The Circumcision of Jesus

[DECEMBER 1 ^st:] This afternoon I saw several more people who were keeping the Sabbath come to the Cave of the Nativity, and in the evening, after the Sabbath was over, I saw the Essene women and Mary's maidservant preparing a meal in an arbor in front of the entrance to the cave. Joseph had begun to put up this arbor with the shepherds several days before. He had also cleared out his room at the entrance to the cave, covering the floor with rugs and decorating everything as festively as his poverty allowed. He had made all these arrangements before the Sabbath began, for tomorrow at daybreak is the eighth day from the birth of Christ, when the child must be circumcised according to God's commandment.

Towards evening Joseph had gone to Bethlehem, and returned with three priests, an elderly man, and a woman who seemed to act as a kind of nurse at this solemn ceremony. She brought with her a chair specially kept for these occasions, and a thick octagonal stone slab containing what was necessary. All these things were put down on mats spread out at the place where the ceremony was to take place. This was at the entrance to the cave, not far from the Crib, between the partition lately removed by Joseph and the hearth-place. The chair was really a box and could be drawn out to form a sort of low couch with an arm at one side. It was covered with red material. It was more for lying than sitting on. The octagonal stone slab must have been over two feet in diameter. In its center there was an octagonal cavity covered with a metal plate; in it were three boxes and a stone knife in separate compartments. This stone slab was placed beside the chair on a three-legged stool, which until now had always stood, covered with a cloth, on the place where Our Lord was born.

When all had been arranged, the priests greeted the Blessed Virgin and the Infant Jesus. They spoke friendly words to her and took the Child in their arms with emotion. A meal was then eaten in the arbor before the entrance, and a crowd of poor people (who, as always happens on such occasions, had followed the priests) surrounded the table and were given presents throughout the meal by Joseph and the priests, so that soon everything was distributed.

I saw the sun go down; it looked bigger than here at home. I saw its low rays shining through the open door into the Cave of the Nativity.


[Sunday, December 2 ^nd. She does not mention whether after yesterday's meal the priests again returned to the town and did not come back till next morning, or whether they passed the night at or near the cave:] There were lamps lit in the cave and I saw them often praying and singing during the night. The circumcision took place at dawn, eight days after the birth of Our Lord. [112] The Blessed Virgin was distressed and anxious. She had herself prepared the little cloths to catch the blood and to bandage the Child and had kept them at her breast in a fold of her mantle. The octagonal stone slab was covered by the priests first with red and then with white. This was accompanied by prayers and ceremonies. One of the priests then placed himself in the chair, leaning back rather than sitting in it, while the Blessed Virgin, who was veiled and holding the Infant Jesus in her arms at the back of the cave, handed the Child to the maidservant together with the bandages. St. Joseph took Him from the maidservant and gave Him to the nurse who had come with the priests. She laid the little Jesus, covered with a veil, upon the cloth on the octagonal stone slab.

Prayers were again offered. Then, the woman unwrapped the Child from His swaddling clothes and placed Him on the lap of the priest in the chair. St. Joseph bent down over the priest's shoulders and held the upper part of the Child's body. Two priests knelt to right and left, each holding one of the Child's feet: the one who was to perform the holy ceremony knelt before the Child. The cover was removed from the stone to disclose the three boxes with healing ointments and lotions. The handle and the blade of the knife were both of stone. The smooth brown handle had a groove into which the blade could be shut down; the latter was of the yellow color of raw silk, and did not seem to me to be sharp. The cut was made with the hook-shaped point of the blade, which when opened must have been nine inches long. The priest also made use of his sharp finger-nails for the operation. Afterwards he sucked the wound and dabbed it with healing lotion and some soothing substance from the boxes. The part that was cut off he placed between two round discs of some precious material, shining and reddish-brown in color, and slightly hollowed out in the center, making a kind of flat box. This was handed to the Blessed Virgin. The nurse now took the Child, bandaged Him, and wrapped Him again in His swaddling clothes. Up till now these, which were red beneath and white above, had been wound round up to under the arms. Now the little arms were also wrapped round, and the veil was wrapped round His head instead of covering it. He was then again laid on the octagonal slab of stone, which was covered with its cloths, and more prayers were said over Him. Although I know that the angel had told Joseph that the child was to be called Jesus, yet I remember that the priest did not at once approve of this name, and therefore fell to praying. I then saw a shining angel appear before the priest, holding before his eyes a tablet (like that on the Cross) with the name of Jesus. I do not know whether he or any of the other priests saw this angel as I did, but he was awe-struck, and I saw him writing this name by divine inspiration on a parchment.

The Infant Jesus wept loudly after the sacred ceremony, and I saw that He was given back to St. Joseph. He laid Him in the arms of the Blessed Virgin, who was standing with two women in the back of the cave. She wept as she took Him, and withdrew into the corner where the Crib was. Here she sat down, wrapped in her veil and soothed the crying Infant by giving Him her breast. Joseph also gave her the little bloodstained cloths: the nurse kept the little bloody shreds of stuff that remained. Prayers were again said and hymns sung; the lamp was still burning, but day was breaking. After a while the Blessed Virgin came forward herself with the Child and laid Him down on the octagonal stone; the priests held out their hands to her, crossed over the Child. After this she retired, taking the Child with her. Before the priests left, taking with them all that they had brought, they ate a light meal in the arbor with Joseph and a few shepherds who had been standing at the entrance to the cave. I learnt that all those who took part in this holy ceremony were good people, and that the priests were later enlightened and obtained salvation. During the whole morning generous presents were given to poor people who came to the door. During the ceremony the donkey was tied up farther away. Today crowds of dirty, swarthy beggars went past the cave, carrying bundles, coming from the Valley of the Shepherds. They seemed to be going to Jerusalem for some feast. They were very violent in demanding alms, and cursed and raged horribly at the Crib because they were not satisfied with Joseph's presents. I do not know what was wrong with these people; I felt a great dislike for them. Today the nurse came again to the Blessed Virgin and bandaged the Infant Jesus. In the night that followed I saw the Child often restless with pain and crying a great deal. Mary and Joseph took Him in their arms in turns, carrying Him about and comforting Him.


[December 3 ^rd:] This evening I saw Elizabeth coming from Juttah to the Cave of the Nativity. She was riding on a donkey led by an aged manservant. Joseph received her very warmly, and she and Mary embraced each other with intense joy. She pressed the Infant Jesus to her heart with tears. Her couch was prepared beside the place where Jesus was born. In front of this place there stood sometimes a high stand like a sawing-trestle, with a little box on it. They often laid the Infant Jesus in this box, standing round Him in prayer and caressing Him. This must be the custom there, for I saw in Anna's house the child Mary lying on a similar stand. Elizabeth and Mary talked to each other in the sweetest intimacy.


[December 4 ^th:] Yesterday evening and again today I saw Mary and Elizabeth sitting together in sweet converse, and I felt myself to be with them and heard all their talk with heartfelt joy. The Blessed Virgin told her everything that had happened to her, and when she described their difficulty in finding a lodging in Bethlehem, Elizabeth wept in sympathy. She also told her much about the birth of the Infant Jesus, and I can remember something of this. She said that at the time of the Annunciation she had lost consciousness for ten minutes and had felt as if her heart had grown to double its size and as if she were filled with inexpressible grace. At the hour of the Birth of Christ she had been full of endless yearning, and had been rapt in ecstasy, feeling as though she were uplifted, kneeling, by angels; then she had felt as though her heart was split in twain, and that one half had gone from her. She had remained thus for ten minutes without consciousness, then she had had a feeling of inner emptiness and an intense yearning for an infinite salvation outside herself, whereas before she had always felt that it was within her. She had then seen a glow of light before her, in which the form of her Child seemed to grow before her eyes. Then she had seen His movements and heard His crying, and coming to herself, had taken Him up from the ground to her breast. At first she had been as in a dream, and had not dared to lift up the little Child surrounded with radiance. She also said that she had not been conscious of having given birth to the Child. Elizabeth said to her: You have been more favored in giving birth than other women: the birth of John was a joy indeed, but it was otherwise than with you.' That is all that I remember of their talk.

Today I saw many people visiting the Blessed Virgin and the Infant Jesus. I also saw a lot of ill-behaved folk like the day before going by and stopping at the door to demand alms, cursing and raging. Joseph did not give them any presents this time. Towards evening Mary again hid herself with the Infant Jesus and Elizabeth in the cave at the side of the Cave of the Nativity, and I think Mary remained there the whole night. This happened because all kinds of inquisitive and important people from Bethlehem crowded to the Crib, and the Blessed Virgin did not wish to be seen by them.

Today I saw the Blessed Virgin leave the Cave of the Nativity with the Infant Jesus and go into another cave to the right of it. The entrance was very narrow, and fourteen steep steps led down first into a small cellar-like chamber and then into a vaulted chamber which was more spacious than the Cave of the Nativity. The space near the entrance was semicircular, and Joseph divided this oil by a hanging curtain, leaving a rectangular room beyond. The light fell not from above but through side-openings pierced in the thick rock. During the last few days I saw an old man clearing out of this cave a lot of brushwood and bundles of straw or rushes such as Joseph used for kindling. It must have been a shepherd who helped in this way. This cave was lighter and more spacious than the Cave of the Nativity. The donkey was not kept here. I saw the Infant Jesus lying here in a hollowed trough on the ground. In the last few days I often saw Mary showing her Child to visitors who came singly. He was covered with a veil, but otherwise had nothing on but a bandage round His body. At other times I saw the little Child all swaddled up again. I see the nurse often visiting the Child. Mary gave her a generous share of the gifts brought by the visitors, which she distributed amongst the needy in Bethlehem.


[112] The conduct of the rite is accurately described (cf. Jewish Encyc., art. Circumcision', pp. 95 sqq.), though it seems that the mohel was usually a surgeon rather than a priest. (SB)

xi christs birth
Top of Page
Top of Page