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The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

7. SEEKING LODGING IN BETHLEHEM.




After this they went on into Bethlehem, the buildings of which were at some distance from each other. The entrance was through ruined walls as if the gate had been destroyed. Mary remained with the donkey at the very entrance of the street while Joseph sought a lodging in the nearest houses--in vain, for Bethlehem was full of strangers, all running from place to place. Joseph returned to Mary, saying that as no shelter was to be found there, they would go on farther into the town. He led the donkey on by the bridle, and the Blessed Virgin walked beside him. When they came to the beginning of another street, Mary again stopped by the donkey, and Joseph again went from house to house in vain seeking a lodging, and again came sadly back. This happened several times, and the Blessed Virgin often had long to wait. Everywhere the houses were filled with people, everywhere he was turned away, so he said to Mary that they would go to another part of Bethlehem where they would surely find lodging. They went a little way back in the direction in which they had come and then turned southwards. They went hesitatingly through the street, which was more like a country road, for the houses were built on slopes. Here, too, their search was fruitless. On the other side of Bethlehem, where the houses lie farther apart, they came to a lower-lying open space, like a field, where it was more solitary. There was a sort of shed here and, not far from it, a great spreading tree, with shady branches like a big lime-tree. The trunk was smooth and the spreading branches made a kind of roof. Joseph led the Blessed Virgin to this tree, and made her a comfortable seat against its trunk with their bundles, so that she might rest while he sought for shelter in the houses near. The donkey stood with its head turned towards the tree. At first Mary stood upright, leaning against the tree. Her ample white woolen dress had no girdle and hung round her in folds: her head was covered with a white veil. Many people passed by and looked at her, not knowing that the Redeemer was so near to them. She was so patient, so humble, so full of hopeful expectation. Ah, she had to wait a long, long time; she sat down at last on the rug, crossing her feet under her. She sat with her head bent and her hands crossed below her breast.

Joseph came back to her in great distress; he had found no shelter. His friends, of whom he had spoken to the Blessed Virgin, would hardly recognize him. He was in tears and Mary comforted him. He went once more from one house to another; but as he gave the approaching confinement of his wife as his chief reason for his request, he met with even more decided refusals. Although the place was solitary, the passersby at last began to stand still and look curiously at the Blessed Virgin from a distance, as one may well do if one sees somebody waiting in the dusk for a long time. I think some of them even spoke to her, asking her who she was. At last Joseph came back. He was so upset that he came up hesitatingly. He said he had had no success, but he knew of one place outside the town, belonging to the shepherds, who often went there when coming with their flocks to the town. There they would, in any case, find a shelter. He said that he knew the place from childhood; when his brothers had tormented him, he had often escaped there to hide from them and to say his prayers. Even if the shepherds did come there, he would easily come to an understanding with them; but at this time of year they were seldom there. As soon as he had settled her there in peace and quiet, he would look round again for something else. They then went outside Bethlehem to the east of the town by a lonely footpath, going to the left. It was like a path along the ruined walls, ditches, and banks of some little town. At first, the path ascended slightly, and then, descended after crossing a hill. On the east of the town, a few minutes outside it, they came to a hill or high bank, in front of which was an open space made pleasant by several trees. There were pine-trees (cedar or terebinth) and other trees with small leaves like our box-trees. The place was such as one might find right at the end of the old ramparts of some little town.

[In order to avoid continually interrupting the narrative, we will here describe as fully as possible the surroundings of this hill and the interior of the Cave of the Nativity according to the repeated accounts given by Catherine Emmerich.]











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