In the middle of the day, we crossed into the West Bank to visit Bethlehem. Our bus driver was able to go into the area, but our guide was not, so we had a special guide. He is a Palestinian Christian.
After lunch we shopped for souvenirs made of olive wood and mother of pearl. Capitalism seems to be alive and well in Bethlehem.
Next we went to the Church of the Nativity, which is over a grotto or cave called the Holy Crypt, where it is believed that Jesus was born. David explained that in the time of Jesus' birth, homes were built on caves, and the caves were used to house animals. So Jesus was born in a cave. The church was built in 326, when Helena, the mother of Constantine, visited Bethlehem. In 614, the Persians invaded Palestine and captured Bethlehem but they did not destroy the church because they saw the three wise men depicted in Persian clothing in a mosaic. Our guide instructed us to refrain from laughing while we were in the Church.
We did not wait in line to see the part of the cave where a star has been placed on the spot believed to be the birthplace. Instead, we went into a different part of that cave and had a brief devotional. We also saw the tomb of St. Jerome, and the entrance to the tombs of the children who died when Herod ordered the killing of all the children aged two and under in the town and surrounding areas. We accessed that area from the Franciscan Church of St Catherine, the site of the Christmas Eve midnight mass.
We also stopped to see the area where the angels told the shepherds about the birth of Jesus.
As we crossed back across the border two armed soldiers came onto the bus. We were told not to take pictures of the checkpoint.