Sing: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, UMH 196
As we came up out of the Grotto of the Nativity we left the church and entered a walkway which leads to the Courtyard and Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. This is the parish church for the Roman Catholics of Bethlehem. Saint Catherine was a 4th century Christian living in the city of Alexandria on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. She is said to have been the daughter of a prominent family and well known for her intellect. At the age of 14, she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus and converted to Christianity.
Turning her whole life, including her formidable mind, to Jesus Catherine began bringing many others to faith in Christ. When emperor Maxentius began persecuting Christians in 306 AD Catherine confronted him in person. The emperor’s wisest sages could not refute her logic. Scourging and imprisonment could not break her spirit. Starvation could not kill her body. Finally the emperor ordered her to be tortured to death on a spiked breaking wheel. When her body first touched the wheel it fell to pieces. Maxentius ordered her to be beheaded.
As soon as she was beheaded Catherine’s entire body disappeared. It was found over five hundred years later (850 AD) on a mountain-top in the Sinai Peninsula. Monks from the monastery at Mount Sinai found her incorrupt body and carried it to their monastery, which now bears her name. Many scholars believe that Catherine’s story is a composite of several martyrs killed in last decades before Constantine legalized Christianity.
As we entered the church we thought a worship service might be in progress but it turned out to be the organist practicing – which we enjoyed. This is the site from which broadcasts of “Christmas in Bethlehem” originate. As the organist finished a few of us were standing around a stairwell at the back of the sanctuary. The stairwell was roped off and we did not know where it led and we weren’t very curious. We had about thirty minutes until we were supposed to leave and we were enjoying getting to know each other better and just being in Bethlehem.