Our day begins at the Mount of Olives with a breathtaking panoramic view over Jerusalem then we continue on to the Byzantine Cardo, an ancient main road which runs through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. We take a look at the Wailing Wall (Kotel) and then follow the sacred route Jesus took carrying his cross along the Way of Sorrows (Via Dolorosa). We stop as several of the Stations of the Cross and reach the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified and where his burial tomb is located. We take a stroll through the bazaars of the Christian and Moslem Quarters and then depart Jerusalem and make our way to Bethlehem.
In Bethlehem, our main focus is the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born. Our journey begins at the Mount of Olives overlooking the ancient Jewish cemetery where it is believed that the resurrection will begin when the Messiah comes (Zech 14:4). From this elevated location we can see across the Old City and down to Temple Mount where the Holy Jewish Temple once stood. We continue on towards the Zion Gate by driving passed the Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of All Nations and the Kidron Valley where we see the Jewish burial tombs of Absalom, King David's son; Jehoshaphat and the Hezir family (benei Hazir). At the Zion Gate we enter Jerusalem's Old City and make our way through the Armenian Quarter. Then we follow the 1500 year old excavated Byzantine Cardo which has been restored and is now home to modern shops which line a section of the ancient road.
We carry on through the Jewish Quarter and on to the Western Wall which was part of the outer walls of the Holy Jewish Temple that stood on Temple Mount almost 2,000 years ago.
We then walk where Jesus once walked the Way of Sorrows along the Via Dolorosa, as thousands of pilgrims do each year. We stop at several of the Stations of the Cross where Jesus stopped briefly as he carried his cross to Golgotha (Calvary). The final station on the Way of Sorrows is at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher marking the site where Christ was crucified and where his burial tomb is located. The Basilica was constructed during the Byzantine Era and underwent renovations and reconstruction over the years. Before we leave the Old City we meander through the typically Middle Eastern markets and then set off for Bethlehem, the city of Christ's birth. We arrive in the City of Bread, Bethlehem, which was home to Jesse, King David's father as well as being Christ's birthplace (Matthew 2:1). From Manger Square we enter the 4th century Church of the Nativity which is the oldest church in Israel still in use. Beneath the church is the Grotto of the Nativity where a star indicates the place where Jesus was born. Also in the Orthodox Church is an alter dedicated to the Three Wise Men. This is the place where the well-known story of Christmas night took place and a visit here is a moving experience for all Christians. The Church of the Nativity was neglected for centuries following the expulsion of the Crusaders and was also damaged by an earthquake and fire. However during the British Mandate and more recently under Israeli authority the church has been restored and repaired. On the way out of the church we see the Armenian Chapel of the Kings or Magi and we visit the Crusader Church. From the Church of St. Catherine we go down into a two room cave which connects with the Grotto of the Nativity. It was here that Saint Jerome spent 30 years translating the Hebrew Bible into the Latin version called The Vulgate. This is the perfect place for us to take a moment and sing some Christmas carols. In Luke 2:8-11 we read of an angel appearing to shepherds who were tending their sheep in a nearby field. We stop to see Shepherds Field, and the contemporary Church of the Angels designed by Antonio Berluzzi with panels retelling the story of Jesus' early life. On our way back towards Jerusalem we pass the Field of Ruth. Here Ruth, King David's great grandmother worked in the fields of Boaz. (Ruth 2:1).