Mary and Saint Joseph Unable to find Lodging in Bethlehem and Saint Joseph’s Sorrow

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. 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. 
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. 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.

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