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there is a descent by a flight of steps through a long narrow passage. Here are shown a great number of tombs, and among them one in which were said to be buried all the babes of Bethlehem murdered by the barbarous Herod. From hence the pilgrim is conducted into a handsome chapel, of which the floors and walls are composed of beautiful marble, having on each side five oratories, or recesses for prayer, corresponding to the ten stalls supposed to have been in the stable wherein our blessed Saviour was born. This sacred crypt is irregular in shape, because it occupies the site of the stable and the manger. It is thirty-seven feet six inches long, eleven feet three inches broad, and nine feet in height. As it receives no light from without, it is illumined by thirty-two lamps, sent by different princes of Christendom; the other embellishments are ascribed to the munificent Helena. At the farther extremity of this small church there is an altar placed in an arcade, and hollowed out below in the form of an arch, to embrace the sacred spot where Emmanuel, having laid aside his glory, first appeared in the garb of human nature. A circle in the floor, composed of marble and jasper, surrounded with silver, and having rays like those with which the sun is represented, marks the precise situation wherein that stupendous event was realized. An inscription, denoting that “here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary,” meets the eye of the faithful worshipper. ;
Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est. Adjoining the Altar of the Nativity is the Manger in which the Infant Messiah was laid. It is also formed of marble, and is raised about eighteen inches above the floor, bearing a resemblance to the hum. ble bed which alone the furniture of a stable could supply. Before it is the Altar of the Wise Men; a memorial of their adoration and praise at the moment when they saw the young child and Mary his mother.
This edifice, says the Vicomte de Chateaubriand, is certainly of high antiquity; and, often destroyed and as often repaired, it still retains marks of its Grecian origin. It is built in the form of a cross; the nave being adorned with forty-eight columns of the Corinthian order in four rows, which are at least two feet six inches in diameter at the base, and eighteen feet high including the base and capital. As the roof of the nave is wanting, these pillars support nothing but a frieze of wood, which occupies the place of the architrave and of the whole entablature. The windows are large, and were formerly adorned with Mosaic paintings, and passages from the Bible in Greek and Latin characters, the traces of which are still visible.
The top of the church affords a fine prospect into the surrounding country, extending to Tekoa on the south and En-gedi on the east. In the latter place is the grotto where David, a native of Beth. lehem, cut off the skirt of Saul's garment. There is also the convent of Elias, in which is said to be a large stone still retaining an impression of his body. Between this point and Jerusalem, Mr Buckingham was struck with the appearance of several small detached towers of a square form built in the midst of vine-lands. These, he learned, were for the accommodation of watchmen appointed to guard the produce from thieves and wild beasts; hence, ex. plaining a passage which occurs in the gospel accord.
ing to St Mark,-“ A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the wine-fat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen.”*
It is painful to find that the same animosity, which attends the claims of the several sects of Christians at Jerusalem for the possession of the Holy Sepulchre, disgraces their contentions at Bethlehem for the Grotto of the Nativity. A few years ago, during the celebration of the Christmas festival, at which Mr Bankes was present, a battle took place, in which some of the combatants were wounded and others severely beaten; and, in the preceding season, the privilege of saying mass at the altar on that particular day had been fought for, at the door of the sanctuary itself, with drawn swords.
Dr Clarke, whose scepticism in regard to the holy places in the capital has been already mentioned, grants, that the tradition respecting the Cave of the Nativity is so well authenticated as hardly to admit of dispute, Having been always held in veneration, the Oratory established there by the first Christians attracted the notice and indignation of the heathens so early as the time of Adrian, who, as is elsewhere stated, ordered it to be demolished, and the place to be set apart for the rites of Adonis. This happened in the second century, and at a period in the emperor's life when the Grotto of the Nativity was as well known in Bethlehem as the circumstance to which it owed its celebrity. In the fourth age, accordingly, we find this fact appealed to by St Jerome, as an indisputable testimony by which
the cave itself had been identified. Upon this subject there does not seem to be the slightest ground for scepticism ; and the evidence afforded by such a writer will be deemed sufficient for believing that the monastery erected over the spot, and where he himself resided, does at this day point out the place of our Saviour's birth.*
Nothing, observes a late traveller, can be more pleasing or better calculated to excite sentiments of devotion than this subterranean church. It is adorned with pictures of the Italian and Spanish schools, representing the mysteries peculiar to the place,—the Virgin and Child after Raphael; the Annunciation; the Adoration of the Wise Men ; the Coming of the Shepherds; and all those miracles of mingled grandeur and innocence. The usual ornaments of the manger are of blue satin, embroidered with silver. Incense is continually smoking before the cradle of the Saviour. “ I have heard an organ, touched by no ordinary hand, playing during mass the sweetest and most tender tunes of the best Italian composers. These concerts charm the Christian Arab, who, leaving his camels to feed, repairs, like the shepherds of old, to Bethlehem to adore the King of kings in his manger. I have seen this in. habitant of the desert communicate at the altar of the Magi, with a fervour, a piety, a devotion, unknown among the Christians of the West.” No place in the world, says Father Neret, excites more profound devotion. The continual arrival of caravans
* Bethleem nunc nostram, et augustissimum urbis locum de quo Psalmista canit (Ps. Ixxxiv. 12.) Veritas de terra orta est, lucus inumbrabat Thamus, id est, Adonidis; et in specu ubi quondam Christus parvulus vagiit, Veneris Amasius plangebatur.—Epis. ad Paul.
from all the nations of Christendom,—the public prayers,—the prostrations,—nay, even the richness of the presents sent thither by the Christian princes, altogether produce feelings in the soul which it is much easier to conceive than to describe.*
It may be added, that the effect of all this is heightened by an extraordinary contrast; for, on quit. ting the grotto where you have met with the riches, the arts, the religion of civilized nations, you find yourself in a profound solitude, amid wretched Arab huts, among half-naked savages and faithless Mussulmans. This place is nevertheless the same where 80 many miracles were displayed; but this sacred land dares no more express its joy, and locks within its bosom the recollections of its glory,
Bethlehem has usually shared the vicissitudes of Jerusalem, being, both from its situation and the nature of the relics which it contains, exposed to the rage or cupidity of barbarian conquerors. It fell under the power of the Saracens when
* Pour ce qui est des ornemens de ce saint Temple, il n'en reste que fort peu en comparaison de ce qui y estoit. Car tous les murs estoient autrefois magnifiquement reuestus et couuertes de belles tables de marbre gris ondé, comme on en voit encore endroits que les Infidelles n'ont pû avoir. Comme ils ont emporté tout le reste pour en orner leurs Mosquées, et est une chose pitoyable de voir que tous les murs sont remplis de gros clous et crampons de fer qui les tenoient attachez. Au-dessus des colomnes de la nef est un mur tout couvert, et peint de la plus belle et fine Mosaïque qu'il est possible de voir, n'estant composée que de petites pierres fines et transparentes comme cristal de toutes les couleurs, qui representent grandes figures et histoires de la Vie, Miracles, Mort, et Passion de Nostre Seigneur, si naïument faites des couleurs si vives et éclatantes, et le fonds d'un or si luysant, qu'il semble qu'elles sont faites depuis peu, encore qu'il y ait plus de treize cens ans. Entre ces figures sont treize fenestres de chacun costé, qui rendent un grand jour par toute l'Eglise : derrière la troisième et quatrième colomne de la main droite est un très-beau et riche base de marbre blanc de forme ronde à six pans de quelques trois pieds de diametre, qui sert de fonds baptismaux.-Doubdan, p. 133.