Ideal period of stay: 9 days/8 nights
1st day: Bethlehem (Basilica of the Nativity – Milk Grotto – Shepherds’ Field)
“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means leas among the rulers of Judah;
Since from you shall come a ruler
Who is to shepherd my people Israel”. (Matthew 2, 6)
This itinerary starts from the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem and the Basilica of the Nativity, built by Constantine in the 4th century. Here you can visit the grotto where, according to tradition, the Child Jesus was born. Going along the large central square, about 500 metres on the right of the Basilica, there is the Milk Grotto where, legend has it, some drops of milk fell as Mary was nursing the Child and the whole grotto turned white.
Another place that recalls the birth of Jesus is the Shepherds’ Field in the present-day Arab village of Beit Sahur which is where, according to Christian tradition, the angel announced the news of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.
In Bethlehem you can stay at “Casa Nova”, the Franciscan house for pilgrims.
2nd day: Bethlehem (Herodium), Qumran and the Dead Sea
About 10 km from Bethlehem, on a cone-shaped hill, there stands the large fortress-residence of Herod the Great. The view from the top is splendid and the archaeological remains of Herod’s palace are impressive. As the second stop on the tour we suggest the archaeological site of Qumran, about 2 km from the north-western shore of the Dead Sea. It is famous because of the discovery of some ancient manuscripts from the 2nd century BC, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These manuscripts are apparently Biblical texts (such as that of the prophet Isaiah) and descriptive texts on the life of the community of Qumran dating back to 150 BC. Lastly, when you are here, it is difficult to resist the temptation of bathing in the very salty waters of the Dead Sea.
3rd day: Nazareth (Basilica of the Annunciation – Church of St. Joseph – the Spring of the Virgin Mary), Tabor
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.” (Luke 1, 26)
The capital of Galilee, Nazareth is where Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived on their return from Egypt. Here you can visit the Basilica of the Annunciation built in the 1960s and which houses the Grotto of the Annunciation, the place where the angel appeared to Mary. The Church of St. Joseph is about 200 metres from the Basilica and, by popular tradition, this church is identified as the home of the Holy Family. From here you can take the main street in Nazareth to visit the Spring of the Virgin Mary, the source where the women of the village would go to draw water and where Mary had the first apparition of the angel according to the Protoevangelium of James.
For the last stopping place on this third day, we recommend you go to Mount Tabor, the “mountain of Light” where the transfiguration of Jesus took place.
In Nazareth you can stay at the Casa Nova of the Franciscans.
4th day: Lake Tiberias (Magdala – Tabgha – Capharnaum), Mount of Beatitudes
Leaving from Nazareth, you can easily visit Lake Tiberias or the “Sea of Galilee”, to mention just two of its many names. This fascinating lake, surrounded by barren hills, recalls many events in the Gospels. It was on its shores that Jesus started his public ministry and where he performed many of his miracles. There are many places and sanctuaries, all very near to one another, that you can visit on the lake: the Primacy of Peter, the archaeological site of Magdala, the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, the church of Tabgha which evokes the multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. In Capharnaum you can admire the excavations that are bringing to the light the village where Jesus lived and preached and the church, the Memorial of St. Peter, built on the remains of Peter’s true house. From here you can go a little inland and climb the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave his sermon on the evangelical beatitudes.
Also in Tiberias you can stay at the Casa Nova of the Franciscans.
5th day: Jericho, Bethany, Jerusalem
And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice,
“Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth .
So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go!”
(John 11, 43-44)
Your first stop on this fifth day can be Jericho, so going back to Jerusalem. Yerikho, in Hebrew Luna, is the oldest city known to man and is the lowest below sea level. Archaeological studies have allowed dating the first settlements to around 8000 BC. The Herodian Jericho is the one Jesus knew and it was here that he met Zacchaeus (Luke 19, 1-10). Here you can see the sycamore mentioned in the Gospel and the archaeological site with the ruins of ancient Jericho, Tel es-Sultan. From here, if you have time, you can visit a place that is really very special for its landscape and location: the Greek Orthodox monastery of the “Quarantine” linked to the memory of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert. We cannot omit suggesting a very important place for Christians: the place where Jesus was baptised on the River Jordan: the site was recently improved and is open to the public.
From here, returning to Jerusalem, you can stop at Bethany and the house of the friends of Jesus: Martha, Mary and Lazarus. This is where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Back in Jerusalem, we suggest you take a fantastic walk over the roofs of the Old City. It is a very special angle that gives you an overall view of the quarters into which it is divided and of the spectacular churches, mosques and synagogues.
In Jerusalem you can stay at the Casa Nova of the franciscans.
6th day: Jerusalem (Via Dolorosa – Holy Sepulchre – Kotel and esplanade – Mount Zion)
You can devote the morning of the sixth day to the Old City of Jerusalem and in particular to the Holy Places. Starting from the Church of the Flagellation, where the Via Crucis starts, along the Via Dolorosa with its 14 stations. Some of the most notable ones are: the 3rd station in where Jesus fell for the first time, at the 4th he met Mary, at the 6th Veronica wiped his face and at the 7th station where Jesus fell for the second time, you can see the relic of the Column of the Flagellation.
The last station of the Via Crucis coincides with the Holy Sepulchre or the Basilica of the Resurrection. This is perhaps the holiest and dearest place for the whole of Christianity. In the time of Jesus, it was a place that was outside the walls of the city and probably used for burials. In the Basilica, there is Calvary (the Latin name for Golgotha), the Stone of Unction on which the body of Jesus was laid and anointed according to Jewish tradition, and the Empty Tomb.
“Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here! Behold the place where they laid him.” Mark 16, 6 -7
The holy place par excellence, this time for the Jews, the Wailing Wall (Kotel Hama’aravi in Hebrew) is an original part of the western containment wall built by Herod in 20 BC to support the esplanade of the Second Temple, the temple mentioned in the Gospels. Here you will see many Jews, with their heads covered, praying facing the Wall, in two separate areas for men and women (in exactly the same way as in a synagogue).
You can visit the esplanade where today there are Muslim places of worship: the beautiful and grandiose Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, to which unfortunately access is prohibited.
Going first through the Jewish Quarter and then the Armenian one, through the Date of Zion, you reach Mount Zion. Here, just outside the walls, there is the Cenacle, the place of the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles and the apparition of Jesus Risen. Near the Holy cenacle there is also the Dormition Abbey and the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, commemorating the place where Peter denied Jesus.
7th day: Jerusalem (Mount of Olives – Gethsemane – Ain Karem)
“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.” Luke 24, 50-51
You can devote the morning to visiting the Mount of Olives, whilst in the afternoon we recommend seeing the small village of Ain Karem.
The Mount of Olives is the site of many events narrated in the Gospels: the Ascension of Jesus to heaven (edicule of the Ascension), the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer to the Apostles (the Pater Noster grotto), Jesus’ tears about Jerusalem (Dominus Flevit), Gethsemane and the arrest of Jesus (Basilica of the Agony and the Olive Grove), the burial place of his mother (the Tomb of the Virgin Mary).
The view from the top of the mount over the city is, to say the least, extraordinary.
About 8 kms. From Jerusalem, clinging to a valley full of woods, stands Ain Karem where, Christian tradition has it, Elizabeth lived with her husband Zachariah and where John the Baptist was born. Here you can visit the church of the Visitation, which commemorates the Virgin Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth and the Church of St. John the Baptist.
8th day: Yad Vashem, Emmaus el-Qubeibeh
For visitors to Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, the museum dedicated to the Shoah and standing on the Hill of Remembrance, is a compulsory stopping place. Yad Vashem means “a monument and a name” and is an expression that comes from the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“I will give them, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name […] an eternal name, which shall not be cut off, will I give them” (Is 56, 5).
It is a moving visit which will definitely make an indelible impression in your memory.
In the afternoon, you can go to Emmaus el-Qubeibeh, west of Jerusalem and where Jesus appeared after the resurrection to the disciples Cleophas and Simeon. Here there is a sanctuary which commemorates this event and which has the remains of a Roman house (the house of Cleophas according to tradition), the Franciscan convent next to the church, a Roman road and the remains of a village of Crusader times, still recognizable with its houses and shops.
9th day: Caesarea Maritima
You can devote the morning of the last day to the ancient Caesarea Maritima, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Israel. It was Herod the Great who built the city in around 20 BC with its magnificent port and dedicated it to Caesar. In Roman times, it was an important city for trade and political, cultural and religious events. Peter baptized the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family. You can visit the Crusader citadel with the port, the Roman amphitheatre, the Herodian aqueduct and many remains of the Roman-Byzantine period.