Today I had another fruitless day in the library. I fear there really is little more to be learned about the Bethlehem Shepherds from the books. Next week I hope to visit Tantur–the Notre Dame Study center out here and snoop some more, but not finding what I needed in the library–and promising my loved ones that I would get some exercise every day I headed out again after lunch to the Old City.
This time I was headed for a curious old church I saw on Sunday’s hike from the Mount of Olives. Situated at the bottom of the Valley, I could tell it was one of the ancient buildings of the city. My guide in Bethlehem on Monday told me it was the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Dormition Abbey–the German Benedictine monastery on Mount Zion claims the location of the Virgin’s “falling Asleep” her “Dormition”, but this older church claims the tomb not only of Mary, but also St Joseph and the parents of Mary–Joachim and Anna.
So I hiked over there and found myself alone in the church with a very nice Armenian priest who showed me around. The tomb of the Virgin is there–empty of course–as the apostles found it after her burial. The Protestant in me wants “evidence” but once you are out here for a while and you realize how strong the evidence is for so many of the sites that claim to be the location of this gospel event or another you are inclined to give the other places the benefit of the doubt. Certainly Mary’s tomb is on the location of an ancient Jewish cemetery and the traditional site of her birthplace is just up the hill at the church of St Anne.
I learned that the Assumption Church is controlled by the Armenians and Greeks. The Turks were pretty mad at Latin Catholics after the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 so, being in control of the Holy Land, they took some of the holy places away from the Franciscans and handed them to the Greeks and Armenians.
What we Roman Catholics do have, however, is a small chapel right next to the church of the Assumption and a stone’s throw from the our Church of All Nations–which is built over the stone on which Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. That little chapel is the site of Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss–I didn’t know about it, so it was a happy chance that I came upon it today–Spy Wednesday–when we remember Judas’ betrayal.
The stupid thing is I forgot to take my phone/camera. I will try to get back there and post some pictures another day.