Travels in the Holy Land – Part One


Stewart Goes Walkies is grateful to our friend, Allen Lai, for yet another of his excellent travelogues. This one is about his visit to the Middle East and the Holy Land.

It was before the pandemic (writes Allen), that I visited the Middle East. It was a great experience, I visited many holy sites, ancient ruins, the pyramids, drifted down the river Nile, and saw the famous Egyptian Museum.

At times we were escorted by armed police. (A week after I returned, the restaurant I visited in Cairo was bombed by terrorists and several tourists were killed. You may read the report here). The trip was anything but uneventful, it was full of history, and there’s just so much to talk about. That’s why when my good buddy Stewart ask me to write something about it, I was stuck because I didn’t know where to start.

So, I will start with something that I was not familiar with.

The Pilgrimage Route of Jesus Christ.

I am not a believer, the only time in my life that I have contact with Christianity was when I was young. I met this beautiful Christian girl who insisted on taking me to her church. However, after three Sundays I decided that Jesus could wait, rock climbing can’t. (NB: I used to attend Mass on Saturdays so that I could meet Allen for rock climbing on Sundays – SGW).

On this trip, I followed the life of Jesus, where he was born, where he preached, was baptized, betrayed, the last supper, the road of suffering, where he was crucified, buried, and resurrected.

At first, I thought it would cover a large area. However, in reality, it all happened in an area of 200 sq. km. Now as I said, I am not a believer, but please know that I did my best to research those places. If I am wrong in any of my content feel free to correct me so I can learn more.

First stop … Church of Nativity, Bethlehem.

(10 km to Jerusalem)

For some reason, I always thought Jesus was born in a stable. In some way, that’s not really the case. He was born in a cave/grotto. In the old days, people live in caves and the front part of the cave is where they kept their animals. Not only to prevent them from being stolen but also to keep the cave warm.

The Door of Humility.

Entering the church that marks the site of Christ’s birthplace means having to stoop low. The only doorway in the fortress-like front wall is just 1.2 meters high. I didn’t ask what might happen if there was a fire, nor did I even want to think about it.


The previous entrance to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was lowered around the year 1500 to stop looters from driving their carts in. To Christians, it seems appropriate to bow low before entering the place where God humbled himself to become a man.


Today’s basilica, the oldest complete church in the Christian world, was built by the emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It replaced the original church of Constantine the Great, built over the cave venerated as Christ’s birthplace, and dedicated in AD 339. Many of the interior decorations and mosaics and paintings were from the Crusader period. It’s a huge basilica, inside it comprising three different monasteries: Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Greek Orthodox.



The Grotto of the Nativity

Inside is cool and dark, underneath the main altar, is the grotto of the nativity, A 14 points silver star marks the place where Jesus was born. Right next to it was the Chapel of the Manger, the manger where the King was laid. Pilgrims were here with tears in their eyes, praying, and singing, and was a very touching moment to be simply there, to touch the silver star, to soak oneself in that religious moment.

…people gather around to take that once in a lifetime photos of the birthplace of Jesus

The Chapel of St. Jerome

Set among a maze of subterranean chambers under the Church of Nativity is the Chapel of St. Jerome, in the 4th century, Saint Jerome devoted 30 years of his life to translating the Hebrew and Greek bibles into Latin. That lead to the original version of the bible up to modern times.

The Church of Nativity
The Chapel of St. Jerome
The statue of St. Jerome at the courtyard


The ‘Massacre of the Innocents

Next to his cave are the crypts commemorating the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’.  Herod, the king of Judaea, ordered his soldiers to slaughter the innocent children of Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus, whom Herod feared would eventually seize his kingdom. According to Boccaccio, 144,000 children were murdered.

There’s a long line up to get inside the basilica then another long line up to get into the grotto. But all the waiting is well worth. Inside, nothing really is too fancy. But it’s the closest spot on earth that one can be near Mother Mary and the King.


The Sea of Galilee – Where he preached

(194 km to Jerusalem)

In a small town Nazareth at the sea of Galilee, I don’t know if I can say Jesus was conceived there, but it’s where heavily pregnant Mary and Joseph riding on a donkey, took a five-day journey to Bethlehem, (approximately145 km) to give birth to Jesus, the route is often referred to as the Nativity Trail.


Jesus returned and went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. One of the stories is about the “Five Loaves and Two Fishes” where Jesus feeds 5000 hungry people with just that.


The Church of the Multiplication

Today the Church of the Multiplication is a modern structure built on the remains of the 4th-century church. The highlight of the church is the Byzantine floor mosaic which survived after the original church’s destruction in 685. The mosaic near the altar shows two fish on either side of a basket of loaves.


Beneath the altar of the Church of the Multiplication is a large rock where it is thought that Jesus placed the fish and loaves as he blessed them.


Of course, after the visit, we went to a local restaurant to sample the local fish and loaves of bread. I believe they prepared the fish the same way it was 2000 years ago.


Yardenit – Where Jesus was Baptized.

(189 km to Jerusalem)

A short drive from the Church of Multiplication is the location where Jesus was baptized by John. The location was a military zone until 1994. They had to clean up the mind fields to open the area for tourists.

The entrance to Yardenit is a long archway with Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus depicted on hand-painted tiles in over 80 languages, known as the Wall of New Life. It says:“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven; ‘Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11

On the banks of the Jordan River at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. Each year, the site is visited by over half a million tourists and pilgrims who come to witness and baptize. Arriving there with hundreds of pilgrims, who donned the white robes and the atmosphere was festive. They even accept on-site baptism requests. Entry to the site is free and there is no charge for conducting baptismal ceremonies. Special white robes are required during their baptism and may be rented or purchased on site.


My parents were Christians, and I brought along my dad’s favourite ring. I dipped my hand in the holy river, wishing my parents closure. I really missed them on this day and at a place like this.



After witnessing the joy of the pilgrim’s baptism, we drove back to Jerusalem, where the rest of the story happens. It took Mary five days to make this journey. It took us just over two hours on the highway.


Stewart Goes Walkies is very grateful to Allen for sharing this very personal account of his visit to the Holy Land. We look forward to receiving further accounts of his travels.


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Published by stewartgoeswalkies

Happily married man to a wonderful lady. Living in Hong Kong. In my younger days I enjoyed hiking, camping and rock climbing. I've trekked in the Himalayas and climbed Mt. Kinabalu in East Malaysia.

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