Joseph In Vain Seeks For A Lodging. They Go To The Grotto Of The Crib
THEY then entered into Bethlehem, in which the houses were separated from each other by considerable spaces. They entered across some rubbish and by a gate which was fallen into decay. Mary remained quietly with the ass at the end of the street, and Joseph searched in vain for a lodging in the first houses, for there were many strangers in Bethlehem and many people were running here and there. He returned to Mary and told her that he could find nowhere to lodge there, and that they must go on further into the city. He led the ass by the bridle whilst the Blessed Virgin walked by his side. When they were come to the end of another street Mary remained again near the ass while Joseph went from house to house without being able to find one where they would receive him. He soon returned very much troubled. This was repeated several times, and sometimes the Blessed Virgin had a long time to wait : everywhere the place was taken up, everywhere he was repulsed, and he ended by telling Mary that they must go to another part of Bethlehem, where they would be sure to find what they wanted. They then retraced their steps in the direction contrary to that which they had taken in coming when they turned to the south. They then passed through a street which seemed rather a country road as the houses were isolated and on slight elevations.
Arrived at the other side of Bethlehem, where the houses were still more scattered, they found a large empty space situated in a hollow ; it was like a deserted field in the city. There was there a kind of shed, and a short distance from it a large tree, like a lime tree, with a smooth trunk, whose branches extended widely and formed a kind of roof over it. Joseph led the Blessed Virgin to this tree ; he arranged a convenient seat for her with bundles at the foot of the trunk, in order that she might rest whilst he sought again for a lodging in the neighboring houses. The ass stood still with its head turned towards the tree. Mary remained at first standing, leaning against the trunk of the tree. Her robe of white wool, had no belt, and fell about her in folds ; her head was covered with a white veil. Many persons passed by and looked at her, not knowing that their Savior was so near them. How patient, humble, and resigned she was. She had to wait a long time, and at last she sat down upon the rugs, her hands joined on her breast, and with her head bowed down. Joseph returned to her in great trouble :
He had not found a lodging. The friends of whom he had spoken to the Blessed Virgin would scarcely notice him. He shed tears, and Mary consoled him. He went again from house to house ; but as, in order the more to induce them to consent, he had spoken of the near approach of his wife’s confinement, this drew upon him a more distinct refusal. The place was solitary ; but in the end some people passing by looked from a distance with curiosity, as is usual if any one is seen remaining a long time in the same place towards the close of the day. I believe that some of them spoke to Mary and asked her who she was. At last Joseph returned ; he was so much troubled that he hardly dare come near her. He told her it was of no use, but that he knew further on in the city a spot where the shepherds often stayed when they came to Bethlehem with their flocks, and that they would find there at least a shelter. He knew the place from his youth : when his brothers tormented him he had often retired there to escape from their persecutions. He said if the shepherds came there he could easily arrange with them, but that they were rarely here at this season of the year. He added, when they were quietly settled he would make further inquiries. They then went away by the eastern side of Bethlehem, following a deserted path which turned to the left. It was a road like one which is found in walking by the side of the dilapidated walls, ditches, and fortifications of a small city in ruins. The road at first rose a little, it then descended the slope of a small hill, and led them a few minutes to the east of Bethlehem, before the place they were seeking, near a hill or an old rampart, in front of which stood some trees. They were green trees (firs or cedars), and other trees which had little leaves like box leaves.
I have learned many things which took place in ancient times in the Grotto of the Crib. I remember only that Seth, the child of promise, was there conceived and brought into the world by Eve, after a penitence
of seven years.
It was there that the angel told her that God had given her this offspring in the place of Abel. Seth was concealed and nourished in this grotto and in that of Maraha, for his brothers sought his life as the children of Jacob did that of Joseph. At a more recent epoch, when men lived in these grottos, I have often seen them make excavations in the stone so that they and their children could sleep there comfortably on the skins of beasts or on beds of grass. The excavation made in the rock under the crib probably served for the bed of Seth, or the subsequent occupiers of the grotto. Of this, however, I am not sure.