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On the 2d of June I rode, in the company of Counts Berchtold and Salm Reifferscheit and Pater Paul, to Bethlehem. Although, on account of the bad roads, we are obliged to ride nearly the whole distance at a foot-pace, it does not take more than an hour and a half to accomplish the journey. The view we enjoy during this excursion is as grand as it is peculiar. So far as the eye can reach, it rests upon stone; the ground is entirely composed of stones; and yet between the rocky interstices grow fruit-trees of all kinds, and grape-vines trail along, besides fields whose productions force their way upwards from the shingly soil.

I had already wondered when I saw the “Karst,” near Trieste, and the desert region of Gorz; but these sink into insignificance when compared to the scenery of the Judean mountains.

It is difficult to conceive how these regions can ever have been smiling and fertile. Doubtless they have appeared to better advantage than at the present period, when the poor inhabitants are ground to the bone by their pachas and officers; but I do not think that meadows and woods can ever have existed here to any extent.

On the way we pass a well, surrounded by blocks of stone. At this well the wise men from the East rested, and here the guiding star appeared to them. Midway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem lies the Greek convent dedicated to the prophet Elijah. From hence we can see both towns; on the one hand, the spacious Jerusalem, and on the other, the humble Bethlehem, with some small villages scattered round it. On the right hand we pass “Rachel’s grave,” a ruined building with a small cupola.

Bethlehem lies on a hill, surrounded by several others; with the exception of the convent, it contains not a single handsome building. The inhabitants, half of whom are Catholics, muster about 2500 strong; many live in grottoes and semi-subterranean domiciles, cutting out garlands and other devices in mother-of pearl, etc. The number of houses does not exceed a hundred at the most, and the poverty here seems excessive, for nowhere have I been so much pestered with beggar children as in this town. Hardly has the stranger reached the convent-gates before these urchins are seen rapidly approaching from all quarters. One rushes forward to hold the horse, while a second grasps the stirrup; a third and a fourth present their arm to help you to dismount; and in the end the whole swarm unanimously stretch forth their hands for “backsheesh.” In cases like these it is quite necessary to come furnished either with a multiplicity of small coins or with a riding-whip, in order to be delivered in one way or another from the horrible importunity of the diminutive mob. It is very fortunate that the horses here are perfectly accustomed to such scenes; were this not the case, they would take fright and gallop headlong away.

The little convent and church are both situated near the town, and are built on the spot where the Saviour was born. The whole is surrounded by a strong fortress-wall, a very low, narrow gate forming the entrance. In front of this fortress extends a handsome well-paved area. So soon as we have passed through the little gate, we find ourselves in the courtyard, or rather in the nave of the church, which is unfortunately more than half destroyed, but must once have been eminent both for its size and beauty. Some traces of mosaic can still be detected on the walls. Two rows of high handsome pillars, forty-eight in number, intersect the interior; and the beam-work, said to be of cedar-wood from Lebanon, looks almost new. Beneath the high altar of this great church is the grotto in which Christ was born. Two staircases lead downwards to it. One of the staircases belongs to the Armenians, the other to the Greeks; the Catholics have none at all. Both the walls and the floor are covered with marble slabs. A marble tablet, with the inscription,

Hic de VIRGINE Maria Jesus Christus natus EST,”

marks the spot whence the true Light shone abroad over the world. A figure of a beaming sun, which receives its light from numerous lamps kept continually burning, is placed in the back-ground of this tablet.

The spot where our Saviour was shewn to the worshipping Magi is but few paces distant. An altar is erected opposite, on the place where the manger stood in which the shepherds found our Lord. The manger itself is deposited in the basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, in Rome. This altar belongs to the Roman Catholics. A little door, quite in the background of the grotto, leads to a subterranean passage communicating with the convent and the Catholic chapel. In this passage another altar has been erected to the memory of the innocents slaughtered and buried here. Proceeding along the passage we come upon the grave of St. Paula and her daughter Eustachia on one side, and that of St. Hieronymus on the other. The body of the latter is, however, deposited at Rome.

Like the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, this great church at Bethlehem belongs at once to the Catholics, the Armenians, and the Greeks. Each of these sects has built for itself a little convent adjoining the church.

After spending at least a couple of hours here, we rode two miles farther, towards Mount Hebron. At the foot of this mountain we turned off to the left towards the three cisterns of Solomon. These reservoirs are very wide and deep, hewn out of the rock, and still partially covered with a kind of cement resembling marble in its consistency and polish. We descended into the third of these cisterns; it was about five hundred paces long, four hundred broad, and a hundred deep.

Not one of these cisterns now contains water; the aqueducts which once communicated with them have entirely vanished. A single rivulet, across which one may easily step, flows beside these giant reservoirs. The region around is barren in the extreme.

On returning to our convent at about two o’clock to partake of our frugal but welcome meal, we were surprised to find that another party of travellers, Franks like ourselves, had arrived. The new-comers proved to be Count Zichy and Count Wratislaw, who had travelled from Vienna to Cairo in company with Counts Berchtold and Salm Reifferscheit. At the last-mentioned place the voyagers parted company, one party proceeding to Jerusalem by way of Alexandria, Damietta, and Joppa, while the other bent their course across the burning sands of Africa towards Mount Sinai, and thence continued their journey to Jerusalem by land. Here at length they had the pleasure of meeting once more. A great and general rejoicing, in which we all joined, was the consequence of this event.

After dinner we once more visited all the holy places in company of the new-comers; we afterwards went to the so-called “Milk Grotto,” distant about half a mile from our convent. In this grotto there is nothing to be seen but a simple altar, before which lights are continually burning. It is not locked, and every passer-by is at liberty to enter. This place is held sacred not only by the Christians, but also by the Turks, who bring many a cruise of oil to fill the lamps after they have cleaned them. In this grotto the Holy Family concealed themselves before the flight into Egypt, and the Virgin for a long time nourished the infant Jesus with her milk, from which circumstance the grotto derives its name. The women in the neighbourhood believe that if they feel unwell during the time they are nursing their children, they have merely to scrape some of the sand from the rocks in this grotto, and to take it as a powder, to regain their health.

Half a mile from this grotto we were shown the field in which the angel appeared to announce the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds. But our newly-arrived friends were not able to visit this spot. They were fain to content themselves with a distant view, as it was high time to think of our return.

St. John’s.

On the 4th of June I rode out, accompanied by a guide, to the birth-place of St. John the Baptist, distant about four miles from Jerusalem. The way to this convent lies through the Bethlehem Gate, opposite the convent of the “Holy Cross,” a building supposed to stand on the site where the wood was felled for our Saviour’s cross! Not far off, the place was pointed out to me where a battle was fought between the Israelites and the Philistines, and where David slew Goliath.

Situated in a rocky valley, the convent of St. John is, like all the monasteries in these lands, surrounded by very strong walls. The church of the convent is erected on the spot where the house of Zacharias once stood, and a chapel commemorates the place where St. John first beheld the light. The ascent to this chapel is by a staircase, where a round tablet of stone bears the inscription,

Hic praecursor domini Christi natus EST.”

Many events of the prophet’s life are here portrayed by sculptures in white marble.

About a mile from the convent we find the “Grotto of Visitation,” where St. Mary met St. Elizabeth. The remains of the latter are interred here.

On the very first day of my arrival at Jerusalem I had made some observations, during a visit to the church of St. Francis, which gave me any thing but a high opinion of the behaviour of the Catholics here. This unfavourable impression was confirmed by subsequent visits to the church, so that at length I felt obliged to tell Father Paul that I would rather pray at home than among people who seemed to attend to any thing rather than their devotions. My Frankish costume seemed to be such a stumbling-block in the eyes of these people, that at length a priest came to me, and requested that I would make an alteration in my dress, or at any rate exchange my straw hat for a veil, in which I could muffle my head and face. I promised to discard the obnoxious hat and to wear a handkerchief round my head when I attended church, but refused to muffle my face, and begged the reverend gentleman to inform my fellow-worshippers that this was the first time such a thing had been required of a Frankish woman, and that I thought they would be more profitably employed in looking at their prayer-books than at me, for that He whom we go to church to adore is not a respecter of outward things. In spite of this remonstrance, their behaviour remained the same, so that I was compelled almost to discontinue attending public worship.

On great festival-days the high altar of the church of St. Francis is very profusely decorated. It is, in fact, almost overloaded with ornament, and sparkles and glitters with a most dazzling brilliancy. Innumerable candles display the lustre of gold and precious stones. Foremost among the costly ornaments appear a huge gold monstrance presented by the king of Naples, and two splendid candelabra, a gift of the imperial house of Austria.

I happened one day to pass a house, from within which a great screaming was to be heard. On inquiring of my companion what was the matter, I was informed that some person had died in that house the day before, and that the sound I heard was the wail of the “mourning women.” I requested admission to the room where the deceased lay. Had it not been for the circumstance that a few pictures of saints and a crucifix decorated the walls, I could never have imagined that the dead man was a Catholic. Several “mourning women” sat near the corpse, uttering every now and then such frantic yells, that the neighbourhood rang with their din. In the intervals between these demonstrations they sat comfortably regaling themselves with coffee; after a little time they would again raise their horrible cry. I had seen enough to feel excessively disgusted, and so went away.

I was also fortunate enough to visit a newly-married pair. The bride was gorgeously dressed in a silk under-garment, wide trousers of peach-blossom satin, and a caftan of the same material; a rich shawl encircled her waist, and on her feet she wore boots of yellow morocco leather; the slippers had been left, according to the Turkish fashion, at the entrance of the chamber. An ornamental head-dress of rich gold brocade and fresh flowers completed the bride’s attire; her hair, arranged in a number of thin plaits and decorated with coins, fell down upon her shoulders, and on her neck glittered several rows of ducats and larger gold pieces.

Costumes of this kind are only seen in the family circle, and on the occasion of some great event. Seldom or never are strange men allowed to behold the ladies in their gorgeous apparel; so that it is fruitless to expect to see picturesque female costumes in the public places of the East.

After the marriage ceremony, which is always performed during the forenoon, the young wife is compelled to sit for the remainder of the day in a corner of the room with her face turned towards the wall. She is not allowed to answer any question put by her husband, her parents, or by any one whatever; still less is she permitted to offer a remark herself. This silence is intended to typify the bride’s sorrow at changing her condition.

During my visit, the bridegroom sat next to his bride, vainly endeavouring to lure a few words from her. On my rising to depart, the young wife inclined her head towards me, but without raising her eyes from the ground.

In Jerusalem, almost all the women and girls wear veils when they go abroad. It was only in church, and in their own houses, that I had an opportunity of fairly seeing these houris. Among the girls I found many an interesting head; but the women who have attained the age of twenty-six or twenty-eight years already look worn and ugly; so that here, as in all tropical countries, we behold a great number of very plain faces, among which handsome ones shine forth at long intervals, like meteors. Thin people are rarely met with in Syria; on the contrary, even the young girls are frequently decidedly stout.

Not far from the bazaar is a great hall, wherein the Turks hold their judicial sittings, decide disputes, and pass sentence on criminals. Some ordinary-looking divans are placed round the interior of this hall, and in one corner a wooden cell, about ten feet long, six wide, and eight feet high, has been erected. This cell, furnished with a little door, and a grated hole by way of window, is intended for the reception of the criminal during his period of punishment.

Throughout the thirteen days I passed at Jerusalem, I did not find the heat excessive. The thermometer generally stood in the shade at from 20 to 22 degrees, and in the sun at 28 degrees (Reaum.), very seldom reaching 30 degrees.

Fruit I saw none, with the exception of the little apricots called mish-mish, which are not larger than a walnut, but nevertheless have a very fine flavour. It is a pity that the inhabitants of these countries contribute absolutely nothing towards the cultivation and improvement of their natural productions; if they would but exert themselves, many a plant would doubtless flourish luxuriantly. But here the people do not even know how to turn those gifts to advantage which nature has bestowed upon them in rich profusion, and of superior quality; for instance, olives. Worse oil can hardly be procured than that which they give you in Syria. The Syrian oil and olives can scarcely be used by Europeans. The oil is of a perfectly green colour, thick, and disgusting alike to the smell and taste; the olives are generally black, a consequence of the negligent manner in which they are prepared. The same remark holds good with regard to the wine, which would be of excellent quality if the people did but understand the proper method of preparing it, and of cultivating the vineyards. At present, however, they adulterate their wine with a kind of herb, which gives it a very sharp and disagreeable taste.

On the whole, the neighbourhood of Jerusalem is very desolate, barren, and sterile. I found the town itself neither more nor less animated than most Syrian cities. I should depart from truth if I were to say, with many travellers, that it appeared as though a peculiar curse rested upon this city. The whole of Judea is a stony country, and this region contains many places with environs as rugged and barren as those of Jerusalem.

Birds and butterflies are rarely seen at the present season of the year, not only in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, but throughout the whole of Syria. Where, indeed, could a butterfly or a bee find nourishment, while not a flower nor a blade of grass shoots up from the stony earth? And a bird cannot live where there are neither seeds nor insects, but must soar away across the seas to cooler and more fertile climes. Not only here, but throughout the whole of Syria, I missed the delightful minstrels of the air. The sparrow alone can find sustenance every where, for he lives in towns and villages, wherever man is seen. A whole flock of these little twittering birds woke me every morning.

I was as yet much less troubled by insects than I had anticipated. With the exception of the small flies on the plain of Sharon, and of certain little sable jumpers which seem naturalised throughout the whole world, I could not complain of having been annoyed by any creature.

Our common house-flies I saw every where; but they were not more numerous or more troublesome than in Germany.

Excursion to the river Jordan and to the dead sea.

To travel with any degree of security in Palestine, Phoenicia, etc., it is necessary to go in large companies, and in some places it even becomes advisable to have an escort. The stranger should further be provided with cooking utensils, provisions, tents, and servants. To provide all these things would have been a hopeless task for me; I had therefore resolved to return from Jerusalem as I had come, namely, via Joppa, and so to proceed to Alexandria or Beyrout, when, luckily for me, the gentlemen whom I have already mentioned arrived at Jerusalem. They intended making several excursions by land, and the first of these was to be a trip to the banks of the Jordan and to the Dead Sea.

I ardently wished to visit these places, and therefore begged the gentlemen, through Father Paul, to permit my accompanying them on their arduous journey. The gentlemen were of opinion that their proposed tour would be too fatiguing for one of my sex, and seemed disinclined to accede to my request. But then Count Wratislaw took my part, and said that he had watched me during our ride from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, and had noticed that I wanted neither courage, skill, nor endurance, so that they might safely take me with them. Father Paul immediately came to me with the joyful intelligence that I was to go, and that I had nothing to do but to provide myself with a horse. He particularly mentioned how kindly Count Wratislaw, to whom I still feel obliged, had interested himself in my behalf.

The journey to the Jordan and the Dead Sea should never be undertaken by a small party. The best and safest course is to send for some Arab or Bedouin chiefs, either at Jerusalem or Bethlehem, and to make a contract with them for protection. In consideration of a certain tribute, these chiefs accompany you in person, with some of their tribe, to your place of destination and back again. The Counts paid the two chiefs three hundred piastres, with the travelling expenses for themselves and their twelve men.

At three o’clock in the afternoon of the 7th of June our cavalcade started. The caravan consisted of the four counts, Mr. Bartlett, a certain Baron Wrede, two doctors, and myself, besides five or six servants, and the two chiefs with the body-guard of twelve Arabs. All were strongly armed with guns, pistols, swords, and lances, and we really looked as though we sallied forth with the intention of having a sharp skirmish.

Our way lay through the Via Dolorosa, and through St. Stephen’s Gate, past the Mount of Olives, over hill and dale. Every where the scene was alike barren. At first we still saw many fruit-trees and olive-trees in bloom, and even vines, but of flowers or grass there was not a trace; the trees, however, stood green and fresh, in spite of the heat of the atmosphere and the total lack of rain. This luxuriance may partly be owing to the coolness and dampness which reigns during the night in tropical countries, quickening and renewing the whole face of nature.

The goal of our journey for to-day lay about eight miles distant from Jerusalem. It was the Greek convent of “St. Saba in the Waste.” The appellation already indicates that the region around becomes more and more sterile, until at length not a single tree or shrub can be detected. Throughout the whole expanse not the lowliest human habitation was to be seen. We only passed a horde of Bedouins, who had erected their sooty-black tents in the dry bed of a river. A few goats, horses, and asses climbed about the declivities, laboriously searching for herbs or roots.

About half an hour before we reach the convent we enter upon the wilderness in which our Saviour fasted forty days, and was afterwards “tempted of the devil.” Vegetation here entirely ceases; not a shrub nor a root appears; and the bed of the brook Cedron is completely dry. This river only flows during the rainy season, at which period it runs through a deep ravine. Majestic rocky terraces, piled one above the other by nature with such exquisite symmetry that the beholder gazes in silent wonder, overhang both banks of the stream in the form of galleries.

A silence of death brooded over the whole landscape, broken only by the footfalls of our horses echoing sullenly from the rocks, among which the poor animals struggled heavily forward. At intervals some little birds fluttered above our heads, silently and fearfully, as though they had lost their way. At length we turn sharply round an angle of the road, and what a surprise awaits us! A large handsome building, surrounded by a very strong fortified wall, pierced for cannon in several places, lies spread before us near the bed of the river, and rises in the form of terraces towards the brow of the hill. From the position we occupied, we could see over the whole extent of wall from without and from within. Fortified as it was, it lay open before our gaze. Several buildings, and in front of all a church with a small cupola, told us plainly that St. Saba lay stretched below.

On the farther bank, seven or eight hundred paces from the convent, rose a single square tower, apparently of great strength. I little thought that I should soon become much better acquainted with this isolated building.

The priests had observed our procession winding down the hill, and at the first knocking the gate was opened. Masters, servants, Arabs, and Bedouins, all passed through; but when my turn came, the cry was, “Shut the gate!” and I was shut out, with the prospect of passing the night in the open air, a thing which would have been rather disagreeable, considering how unsafe the neighbourhood was. At length, however, a lay brother appeared, and, pointing to the tower, gave me to understand that I should be lodged there. He procured a ladder from the convent, and went with me to the tower, where we mounted by its aid to a little low doorway of iron. My conductor pushed this open, and we crept in. The interior of the tower seemed spacious enough. A wooden staircase led us farther upwards to two tiny rooms, situated about the centre of the tower. One of these apartments, dimly lighted by the rays of a lamp, contained a small altar, and served as a chapel, while the second was used as a sleeping-room for female pilgrims. A wooden divan was the only piece of furniture this room contained. My conductor now took his leave, promising to return in a short time with some provisions, a bolster, and a coverlet for me.

So now I was at least sheltered for the night, and guarded like a captive princess by bolt and bar. I could not even have fled had I wished to do so, for my leader had locked the creaking door behind him, and taken away the ladder. After carefully examining the chapel and my neatly-furnished apartment in this dreary prison-house, I mounted the staircase, and gained the summit of the tower. Here I had a splendid view of the country round about, my elevated position enabling me distinctly to trace the greater part of the desert, with its several rows of hills and mountains skirting the horizon. All these hills were alike barren and naked; not a tree nor a shrub, not a human habitation, could I discover. Silence lay heavily on every thing around, and it seemed to me almost as though no earth might here nourish a green tree, but that the place was ordained to remain a desert, as a lasting memorial of our Saviour’s fasting. Unheeded by human eye, the sun sank beneath the mountains; I was, perhaps, the only mortal here who was watching its beautiful declining tints. Deeply moved by the scene around me, I fell on my knees, to offer up my prayers and praise to the Almighty, here in the rugged grandeur of the desert.

But I had only to turn away from the death-like silence, and to cast my eye towards the convent as it lay spread out before me, to view once more the bustle and turmoil of life. In the courtyard the Bedouins and Arabs were employed in ministering to the wants of their horses, bringing them water and food; beyond these a group of men was seen spreading mats on the ground, while others, with their faces bowed to the earth, were adoring, with other forms of prayer, the Omnipotent Spirit whose protection I had so lately invoked; others, again, were washing their hands and feet as a preparation for offering up their worship; priests and lay brethren passed hastily across the courtyard, busied in preparations for entertaining and lodging the numerous guests; while some of my fellow-travellers stood apart, in earnest conversation, and Mr. B. and Count Salm Reifferscheit reclined in a quiet spot and made sketches of the convent. Had a painter been standing on my tower, what a picture of the building might he not have drawn as the wild Arab and the thievish Bedouin leant quietly beside the peaceful priest and the curious European! Many a pleasant recollection of this evening have I borne away with me.

I was very unwilling to leave the battlements of the tower; but the increasing darkness at length drove me back into my chamber. Shortly afterwards a priest and a lay brother appeared, and with them Mr. Bartlett. The priest’s errand was to bring me my supper and bedding, and my English fellow-traveller had kindly come to inquire if I would have a few servants as a guard, as it must be rather a dreary thing to pass a night quite alone in that solitary tower. I was much flattered by Mr. Bartlett’s politeness to a total stranger, but, summoning all my courage, replied that I was not in the least afraid. Thereupon they all took their leave; I heard the door creak, the bolt was drawn, and the ladder removed, and I was left to my meditations for the night.

After a good night’s rest, I rose with the sun, and had been waiting some time before my warder appeared with the coffee for my breakfast. He afterwards accompanied me to the convent gate, where my companions greeted me with high praises; some of them even confessed that they would not like to pass a solitary night as I had done.