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The Shepherds' Field

Home > Jerusalem > Christmas | Churches | Outdoor
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published July 30th 2018
While shepherds watched their flocks by night... the shepherds, mentioned in the Bible (Luke 2:8-20), had to watch their flocks somewhere, and a ten minute drive out of Bethlehem takes you to a field which has been marked as the spot. The Shepherds' Field might not be at the heart of anyone's tourist itinerary, but it makes a great addition to a tour of Bethlehem and the surrounding area.

shepherds field chapel bethlehem jesus church
The Shepherds' Field chapel

Three main features would draw you to what is now a lovely park sanctuary on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The main chapel itself is Catholic, built by the Franciscans in a place which has been the focus of worship since St Helen's time. The chapel only dates to the 1950s, artfully designed by A. Barluzzi. It is supposed to represent a Bedouin tent, with a simple grey stone structure, and light streaming in.

shepherds field chapel bethlehem jesus church
The chapel ceiling

Inside there are five apses, each decorated with a relevant scene painted onto the walls, such as the shepherds and the Angel Gabriel. Behold the angels in bright raiment, declaring 'Gloria in Excelsis Deo' (the Latin name for the sanctuary itself).

shepherds field chapel bethlehem jesus church
Shepherds painted on the wall

An altar in the centre provides the focal point for worship. The chapel is not large, and if you stay in there for a while it is a wonderful ecumenical experience, as group after group of Christians on pilgrimage come through and sing in worship. The differences in language, denomination, and culture lead to a rich atmosphere of Christian glory.

shepherds field chapel bethlehem jesus church
Inside the chapel

Beyond the chapel is a cave, supposed shelter for the shepherds. It's small, and especially on a Sunday likely to be full of people worshipping, but an interesting place to go by.

shepherds field chapel bethlehem jesus church
The shepherds' cave

Parallel to the chapel and cave is a garden walk. There's a statue to the Good Shepherd, reminding you of Jesus' ministry as well as his birth.

shepherds field chapel bethlehem jesus church
The Good Shepherd

Ruins of previous monasteries dating back to as early as the fifth century are also there in the park, attesting to the long history of the place. Excavations are ongoing. Nearby is also a Greek Orthodox site, with its own chapel.

shepherds field chapel bethlehem jesus church
The chapel from the back

It's a beautiful place to spend some time, walking around, or sitting quietly. Hearing Christmas carols sung at any time of year is both amusing and peculiar, but the joy that accompanies the Nativity permeates the place and makes it an exciting place to stop off at, as well as a peaceful one.

To get there, the best idea is to hire a taxi in Bethlehem, as you are unlikely to be able to take a hire car into the area. There are plenty available at the bus stop, or in Manger Square, and prices are very reasonable. You can walk, carrying on from the Milk Chapel, but it's about 2km, and hilly. You should allow at least half an hour for a meaningful wander, but may want to spend longer in prayer. It's fairly accessible for those with prams / wheelchairs, but there are no other facilities.
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Why? The site of the Anunciation to the shepherds
When: Franciscan site: daily 8-noon, 2-6pm
Where: Shepherds' Field, near Bethlehem
Cost: free
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