The Census and the Journey of the Holy Family

The actual date of Christ's Birth, as I always see it, is four weeks earlier than its celebration by the Church; it must have happened on St. Catherine's feast day. I always see the Annunciation as happening at the end of February. Already at the end of October, I saw it being announced in the Promised Land that an enrollment and taxing of the people was to be made by decree of the Emperor. After that I saw many people traveling up and down the country.


[Sunday, November 11 ^th, 1821:] For several days in succession I have seen the Blessed Virgin with her mother Anna, whose house is about an hour's journey away from Nazareth in the valley of Zabulon. The only woman remaining in the Blessed Virgin's house at Nazareth is Anna's maidservant, who looks after St. Joseph while Mary is with Anna. In fact, as long as Anna was alive they had no completely separate household, but always received their provisions from her. For several weeks already I have seen the Blessed Virgin busy with preparations for the Birth of Christ. She is sewing and knitting coverlets, cloths, and swaddling-bands. There is more than enough of everything.

Joachim is no longer alive; I see another man in the house. Anna has married again. Her second husband was employed in the Temple in connection with the beasts for sacrifice. I saw Anna sending him out food when he was with the flocks and herds; there were little loaves and fishes in a leathern wallet with several divisions in it. There is a rather tall little girl, about seven years old, in the house, who helps the Blessed Virgin and is taught by her. I think she might be a daughter of Mary Cleophas. Her name was Mary, too. Joseph is not at Nazareth, but must soon be coming, for he is on his way back from Jerusalem, where he has taken beasts for sacrifice.

I saw the Blessed Virgin in the house. She was far advanced in pregnancy, and sat in a room working with several other women. They were preparing coverlets and other things for Mary's confinement. Anna, who possessed pastures with flocks and herds, was well-to-do. She supplied the Blessed Virgin with plenty of everything that it was customary for a person in her rank of life to have. As she thought that Mary would be in her (Anna's) house for the birth of her child, and that all her relations would come to visit her there, she made all the preparations in a very lavish manner, with specially beautiful coverlets and rugs. I saw a coverlet of the kind that was in Elizabeth's house when John was born. It was embroidered with all kinds of texts and emblems, and had a kind of inner lining sewn into it in which the mother could wrap herself. She could fasten this lining round her with tapes and buttons, and be as it were in a little boat or like a baby in its swaddling-bands. She could recline comfortably in it, supported by cushions, when visited by friends, and the latter sat round her on the edge of the coverlet. All these things, as well as many swaddling-bands for the child itself, were prepared in Anna's house. I saw gold and silver threads being used. Not all the coverlets and other things were for Mary's own use; much was intended as presents for the poor, who were always remembered on happy occasions of this kind. I saw the Blessed Virgin and other women sitting on the floor round a big chest, knitting and working at a big coverlet lying in the chest between them. They used two little sticks on which colored threads were wound. Anna was very busy; she went here and there fetching and distributing wool and apportioning their tasks to her maidservants.


[November 12 ^th:] Joseph will arrive back in Nazareth today. He was in Jerusalem, taking beasts there for sacrifice. He left them at the little inn a quarter of an hour on the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The house was kept by a devout old childless couple. It was a suitable lodging for quiet people. Joseph went from there to Bethlehem, but did not visit his relations in that town. He only wanted to find out about an enrolment and taxation of the people which made it necessary for everyone to betake himself to his birthplace. He did not, however, have himself inscribed as yet, because he intended to journey with Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem after the days of her purification, and then to go to Bethlehem and settle there. I do not know for certain what were his reasons, but Joseph did not like being in Nazareth. [91] He therefore looked about him in Bethlehem and made inquiries about stones and timber, for he had it in his mind to build himself a house there. Having found out what he wanted, he returned to the inn near Jerusalem, took his sacrifice to the Temple, and hurried home again.

As he was crossing the field of Chimki, [92] six hours from Nazareth, at midnight last night, an angel appeared to him and warned him that he was to go to Bethlehem with Mary at once, for it was there that she was to bear her child. He also indicated everything that she was to take with her for her use, explaining that they were to be few and simple things, and in particular no embroidered coverlets. Also, besides the ass upon which Mary was to sit, he was to take with him a she-ass one year old that had not yet had a foal. He was to let her run free and was always to follow whatever path she took. This evening Anna went with the Blessed Virgin to Nazareth; no doubt they knew that Joseph was arriving. But they do not seem to know that Mary would journey to Bethlehem from Anna's house. They thought no doubt that Mary would bear her child in her own house in Nazareth, for I saw them taking there, packed in saddle-bags, many of the things they had prepared. I saw amongst them several shawls of blue material with hoods. I think they were meant for wrapping the child in. Joseph arrived at Nazareth in the evening.


[November 13 ^th:] Today I saw the Blessed Virgin and her mother Anna in the house in Nazareth, where Joseph revealed to them what had been told him the previous night. Thereupon they returned to Anna's house, and I saw them preparing to leave immediately. Anna was distressed. The Blessed Virgin must have known that she was to bear her child in Bethlehem, but had been silent out of humility. She knew it from the writings of the Prophets about the birth of the Messiah, all of which she treasured in her little cupboard at Nazareth. (She had been given them by her women-teachers in the Temple and had been instructed in them by these holy women. She used to read them very often and pray for their fulfillment. Her prayers were ever full of yearning for the coming of the Messiah; she ever extolled as blessed her who should bear the holy child, and hoped only to be allowed to serve her as her lowest maidservant. Never in her humility had she thought that she herself might be the chosen one.) Since she knew from those passages in the Prophets that the Savior was to be born in Bethlehem, she yielded joyfully to the Divine Will and began the journey, which was difficult for her at that time of the year, when it was often decidedly cold in the valleys between the ranges of hills.


This evening I saw Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, accompanied by Anna, Mary Cleophas, and some menservants, starting off from Anna's house. Mary sat on the comfortable side-saddle of a donkey, which also carried her baggage. Joseph led the donkey. A second donkey was taken for Anna to ride back on. Her husband was away in the fields when they started on their journey.


[November 14 ^th:] This morning I saw the holy travelers arrive at an open field called Ginim, [93] six hours' journey from Nazareth, where the angel had appeared to Joseph two days before. Anna had a pasture here and the menservants were told to fetch the young she-ass which Joseph was to take with him. She sometimes ran in front of them and sometimes beside them. Anna and Mary Cleophas here took a tender farewell of the travelers and returned home with the menservants.

(This field Ginim is several miles long and is shaped like a pear. Another field, called Gimmi, lies nearer Nazareth not far from a shepherds' village high up in the hills called Gimmi or Gimchi, where Jesus taught shepherds from the 7 ^th to the 9 ^th of September before His Baptism. These shepherds had lepers hidden among them. He also healed here the dropsical woman of the house where He stayed, and was mocked by the Pharisees. Farther away from this place and to the south-west of Nazareth, beyond the river Kishon, is a settlement of lepers, consisting of scattered huts round a lake formed by the river. Jesus healed here on September 30 ^th before His Baptism. The field Ginim, traversed today by the Holy Family, is separated from the other field Gimmi by a little river or river-bed. The names are so alike that I may easily have confused them.)

I saw the Holy Family going on their way and climbing Mount Gilboa. [94] They did not pass through any town; they followed the young she-ass, which always took lonely by-ways. I saw them stopping at a house in the hills belonging to Lazarus, not far from the town of Ginim and in the direction of Samaria. The steward, who knew them from other journeys, gave them a friendly welcome. Their family was on intimate terms with Lazarus. There are beautiful orchards and avenues here. The house stands high, so that one has a very wide view from the roof. Lazarus inherited it from his father; our Lord Jesus often stayed here during His ministry and taught in the surrounding country. The steward and his wife conversed in a very friendly way with the Blessed Virgin. They were surprised that she should have been willing to undertake such a long journey in her condition, when she might have had every comfort at home with her mother Anna.


[Thursday to Friday night, November 15 ^th-16 ^th:] I saw the Holy Family some hours' journey beyond this last place, going at night towards a mountain through a very cold valley. It looked as if there was hoar-frost on the ground. The Blessed Virgin was suffering from the cold and said to Joseph: We must rest, I can go no farther.' Hardly had she spoken when the she-ass that was running with them stood still under a terebinth tree, very big and old, near which was a spring of water. They stopped under this tree; Joseph spread coverings for the Blessed Virgin to sit on, after helping her to alight from the donkey, and she sat down under the tree. Joseph hung a lighted lantern, which he carried with him, on the lower branches of the tree. (I often saw travelers in that country do this at night.) The Blessed Virgin prayed earnestly to God that He would not suffer her to take harm from the cold. At once she was filled with so great a warmth that she held out her hands to St. Joseph to warm his. They refreshed themselves here with fruit and little loaves of bread which they had with them, and drank water from the spring near by, mixing it with balsam which Joseph had brought with him in a little jug. Joseph spoke very comfortingly to the Blessed Virgin: he is so good, and so sorry that the journey is so difficult. When the Blessed Virgin complained of the cold, he spoke to her about the good lodging which he hoped to find for her in Bethlehem. He said he knew of a house with very good people where they would find a comfortable lodging at very little cost. It was, he said, better to pay something than to be taken in for nothing. He spoke highly of Bethlehem in general, and comforted the Blessed Virgin in every possible way. (This upset me, because I knew well that things would turn out quite differently. Even this holy man, you see, indulged in human hopes.)

So far they have crossed two little streams in the course of their journey: one of these they crossed on a high foot-way, while the two donkeys waded through the water. It was strange to see how the young she-ass, who was free to go where she would, kept running round the travelers. Where the path narrowed, as for instance between hills, and so could not be mistaken, she ran sometimes before and sometimes behind them, but where there was a parting of the ways she always appeared again and took the right path. Where they were to rest, she stood still, as here by the terebinth tree. I do not remember whether they spent the night under the tree, or whether they went on to another shelter.

This terebinth was a very old and sacred tree, of the grove of Moreh near Shechem. When Abraham was journeying into the land of Canaan, he had here a vision of God, who promised him this land for his descendants. ( Gen.15.) He then built an altar under the terebinth. Before Jacob went to Bethel, to sacrifice to the Lord, he buried under this terebinth all the strange gods of Laban and the jewels which his family carried with him. ( Gen.35.4.) Under this tree Joshua built the tabernacle for the Ark of the Covenant and made the people assembled there renounce their idols. ( Joshua 24.26.) It was here that Abimelech, the son of Gideon, was hailed as king of the Shechemites. ( Judges 9.6.)


[November 16 ^th:] I saw the Holy Family spending the whole day here and praying together. I saw the mistress of the house and her three children with the Blessed Virgin, and the farmer's wife of the day before also came with her two children and paid the Blessed Virgin a visit. There was real intimacy among them as they sat together, and the two women were greatly impressed by Mary's wisdom and modest behavior. They listened with great attention to the Blessed Virgin, who talked much with the children and taught them. The children had little parchment rolls from which Mary made them read to her. She spoke to them in such a lovely way about what they read that they could not take their eyes off her. It was sweet to see and sweeter still to hear. In the afternoon I saw St. Joseph walking about with the innkeeper in the country round, looking at the gardens and fields, and talking of holy things, as I saw was always the Sabbath practice of devout people in that land. They remained here for the following night as well.


[Sunday, November 18 ^th:] The good people of this inn have become extremely fond of the Blessed Virgin, and have an intense sympathy with her and with her condition. They begged her in the most friendly way to stay and await her confinement here. They even showed her a comfortable room which they would make ready for her. The woman offered her, with all her heart, to care for her and look after her in every way. However, they started again on their journey early in the morning, and went down a valley on the south-eastern side of the mountains. They went farther away from Samaria, towards which the first part of their journey seemed to be directed. As they descended the hill, they could see the temple on Mount Garizim, which is visible from a great distance. There are many figures of lions or other animals on the roof which gleam white in the sunshine. I saw them traveling about six hours today, and towards evening I saw them arrive at a large shepherd's house in a field, where they were well received. This was about an hour's journey to the south-east of Shechem.

The man of the house was a steward of the orchards and fields belonging to the neighboring town. The house was not right down in the plain, but on a slope. All the country here was better and more fertile than during the first part of their journey, for this was the sunny side, and in the Promised Land at this time of year that makes a considerable difference. Between here and Bethlehem lay many other shepherds' dwellings, scattered about in the intersecting valleys. The people here belonged to those shepherds whose daughters later married some of the followers of the three holy kings who remained behind when their masters left. From one of these marriages came a boy who was healed by Our Lord in this house at the Blessed Virgin's request in the second year of His ministry, on July 31 ^st (the 7 ^th day of the month Ab) after He had talked with the Samaritan woman. Jesus took him with two other youths as companions on His journey to Arabia, after the raising of Lazarus, and afterwards he became a disciple. Jesus often stayed here and taught. There were children in the house, and Joseph blessed them before he went away.

[November 19 ^th:] Today I saw them traveling in more level country. The Blessed Virgin sometimes goes on foot. They often stop to rest and refresh themselves. They have little loaves with them, and a drink which is both cooling and strengthening. This is contained in delicately made little jugs shining like bronze, with two ears. It is balsam, which they mix with water. They sometimes pick berries and fruits which may still be found hanging in sunny places on the trees and bushes. Mary's saddle on the donkey has a foot-rest hanging on each side, so that her feet do not hang down as is usual in our country. She sits sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left of the pack-donkey, which moves very quietly and evenly. Joseph's first action, whenever they rest by the way or stop for the night, is to make ready a comfortable place for the Blessed Virgin to sit and rest. He often washes his feet, and Mary does the same. They have the habit of washing often.

It was already dark when they came to a house standing by itself. Joseph knocked at the door and asked for lodging. The master of the house refused, however, to open, and when Joseph explained Mary's condition and said that she could go no farther, adding that he was not asking for lodging without payment, the hard-hearted man retorted angrily that his house was not an inn, and that he wanted to be left alone and not disturbed by knocking, which he could not bear. He told Joseph to go on his way, and was so relentless that he did not even open the door, but shouted his harsh words from behind it. So they went on a little way and turned into a shed where they found the she-ass standing. Joseph kindled a light and prepared a bed for the Blessed Virgin, with her help. He brought the pack-donkey in, too, and found some straw and fodder for him. They prayed, took some refreshment, and slept for a few hours. It must be about six hours' journey from the last inn to this place. They must be some twenty-six hours from Nazareth and ten from Jerusalem. Until now they have not taken any high-roads, but have cut across several trade-roads leading from the Jordan to Samaria and running into the highways which go from Syria to Egypt. The by-roads which they took are very small, and in the mountains sometimes so narrow that a man must pick his way very carefully so as not to stumble. The donkeys, however, are very sure-footed. Their shelter here was on level ground.


[November 20 ^th:] The day had not yet broken when they left this place. Their way led uphill again. I think they were near the road leading from Gabara [95] to Jerusalem and that the frontier between Samaria and Judea was here. They were again roughly refused admission at another house. When they were several hours north-east of Bethany, it happened that Mary was greatly in need of rest and refreshment; so Joseph turned off the road for about half an hour to a place where he knew there was a beautiful fig tree, which as a rule was full of fruit. This tree had benches round it for people to rest on. Joseph knew it from a former journey. When, however, they got there, they found no fruit at all on the tree, which distressed them very much. I have a dim recollection that afterwards Jesus had something to do with this tree. It never bore fruit any more, but was green, and I think that the Lord cursed it as He passed by when escaping from Jerusalem and that it withered away. [96] After this they came to a house where the man was at first very harsh to Joseph when he humbly asked him for lodging. He shone his light onto the Blessed Virgin's face and scoffed at Joseph for taking so young a woman about with him; he was, he supposed, jealous. The woman of the house then came up and took pity on the Blessed Virgin, showing her a room in a side-building in a very friendly way, and bringing little loaves of bread for them to eat. The man, too, was sorry for his rudeness, and became very friendly towards the holy travelers. After this they came to a third house. It was inhabited by young people, but I saw an old man with a stick walking about in it. Their reception here was tolerably good but not particularly friendly. Nobody took much trouble about them. The people here were not real simple shepherds; they were like rich peasants with us who are more or less entangled in the world and in trade and so on. Jesus visited one of these houses on October 20 ^th (the first day of the month Tisri) after His Baptism, and found the resting-place of His parents decorated and used as a praying-place. I am not sure whether it was the one where the man had at first jeered at Joseph. I have a dim remembrance that the people there had arranged it like this immediately after the wonders accompanying His Birth. Towards the end of their road Joseph made many halts, for the journey grew more and more difficult for the Blessed Virgin. They followed the way taken by the she-ass, and made a day and a half's detour eastwards of Jerusalem. Joseph's father had owned pastureland round here, so he knew the country very well. If they had traveled due south, across the desert behind Bethany, they would probably have reached Bethlehem in six hours, but that way was hilly and at that time of year very difficult; so the she-ass led them through valleys which brought them nearer to the Jordan.


[November 21 ^st:] Today I saw the holy travelers entering a big shepherd's house while it was still full day. This must be about three hours from John's baptizing place on the Jordan and about seven hours from Bethlehem. It is the same house in which thirty years later Jesus spent the night of October 11 ^th before the morning on which he passed near the Baptist for the first time after His Baptism. Near the house, and apart from it, was a shed in which were kept the agricultural implements and the shepherd's things. In the court was a fountain with baths round it, supplied with water from the fountain by pipes. The master of the house must have owned much land; it was a large establishment. I saw many menservants coming and going and having their meals there. The master of the house received the travelers in a very friendly way and was very ready to help. They were shown a comfortable room, and their pack-donkey was well looked after. A manservant was told to wash Joseph's feet at the fountain and to give him other clothes while his own were cleaned from dust and smoothed out. A maid did the same for the Blessed Virgin. They ate and slept here. The mistress of the house was rather perverse in character. She lived in a separate room and kept herself apart. She had surreptitiously examined the travelers, and as she was young and vain she was vexed by the beauty of the Blessed Virgin: she was also afraid that Mary might appeal to her to let her stay and be confined there, so she kept away in a hostile spirit and insisted that they should leave the next day. (This is the same woman whom Jesus found there in this house, blind and crippled, thirty years later on October 11 ^th, after His Baptism. After reproaching her for her inhospitality and vanity, He healed her.) There were also children in the house. The Holy Family spent the night here.


[November 22 ^nd:] I saw the Holy Family leaving their place of shelter about midday. Some of the inmates of the house accompanied them for part of their way. After a short journey of about two hours westward they came to a place where scattered houses, with gardens and forecourts, stand in a long row on either side of a main road. Some relations of Joseph's lived here. They were, as far as I remember, sons by a second marriage of a stepfather or stepmother. I saw the house; it had a good situation and was quite large. They went, however, right through this place, and then turned right for half an hour, in the direction of Jerusalem, until they reached a large inn, in the court of which there was a big fountain with many pipes. A large company was assembled here, attending a funeral. The interior of the house, in the center of which was the fireplace and its chimney, had been made into one large ball by the removal of the low wooden screens which at other times divided it into separate rooms. Black curtains hung behind the hearth, in front of which stood a veiled black object like a coffin. A large assembly of men were praying round it. They wore long black garments with short white ones over them, and some had black fringed maniples hanging on one arm. In another room women completely veiled were sitting on the floor in low boxes and mourning.

The owners of the inn themselves, who were busy with the funeral, welcomed the travelers only from a distance. The servants of the house, however, gave them a very friendly reception and showed them every attention. A separate lodging was prepared for them by letting down mats which had been rolled up to the ceiling, so that they were in a kind of tent. There were many beds in this house rolled up against the wall, and mats could be let down to make many separate cells. Afterwards I saw the people of the house visiting the Holy Family and conversing with them in a friendly manner. They no longer wore the white garments over their black' ones. After Joseph and Mary had refreshed themselves and taken a little food, they prayed together and retired to rest.


[November 23 ^rd:] Joseph and Mary left here for Bethlehem about midday. They still had some three hours' journey before them. The mistress of the house urged them to stay where they were, for, she said, it seemed to her that Mary might be delivered at any moment. Mary, however, dropping her veil, said that she had still thirty-six hours before her. (I am not sure that she did not say thirty-eight.) The woman was very anxious to keep her, not in the house itself, but in another building. As they left, I saw Joseph talking to the innkeeper about his donkeys. He spoke very highly of them, and said he had brought the she-ass with him in order to pawn her in case of necessity.

When the people of the house spoke of the difficulty of finding lodging in Bethlehem, Joseph said he had friends there and would certainly be well received. (It makes me always so sorry when he talks so certainly of being well received. He talked to Mary in that way, too, as they went along. One sees by this that even such holy people can be mistaken.)


The journey from the last inn to Bethlehem must have taken about three hours. They made a circuit round the north side of Bethlehem and approached the town from the west. They made a halt under a tree some little way off the road. Mary alighted from the donkey and arranged her clothing, after which Joseph went with her to a large building a few minutes outside Bethlehem, surrounded by courtyards and other small buildings. There were trees in front of it, and round about it were crowds encamped in tents. This was the old ancestral house of David and once Joseph's family home. Relations or acquaintances of Joseph's still lived there, but they treated him as a stranger and as a person whom they did not want to know. This house was now being used for the receipt of the money from the Roman taxation. Joseph, leading the donkey by the bridle, went at once to this house with the Blessed Virgin, because every new arrival had to report himself here and was given a paper, without which he could not be admitted into Bethlehem.

[After several pauses Catherine Emmerich spoke as follows in her visionary state:] The young she-ass that runs free has not gone with them here, she has run off round the outside of the town towards the south, where it is flatter and there is a sort of open valley. Joseph has gone into the house. Mary is with some women in a little house beside the courtyard: they are very friendly to her and are giving her some food. These women are cooking for the soldiers. They are Roman soldiers, with strips of leather hanging round their loins. The weather here is very pleasant and not at all cold. The hill between Jerusalem and Bethany is in full sunshine; one has a fine view of it from here. Joseph is in a big room with an uneven floor. They are asking him who he is and are referring to long scrolls of which a great many are hanging on the walls. They unroll them and read aloud to him his ancestry and also Mary's: he did not seem to know that she also descended so directly from David through Joachim; he himself descended from an earlier offspring of David's. The man asks him: Where is your wife?' Owing to many disorders the people of the country have not been properly registered for seven years. [97] I see the figures V and II, making seven [she forms this figure with her fingers]. This taxation has been going on for several months. Some payments were made here and there during those seven years, but nothing regular. The people were made to pay twice over. Some of them stayed here for as long as three months. Joseph came rather late to the tax office, but was treated in quite a friendly way. He has not paid anything yet, but was asked about his means, and stated that he had no land and lived by his handicraft and from the assistance given him by his wife's mother.

There are a great number of scribes and high officials in many of the rooms. On the upper floors are Romans and many soldiers. There are also present Pharisees and Sadducees, priests, elders and every kind of official and scribe, both Jewish and Roman. There is no such commission in Jerusalem, but they are established in several other places, such as Magdala on the sea of Galilee, where the inhabitants of Galilee are taxed, and also those of Sidon, I think because of their commercial dealings. Only the people who are not resident anywhere and have no land on which they can be taxed have to present themselves at their birthplace. From now on the tax has to be paid in three months in three installments. Each of these three installments goes to a different object. The first is shared by the Emperor Augustus, Herod, and another king who lives near Egypt. He has rendered some service in war and has a right to a district up in the north, so they have to apportion something to him. The second installment has to do with the building of the Temple; it seems as if it were used to pay off a debt. The third installment is intended for widows and poor people, who have had nothing for a long time, but of all this little reaches the right people, just as happens today. The money is meant for nothing but good causes, and yet remains in the hands of the great. All this business of writing made a terrible fuss and commotion.

Joseph was now allowed to go, and when he got downstairs the Blessed Virgin was called before the scribes in a passage, but they did not read anything aloud to her. They told Joseph that it was unnecessary for him to have brought his wife with him, and seemed to be bantering him on account of her youth. Joseph was ashamed of this being said before Mary; he was afraid she might think that he was not respected in his birthplace.


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.]


[From the following description, we have constructed a floor plan of the room of the Cave of the Nativity. Please refer to Figure 12.]

Among many other different grottoes or cave-dwellings there was, at the south end of this hill, round which the road wound its way to the Shepherd's Valley, the cave in which Joseph sought shelter for the Blessed Virgin. From the west the entrance [Figure 12, part 1] led eastwards into the hill through a narrow passage into a larger chamber, half semicircular and half triangular. The walls of the cave were of the natural rock, and only on the south side, which was encircled by the road to the shepherd's valley, was it completed by a little rough masonry. On this south side was another entrance [Figure 12, part 5] into the cave, but this was generally blocked up, and Joseph had to clear it before he could use it. If you came out of this entrance and turned to the left, you came upon a wider entrance into a lower vault [Figure 12, part 11], narrow and inconvenient, which stretched under the Cave of the Nativity. From the ordinary entrance to the cave, which faced westwards, one could see nothing but a few roofs and towers of Bethlehem. If you turned to the right upon exiting this entrance, you came to the entrance of a lower cave [Figure 12, part 12], which was dark and was at one time the hiding-place of the Blessed Virgin. In front of the main entrance, supported on posts, there was a light roof of reeds [Figure12, part 13], extending round the south of the cave to the entrance on that side, so that one could sit in front of the cave in shade. On the south side there were, high up, three openings for light and air, closed by gratings fixed in masonry. There was a similar opening in the roof of the cave. This roof, which was covered with turf, formed the extremity of the ridge on which Bethlehem stood.

Figure 12. The Cave of the Nativity.
1. Cave entrance.2. Sectioned-off bedroom of Saint Joseph.3. A side cave.4. Fireplace.5. Southern side-entrance.6. Location of the donkey.7. Fodder storage.8. Birthplace of Our Redeemer Jesus.9. Where the three holy kings worshipped Jesus.10. Location of the crib.11. Entrance to an adjacent cave.12. Another cave.13. Reed roof on posts.

From the west one came through a light wickerwork door into a moderately broad passage opening into a chamber which was partly angular and partly semicircular. Towards the south it broadened out considerably, so that the ground-plan of the whole can be compared to a head resting on its neck. As you came out of the neck of the cave, whose roof was lower, into the higher part of the cave with its natural vaulting, you stepped down to a lower level. The floor of the whole cave was, however, higher at the sides, round which ran a low stone bench of varying breadth. The walls of the cave, as nature had made them, were, though not quite smooth, clean and pleasant and had something attractive about them. I liked them better than the rough, clumsy masonry which had been added on, for instance on the upper part of the south wall of the entrance, where three openings for light and air had been made. In the center of the roof of the cave there was another opening, and, if I remember rightly, I saw besides this three slanting holes piercing the upper part of the cave at intervals from south to east. From the north side of the passage an entrance led into a smaller side-cave [Figure 12, part 3]. Passing this entrance you came upon the place where Joseph lit his fire [Figure 12, part 4]. After that the wall turned northeast into the higher and bigger cave, and it was here that Joseph's pack-donkey stood [Figure 12, part 6], by the broad part of the stone bench which ran round its walls. Behind this, in the thickness of the rock wall to the north, was a small chamber [Figure 12, part 7] just big enough to hold the donkey and containing fodder. The wall of the cave then turned south-east, encircling the chamber (which grew broader towards the south) and finally turned north to end at the main entrance.

The Blessed Virgin was in the eastern part of this cave [Figure 12, part 8], exactly opposite the entrance, when she gave birth to the Light of the World. The crib [Figure 12, part 10] in which the child Jesus was laid stood on the west side of the southern and more roomy part of the cave. This crib was a hollowed-out stone trough lying on the ground and used for cattle to drink from. Over it stood a longish, rectangular manger or rack, narrower below, and broader above, made of wooden lattice-work, and raised on four feet, so that the beasts could comfortably eat the hay or grass in the rack and lower their heads to drink the water in the trough beneath. When the three holy kings presented their gifts, the Blessed Virgin was sitting with the child Jesus opposite the crib on the eastern side of this part of the cave [Figure 12, part 9]. From the place where the crib is, if you go out of the cave in a westerly direction into the so-called neck of the cave, you come first of all, following the southern wall, to the southern entrance mentioned above and later opened by Joseph, and then arrive at St. Joseph's own room [Figure 12, part 2], which he later partitioned off on the south side by wicker screens in this passage. On this side there was a hollow in the wall where he put away all kinds of things.

The road to the Shepherds' Valley ran past the south side of the cave. Here and there were little houses standing on hills, and scattered about in the fields were sheds thatched with reeds on four, six, or eight posts, with wicker walls. Towards the east of the cave the ground fell into a closed valley shut off on the north side and about a quarter of an hour's journey wide. Its slopes were covered with bushes, trees, and gardens. If one walked through the tall luxuriant grass in the meadow, watered by a spring, and through the trees planted in rows, one came to the eastern ridge of this valley. By following this very pleasant path in a south-easterly direction from the Cave of the Nativity, one came to a projecting spur of the ridge containing the rock-tomb of Maraha, [98] the nurse of Abraham, which was called the Milk Cave or the Sucklings' Cave. The Blessed Virgin came here several times with the child Jesus. Above this cave was a great tree with seats in it, and from here one had a much better view of Bethlehem than from the Cave of the Nativity.

I was told much that had happened in the Cave of the Nativity of symbolical and prophetical significance in Old Testament times, but can only remember that Seth, the child of promise, was here conceived and born by Eve after a seven years' penance. She was told here by an angel that this seed was given by God in place of Abel. Seth was hidden and suckled by his mother in this cave and in Maraha's cave, for his brothers were hostile to him just as Jacob's sons were to Joseph. In these caves, inhabited by men in earlier times, I have often seen places hollowed out by them in the rock in which they and their children could sleep in comfort on skins or grass. So perhaps the hollow in the stone bench beneath the crib may have been a sleeping place of Seth's or of a later inmate. But I cannot say this for certain now.

I also remember from my visions of the ministry of Jesus that the Lord, on October 6 ^th, after His Baptism, was keeping the Sabbath in the Cave of the Nativity, which had been made into a place of prayer by the shepherds, and that He told the shepherds that His Heavenly Father had appointed this as the place of His Birth as soon as Mary had conceived.


Abraham had a nurse, Maraha, whom he greatly revered; she lived to a great age and he always took her on his journeys, riding on a camel. She lived with him for a long time in Succoth. Afterwards, towards the end of her life, she was here in the Shepherds' Valley, where he had his tents near to this cave. When she was more than a hundred years old and her death was at hand, she asked Abraham to bury her in this cave, prophesying about it and naming it the Cave of Milk or the Cave of the Sucklings. Some miracle, which I have forgotten, happened here, and a spring of water burst forth. The cave was then a high narrow passage of a white and not very hard substance. A mound of this blocked up part of the passage but did not reach to the roof. If one climbed over this mound, one came to the entrances of other caves higher up. There were also several deep passages running into the hill under the cave. Later it was enlarged. Abraham made Maraha's tomb out of the mound lying in the passage. Below was a massive block of stone on which rested a kind of heavy stone trough on short thick feet. The trough had a jagged top. One could see between the trough and the block under it. I was surprised to see nothing of it at the time of Jesus' Birth.

This cave with the nurse's tomb was symbolically prophetic of the Mother of the Savior giving suck to her child while pursued by enemies; for in Abraham's youth a symbolically prophetic persecution took place, and his nurse saved his life by hiding him in a cave. As far as I can remember, the king in Abraham's country had a dream or was told by prophecy about a child to be born who would become a danger to him. The king took measures to prevent this. Abraham's mother concealed her pregnancy and gave birth to him in secret in a cave. Maraha, the nurse, suckled him in secret. She lived as though she were a poor slave, and worked in a wilderness near the cave in which she suckled the child Abraham. Afterwards his parents took him back, and on account of his being unusually big he was thought to have been born before that prophecy. However, when he was a boy, he was again in danger as the result of some supernatural utterances, and the nurse again saved him by hiding him away. I saw her carrying him off in secret, tied to her waist under her big cloak. Many children of his size were murdered at that time.

This cave had been a place of devotion since Abraham's time, particularly for mothers and their babies. This was prophetic, for the reverence paid to Abraham's nurse was symbolic of that paid to the Blessed Virgin. In the same way Elijah had seen the Blessed Virgin in the rain-bearing cloud, and had made a place of prayer in her honor on Mount Carmel [see p.28 ]. Maraha had contributed to the coming of the Messiah by nourishing with her milk the ancestor of the Blessed Virgin. I cannot, alas, explain it rightly, but it was like a deep spring of water running through the whole of life and always being replenished, until there burst forth from it the clear stream of Our Blessed Lady. [This was the expression used by Catherine Emmerich in her state of ecstatic sleep.]

The tree which stood beside this cave was like a great lime-tree, with big shady branches. It was a terebinth, pointed at the top and broad below. It had white seeds, which were oily and could be eaten. Abraham met Melchizedek under this tree, but I cannot remember on what occasion. Joseph enlarged the cave still more and closed the passages leading downwards from it. The tree stands on a hill; beneath it is a door, set at a slant, leading into a passage or kind of vestibule where another door, set straight, opens into the tomb-cave itself. The latter is round rather than square. The shepherds often used the passage to shelter in. This big old tree cast a wide shadow. It was regarded as sacred by the shepherds and others in the neighborhood, and also by devout travelers. It was the custom to rest and pray there. I do not remember the history of the tree, but it had some connection with Abraham: he may perhaps have planted it. Near it was a fireplace which could be covered over, and there was also a spring in front of the tree, from which the shepherds used at certain times to draw water supposed to have a special healing property. On each side of the tree there were open huts to sleep in. It was all surrounded by a fence.

[While Catherine Emmerich was recounting this, she was in great pain; and when the writer said to her, So this was a terebinth tree?' she answered in sudden absence of mind: Tenebrae, not Terebinth, under the shadow of Your Wings, that is a wing -- Tenebrae -- under Your Shadow will I rejoice.' The writer did not understand the significance of these words. Perhaps she was applying the words of the Psalm to the tree. She spoke with great intensity of feeling and seemed to be comforting herself with these words.]

St. Helena built a church here and Mass has been said here: I think it seemed to be in a chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas.


[November 23 ^rd:] The sun was already low when they reached the entrance of the cave. The young she-ass, which had left them at Joseph's ancestral house to run round the outside of the town, met them as soon as they arrived here and gamboled joyfully round them. Look,' said the Blessed Virgin to Joseph, it is certainly the will of God that we should go in here.' Joseph was, however, very distressed and secretly ashamed at having spoken so often of their good reception in Bethlehem. He put the pack-donkey under the shelter by the entrance of the cave and prepared a place for the Blessed Virgin to rest there while he kindled a light, opened the wickerwork door of the cave, and went into it. The passage into the cave was narrow, for it was full of bundles of straw like rushes, stacked against the walls with brown mats hanging over them. Behind, the cave itself was encumbered with a quantity of things. Joseph cleared out as much as was necessary to make a comfortable resting-place for the Blessed Virgin at the eastern end of the cave. Then he fastened a burning lamp in the wall of the dark cave and led the Blessed Virgin in. She sat down on the couch of rugs and bundles which he had prepared. He apologized most humbly for the poorness of the shelter, but Mary was joyful and contented in her inmost spirit. As she rested there, Joseph hurried with a skin which he had brought with him into the valley-meadow behind the hill, where there was a tiny brook. He fastened the skin with two pegs under the spring so that the water had to run into it, and then brought it back to the cave. Then he went to the town and fetched little bowls, some fruit, and bundles of twigs. The Sabbath was approaching, and because of the many strangers in the town, who were in urgent need of all kinds of things, tables had been set up at the street corners where indispensable necessities could be bought at reduced prices. Those who sold were menservants or people who were not Jews. I cannot quite remember about this. Joseph came back bringing burning coals in a sort of closed metal basket with a handle like a stalk under it. He emptied these out by the entrance to the cave on the northern side and made a little fire. He had the fire-basket and other small utensils with him on the journey. The bundle of wood was of thin sticks neatly tied together with broad rushes. Joseph then prepared a meal: it consisted of a kind of porridge made from yellow grains and a cooked fruit, thick, and when opened for eating, full of seeds. There were also little flat loaves of bread. After they had eaten and prayed, Joseph prepared a sleeping place for the Blessed Virgin. He first made a mattress of rushes, and then spread on it a coverlet of the kind I have described as having been prepared in Anna's house. At the head he put a rolled-up rug. After bringing in the pack-donkey and tying him up out of the way, he closed the openings in the roof to keep out the draught, and then prepared his own sleeping place in the entrance. As the Sabbath had now begun, he stood with the Blessed Virgin under the lamp, reciting the Sabbath prayers with her, after which they ate their little meal in a spirit of great piety. Joseph then left the cave and went into the town, while Mary wrapped herself up to lie down to rest. During Joseph's absence I saw for the first time the Blessed Virgin kneeling in prayer. She knelt on her couch, and then lay down on the coverlet on her side. Her head rested on her arm, which lay on the pillow. Joseph did not come back till late. He was distressed and I think he wept. He prayed and then lay down meekly on his couch at the entrance of the cave.


[Sunday, November 24 ^th: Catherine Emmerich was very ill today and could communicate only the little that follows:]

The Blessed Virgin spent the Sabbath in the Cave of the Nativity in prayer and meditation and in great spiritual fervor. Joseph went out several times, probably to the synagogue in Bethlehem. I saw them sharing the food which had been prepared the day before, and praying together. In the afternoon of the Sabbath, when it is the Jewish custom to go for a walk, Joseph took the Blessed Virgin through the valley behind the cave to the tomb of Maraha, Abraham's nurse. They spent some time in this cave, which was roomier than the Cave of the Nativity, and in which Joseph had prepared a place for the Blessed Virgin to sit. The rest of the time they spent under the sacred tree near it, in prayer and meditation, until some time after the close of the Sabbath, when Joseph took her back again.

Mary had told St. Joseph that tonight at midnight would be the hour of the child's birth, for then the nine months since the Annunciation would have been completed. She begged him to do all that was possible on his part so that they might show as much honor as they could to the child promised by God and supernaturally conceived. She asked him, too, to join with her in praying for the hard-hearted people who had refused to give them shelter. Joseph suggested to the Blessed Virgin that he should summon to her assistance some pious women whom he knew in Bethlehem. She declined, however, saying that she needed no human help. Just before the close of the Sabbath Joseph went into Bethlehem, and as soon as the sun had set, he quickly bought a few necessary things -- a stool, a little low table, a few little bowls, and some dried fruit and grapes. With them he hurried back to the cave and then to the tomb of Maraha, and took the Blessed Virgin back to the Cave of the Nativity, where she lay down on her couch in the easternmost corner. Joseph prepared some more food, and they ate and prayed together. He then completely divided off his sleeping place from the rest of the cave by surrounding it with posts and hanging on them mats which he had found in the cave. He fed the donkey, which was standing to the left of the entrance against the wall of the cave; then he filled the manger above the crib with rushes and fine grass or moss, and spread a covering over it which hung down over the edge.

On the Blessed Virgin telling him that her time was drawing near and that he was to retire into his room and pray, he hung up some more burning lamps in the cave and went out, as he had heard a noise outside. Here he found the young she-ass, who until now had been wandering about loose in the valley of the shepherds. She came joyfully running up and gamboled round him. He tied her up under the shelter before the cave and strewed fodder before her.

When Joseph came back into the cave and stood at the entrance to his sleeping place looking towards the Blessed Virgin, he saw her with her face turned towards the east, kneeling on the bed facing away from him. He saw her as it were surrounded by flames, the whole cave was as if filled with supernatural light. He gazed at her like Moses when he saw the burning bush; then he went into his little cell in holy awe and threw himself on his face in prayer.


[90] This chapter represents the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the enrolment: Luke 2.. 5-6. (SB)

[91] AC several times explains that Joseph only lived a short time at Nazareth in the house provided by Anna, and did not at first intend to remain there. This intention throws light on Matt. 2. 23, from which it would appear that he deliberately chose Nazareth as a dwelling-place on his return from Egypt, the alternative being the plan (explained by AC) of settling at Bethlehem, his birthplace. This plan he deliberately rejected, since Bethlehem was in Judea and he was afraid to go there' ( Matt. 2. 22) because of Archelaus. (SB)

[92] The Field of Chimki is identified by AC (infra, p. 79 ) with Ginim; see next note. (SB)

[93] The Field of Ginim, six hours from Nazareth, is presumably Engannim or Ginaea, the modern Jenin, eighteen miles south of Nazareth, near the corner of the Plain of Esdrelon. Engannim is mentioned in Jos. 15. 34 and 19. 19 and is probably to be identified with Beth-haggan (Douay the garden house') of IV Kings 9. 27. Cf. Cath. Comm., 275i. (SB)

[94] This would refer to the foothills to the west of Mount Gilboa. (SB)

[95] Gabara is in Galilee, north of Nazareth. (SB)

[96] Catherine Emmerich was so exceedingly ill from Nov. 19th to 21st that when she recounted these events on Nov. 22nd she could not give the exact situation of this tree, but could only say that it was somewhere near the path of the Holy Family. It is in any case not the cursed fig tree mentioned in the Gospels. (CB) The barren fig tree of Matt. 21. 19 and Mark 11.. 13 stood between Bethany and Jerusalem. (SB)

[97] The question of the successive registrations in the Roman Province of Syria is very intricate, together with the identification of the one in the year of Christ's birth; but there is evidence for censuses in Egypt and Gaul earlier in the reign of Augustus (cf. Cath. Comm., 749a). AC's reference (infra, p. 83 ) to the sharing of the revenue of the taxation remains entirely obscure. (SB)

[98] Maraha, Abraham's nurse, is not known in any available document. (SB)

ix the visitation
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