Not all the churches in the Holy Lands are old. The Church of the Shepherds’ Fields in Bethlehem was constructed in 1954 over some small caves on the outskirts of the city. Traditional holds that these caves were used by Shepherds even in ancient times hence the connection of this site to the Nativity story. The Church has a simple, contemporary ascetic, but by far has the best impromptu choir I’ve ever heard.
Exterior angel from the Church of the Shepherds’ Fields
As I listened to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” on the radio yesterday, for the first time in my life I didn’t picture huts and palm trees like some cartoon Christmas TV special. I thought back to the actual Bethlehem in the West Bank which I visited in the Spring. The old stable of my imagination has been replaced by a drafty Byzantine basilica and the straw by Orthodox icons and lamps. The shepherds and wise men in the Bible story are now an equality diverse group of international visitors. But with all that, the Church of the Nativity still maintains some of the midnight atmosphere and anxious stillness of the first Christmas which is remembered here.
Interior of the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, before restoration began. (Photo: Nick Thompson, flickr)