Why yes, Franciscan monks actually can do tacky, I've discovered. This is the dome of the small church maintained in the Field of the Shepherds operated by this Catholic order. (Another post with click-to-enlarge photos.) 2005:06:06 08:04:55
While in Bethlehem I counted no less than three "Field(s) of the Apparition to the Sheperds" -- all separated by a considerable distance. I don't know what the geographic extent of a Heavenly Host of Angels is supposed to be, although I'm certain that theologians have debated the point somewhere along the line. Guess that would be more or less the inverse of the "how many angels on the head of a pin" query.
One of the fields is run by the (Roman Catholic) Franciscans, the other by a Greek Orthodox order. This is a fairly standard dualism, after all. A third is run by the local YMCA, as well. This is less traditional, I suppose. I'm not really certain why Khalid, my guide, insisted on taking me to all three of these sites, but he seemed pretty into them. But I wasn't paying him by the mile or by the site, so my only complaint is the tremendous number of flies infesting the cave grottoes at the two I ventured into.
The Field run by the Greek Orthodox monks was more conventional looking. Including doing a convincing and time-honored impression of being closed. 2005:06:06 07:35:19
Khalid was most excided about the Greek Orthodox field, I think because the monks there would be able to show me which olive trees dated back to the the Roman era and thus might have been exposed to the Heavenly Glory. Given that the planet has been flooded with olivewood carvings from Bethlehem since Byzantine days, I'd be exceedingly suprised if any tree in the area is that old, even though olive trees can in principle live that long. But I didn't tell Khalid that.
Anyway, the Latin Field appears to be associated with the oldest set of (Byzantine) ruins, so you'd think they'd have the best shot at having preserved some of the radiatively blessed trees. No such claim was made, to my knowledge. Then again, if you're trying to preserve a particular tree for thousands of years, not telling anybody might be a good strategy.
The local YMCA has its own Shepherds' Field, too. Nice hilltop, not too many flies in the cave. Can't complain about this one. 2005:06:06 07:47:34
Anyhow, the Greek Field was impenetrable, so there was no ogling of supposedly-ancient branches. So off we went, to the YMCA Field. This was decidedly more tasteful than the Latin one, and the grotto was rather less fly-swarmed, too. Not an olive tree in sight, either, as the crown of this particular hill has apparently been overrun by a conifer stand.
This field also had an excellent view across a valley of the surrounding hills. Very pretty terrain. Would be nicer, though, if settlements weren't spreading like some invasive creeper across the hilltops. Besides the obvious human problem they pose, they're just too hastily erected to have a chance not to be butt-ugly.
Khalid told me that two or three years ago, these were pristine hilltops rolling away to the west of Bethlehem. Now the city is being hemmed in by these Jewish settlers. It's hard to make out in the photo, but the roadway in the valley below is lined with (Khalid says electrified) fencing, making this development a quite wide-ranging land grab. Looking at what they've done to the hills, I can only assume it's also an ecologically highly disruptive operation. 2005:06:06 07:43:16