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Continuation Of The Journey To Bethlehem


MONDAY, the 19th of November. To day I saw them follow a more regular road. The Blessed Virgin traveled on foot from time to time. They found more frequently convenient resting-places where they refreshed themselves. They had with them little loaves and a beverage both refreshing and strengthening, in little pitchers of a very elegant shape which had two handles and shone like bronze. It was balm, which they mixed with water. They gathered also berries and fruits which still hung upon the trees and bushes in certain places exposed to the sun. Mary s seat on the ass had a sort of -ledge on the right and left on which to rest the feet, so that they did not hang down as those of country people who go on horseback in our country. Her movements were singularly proper and becoming. She sat alternately on the right and left. The first thing that St. Joseph did when they halted or entered any place was to find some place where the Blessed Virgin could conveniently sit down and rest. He often washed his feet, as did Mary. In general, they frequently washed themselves.

It was already night when they arrived at an isolated house, but the master of the house would not open it ; and when St. Joseph represented the state of Mary, who was not in a condition to go any further, adding that he did not expect to be lodged for nothing, this hard-hearted and rude man replied that his house was not an inn, and desired them to leave him quiet and give over knocking, and things of that sort. This boorish man did not even open his door, but gave his rude reply behind the closed door. They then continued their way and after some time they entered into a shed near which they found that the little ass had stopped. Joseph procured a light and prepared a couch for the Blessed Virgin who helped him. He brought the ass in also, for which he prepared a litter and forage. They prayed, took a little food, and slept some hours. From the last inn to here they had traveled about six miles of the way. They were now about twenty-six leagues from Nazareth and ten from Jerusalem. So far they had not followed the highway, but had crossed many ways of communication which went from the Jordan to Samaria and joined the principal routes which led from Syria into Egypt. The cross roads which they had followed were very narrow on the mountains ; they were sometimes so strait that it required every care to proceed without stumbling : but the asses walked with a very sure step. Their present resting-place was in a level country.

Tuesday, the 20th of November. They left this place before daylight. The way again became slightly hilly. I believe they came near the road which led from Gabara to Jerusalem and which formed at this spot the boundary between Samaria and Judea. They were again rudely driven away from a house when they were some leagues to the north-east of Bethania. It happened that Mary, being very tired, wished to take something and to rest ; then Joseph turned off from the road to go about half a league from there to a spot in which there was a beautiful fig tree which was generally covered with fruit. This tree was surrounded with seats to rest upon, and Joseph knew of it from one of his previous journeys. But when they arrived there they did not find a single fruit, which troubled them very much. I have a confused recollection that later on Jesus met with this tree, which was covered with leaves, but bore no fruit. I believe that the Lord cursed this tree on a journey which He made after escaping from Jerusalem, and that it entirely withered away.*

* The Sister was so unwell when she related this that she could not clearly point out in what place this fig tree grew, which, however, is not the fig tree mentioned by the Evangelist.

They then came to a house where the master began by treating in a brutal manner St. Joseph, who humbly asked hospitality. He looked at the Blessed Virgin by the light of his lantern, and rallied St. Joseph for bringing his young wife with him. But the mistress of the house came forward : she pitied the Blessed Virgin, and in a friendly manner offered them a room in a building adjoining the house, and even brought them some small cakes. The husband repented of his brutality, and showed himself very obliging to the Holy Family.

They subsequently went to a third house, inhabited by a young family. They received them, but without much courtesy ; they scarcely took notice of them. These people were not among the shepherds of simple manners, but like rich country people of the place, altogether taken up with their affairs, business, etc. Jesus visited one of these houses after His baptism, the 20th of October. They had made an oratory of the room where His parents had passed the night. I cannot well say whether it was the house where the master had rallied St. Joseph. I only confusedly remember that they had made this arrangement after the miracles which marked the birth of the Savior.

Joseph made frequent halts towards the end of their journey, for the Blessed Virgin became more and more fatigued. They followed the road which was shown them by the young ass, and made a circuitous route of a day and a half to the east of Jerusalem. The father of Joseph had owned pastures in this country, and he knew it well. If they had directly crossed the desert, which is to the south, behind Bethany, they could have reached Bethlehem in six hours ; but the road was mountainous and very inconvenient at this season. They followed, then, the young ass through the length of the valleys, and went a little towards the Jordan.

Wednesday, the 21st of November. Today I saw the holy travelers enter in the daytime into a large house of shepherds. This must be about three leagues from the place where John baptized in the Jordan and about seven leagues from Bethlehem. This is the house where thirty years after Jesus passed the night, the 11th of October, the eve of the day on which for the first time after His baptism He passed before John the Baptist. Near this house was a separate barn, where they kept their tools and such things as the shepherds made use of. In the court was a fountain surrounded with baths which received the water of this fountain through pipes. The master of this house must have had a large property : there was there an extensive cultivation of land. I saw a number of servants come and go, who there took their meals.

The master of the house received the travelers in a very friendly manner, and showed himself very obliging. He took them into a comfortable room and took care of the ass. A servant washed the feet of St. Joseph at the fountain and gave him other clothes whilst he cleaned his own, which were covered with dust. A female servant rendered the same assistance to the Blessed Virgin. They took their repasts in this house and slept here. The mistress of the house was a very frivolous character, and she remained shut up in her room. She looked at the travelers without being seen ; and as she was young and vain, the beauty of the Blessed Virgin displeased her. She feared also that Mary would speak to her, desire to stay in her house and be confined there ; so she had the want of politeness not to show herself, and took measures that the travelers should depart on the following day. This was the woman whom, thirty years after, Jesus found in this house blind and bent double, and whom He cured, after having given her some advice on her want of hospitality and her vanity. There were also some children in the house. The Holy Family passed the night there.

Thursday, the 22nd of November. Today towards noon I saw the Holy Family quit the place where they had stayed the previous night. Some of the people of the house went with them a part of the way. After a short journey of about two leagues they arrived towards the evening at a place which crossed a highway bounded on each side by a long row of houses with courts or gardens. Joseph had relatives living here. It seemed to me that they were the children of the second marriage of his stepfather or his stepmother. These houses had a hand some appearance. They passed, however, this place from one end to the other ; then, about half a league from there, they turned to the right in the direction of Jerusalem, and arrived at a large inn, in the court of which was a fountain with many conduits. There were many people assembled together celebrating a funeral.

The interior of the house, in the centre of which was a fireplace with a tunnel for the smoke, had been transformed into a large apartment by the taking away of the movable partitions which ordinarily constituted several rooms ; behind the fireplace were suspended some black hangings and in the front stood something which resembled a bier covered with black. There were several men praying there ; they wore long black robes and over these shorter white ones. Some of them had a kind of black maniple with fringe fastened to the arm. Some women were in another room completely covered by their vestments. They sat on some low chests and were weeping. The master of the house, altogether engaged in the funeral ceremonies, only made signs for the travelers to enter : but the servants received them very well and took care of them ; they prepared for them a separate lodging with suspended mats which much resembled a tent. Later on I saw the hosts visit the Holy Family and talk with them in a friendly way. They had no longer on their white vestments. Joseph and Mary, after having taken a little food, prayed together and took their rest.

Friday, the 23rd of November. Today towards .noon Joseph and Mary set forward on their journey to Bethlehem, from which they were about three leagues distant. The mistress of the house pressed them to stay, as it appeared to her that Mary might be delivered at any moment. Mary replied, after having lowered her veil, that she had still thirty- six hours to wait. I am not sure that she did not say thirty-eight. This woman would have taken care of them without any charge ; not, however, in her own house, but in another building. I saw when they were leaving that Joseph spoke to the host about his asses : he praised them very much, and said he had taken the young ass with him in order that he might pledge it in case of necessity. As his host spoke of the difficulty of getting lodgings in Bethlehem, Joseph told him he had friends there and was sure of being well received. It always gave me pain to hear him speak with confidence of the good reception that awaited him : he spoke of it again to Mary on the journey. It is clear that even holy persons may be deceived.







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