by Herod the Great in 20 BC during an expansion of the Second Temple. This portion of the Wall is one of the holiest places for the Jews and all mankind. Time will be provided for prayer and reflection. You may wish to participate in the tradition of writing your prayer then placing it in a crack of the Wall.
(To enter Bethlehem, we will have to pass through a military check post. You might be requested to show your ID. It is completely safe to visit Bethlehem)