Celebrating Christmas In The Shepherds' Fields Of Beit Sahour

Beit Sahour lies to the east of Bethlehem and south-east of Jerusalem. The area is full of historical and biblical sites of significance. Ruins from Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader times can be found throughout the area, including the Shepherds' Fields, the fields identified since ancient times with the shepherds who saw the Star of Nativity. Today, Beit Sahour is home to 14,500 residents, 80% Christian and 20% Muslim. Father Ignatius is the priest from the shepherd's monastery in Beit Sahour and Paul Calvert chatted with him to find out more of the area's significance.

Paul: What is Beit Sahour famous for?

Father Ignatius: The city of Beit Sahour is famous for the land; for the fields. This is where the shepherds were the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem and the message was given by the Arch Angel Gabriel. It is very famous because of the message that the angels gave to the shepherds and this message was spread all around the world from this simple place.

Nowadays it is famous because of the money and the pilgrims that it attracts. They come to visit this holy site, the old cave, where the shepherds got the message and where the shepherds are buried. They also come for the ruins of the old monastery from the time of Queen St Helena.

This place dates back to the time of Jesus. There is a history of about 5,000 years here; when Jacob the patriarch came with Rachel and then Boaz and Ruth and of course their son. Then Jessie who was the father of David was here and later David as a shepherd also. This area was the property of the parents of the Virgin Mary.

Paul: If I was to walk down the streets of Beit Sahour would I see sheep and shepherds today?

Father Ignatius: Not today, because it is a populated area. It used to be part of the Judean desert but today it is a big city. The population of Beit Sahour is about 16,000 people, so today you will only see houses and hotels and restaurants; there are no sheep today.

Paul: The Angel Gabriel came here to visit the shepherds and the shepherds came from Beit Sahour to Bethlehem. How far is Bethlehem from Beit Sahour?

Father Ignatius: It is about 2-3 kilometres from here to the Nativity Church. Walking it would take 20 minutes to get to Bethlehem.

Celebrating Christmas In The Shepherds' Fields Of Beit Sahour

Paul: You have a very beautiful monastery here on the property. How long has the church been here?

Father Ignatius: The new church where we are now was built in 1985 but the older church inside the cave of the shepherds was built in the year 326 by Queen St Helena.

Paul: What sort of archaeological things can you see down there?

Father Ignatius: For the visitor and the tourist he will first of all visit the new church here and then we go down there to the cave, which was converted into a church by St Helena in the 4th Century. After that a very big monastery was built and it had about 200 nuns, but it was destroyed by the Persians. In the year 614 it was rebuilt again and renovated and became a monastery for monks. It was again destroyed and burned by the Arab invasion in the 7th Century and then it was rebuilt again, but destroyed completely by the Crusaders. From the 12th Century to the year 1971 the only church that existed was the old church of St Helena, but it was used for prayers by the local Arab Greek Orthodox people.

Paul: Have you had any archaeological finds?