The altar at the grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The star under the altar is at the place of Jesus’ birth.
Part 2 of the visions of Anna Catherine Emmerich (1774- 1824), a Catholic Augustinian nun who was a mystic, visionary, and stigmatist whose had visions of the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, which were recorded by the German poet Clemens Brentano. (See Part 1 here.)
St. Joseph finds the grotto
“It was already late when they arrived at the entrance to the grotto. The young ass which, since they had entered into the paternal house of Joseph, had run about all round the city, came there to meet them, and began joyfully to leap about near them. The Blessed Virgin then said to Joseph: “See, it is certainly the will of God that we go in here.” Joseph placed the ass under a kind of roof which there was before the entrance of the grotto: he prepared a seat for the Blessed Virgin and she sat down upon it whilst he went to procure a light at the entrance of the grotto.
The entrance was partially obstructed by bundles of straw and mats placed against the walls. There were also in the grotto many things which were in the way, and Joseph cleared them away so as to prepare a convenient place for the Blessed Virgin on the eastern side of the grotto. He fastened a lighted lamp to the wall and brought Mary in, who placed herself on a couch of rest which he had prepared for her with coverlets and some bundles. He excused himself very humbly for only being able to procure her such a poor lodging, but Mary inwardly was contented and joyful.
When she was properly settled Joseph went out with a leathern bottle, which he carried with him, behind the hill, into the meadow where a small brook was flowing. He filled the bottle with water and brought it into the grotto. He then went into the city and procured some small dishes and some charcoal. The Sabbath was near, and in consequence of the numerous strangers who required a number of indispensable articles, they had set up tables at the corners of the streets on which there were provisions that might be required. I believe there were there people who were not Jews.
Joseph returned carrying the lighted charcoal in a kind of grated box. He placed them at the entrance of the grotto, lighted the fire with a small piece of dry wood, and then brought the repast, which consisted of small cakes and some dry fruits. When they had eaten and prayed Joseph prepared a couch for the Blessed Virgin. He spread over a litter of rushes a coverlet similar to those which I had seen in the house of Saint Anne, and placed another rolled-up coverlet to support her head. After having brought in the ass and fastened it to a spot where it would be out of the way, he stopped up the openings of the grotto by which the air came in, and arranged a place to sleep for himself in the entrance of the grotto.
The Sabbath in the cave
When the Sabbath commenced he remained with the Blessed Virgin under a lamp and recited with her the prayers of the Sabbath: he then quitted the grotto and went into the city. Mary wrapped herself up to take some rest. During the absence of Joseph, I saw the Blessed Virgin pray on her knees: then she stretched herself on the coverlet reposing on her side; her head reposed upon her arm which was placed upon the pillow. Joseph re turned later on: he prayed again and humbly placed himself on his bed at the entrance of the grotto.
Saturday, the 24th of November. Today the Sister [Catherine Emmerich] was very unwell and could only say very little. She communicated, however, as follows:
The Blessed Virgin passed the Sabbath in the Grotto of the Crib praying and meditating with great fervour. Joseph went out sometimes: he probably went to the synagogue of Bethlehem. I saw them eat the food prepared on the preceding day and pray together. In the afternoon, at which time the Jews generally take a walk on the Sabbath-day, Joseph led the Blessed Virgin to the Grotto of the tomb of Maraha, the nurse of Abraham. She remained some time in this grotto which was more spacious than that of the crib; and where Joseph arranged a seat for her. She stayed also under the tree which stood near, always praying and meditating until the close of the Sabbath. Joseph then brought her back.
Mary had told her husband that the birth of the child would take place on this day at midnight, for at that hour would terminate the nine months which had passed since the salutation of the angel of the Lord: she had prayed him to do all they could to honour in the best manner the entrance into the world of the child promised by God and supernaturally conceived. She had asked him also to pray with her for those hard-hearted people who had refused to give him hospitality. Joseph offered the Blessed Virgin to get some pious women of Bethlehem whom he knew to come and assist her. She did not wish it, and she told him she should have no need of help from any one.
Joseph went to Bethlehem before the close of the Sabbath, and as soon as the sun was set he bought some things which he required: a dish, a small low table, some fruits and dried grapes, which he brought to the Grotto of the Crib: he went from thence to the Grotto of Maraha and led back the Blessed Virgin to that of the crib, where she sat upon the coverlet. Joseph prepared some food: they ate and prayed together. He put up a division between the place which he had chosen to sleep in and the rest of the grotto by means of some poles, on which he hung some mats which he found there. He gave the ass which was fastened to the wall of the grotto something to eat: he then filled the manger of the crib with reeds and grass and moss and spread a coverlet over it.
The Birth of Christ
As the Blessed Virgin had then told him that her time was at hand, and wished him to pray in his chamber, he suspended several lighted lamps from the roof and went out from the grotto as he had heard a noise near the entrance. He there found the young ass, which till then had been running about in the valley of the shepherds. It appeared very joyful and played and jumped about him: he fastened it under the shed, which was be fore the grotto, and gave it some food.
When he returned to the grotto, and before entering his retreat, he cast his eyes upon the Blessed Virgin. He saw her praying on her knees before the couch: her back was turned towards him and she was looking towards the east. She seemed to him as if surrounded by flames, and all the grotto seemed to shine with a super natural light. He looked at it as Moses when he saw the burning bush: then seized with a holy fear, he entered into his cell and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.
The light which surrounded the Blessed Virgin became more and more brilliant: the light of the lamp prepared by Joseph could not be seen. When the hour of midnight arrived Mary was transported in an ecstasy. I saw her raised a certain height from the ground; she had her hands crossed upon her breast. The light kept increasing around her; everything seemed to feel a joyful emotion, even things inanimate. The rock which formed the floor and the wall of the grotto were, as it were, alive with light. But soon I saw no more of the roof; a luminous path, whose bright ness continually increased, went from Mary to the highest heaven. Then was there a marvellous movement of the celestial glories, which, approaching nearer and nearer, appeared distinctly under the form of the angelic choirs. The Blessed Virgin, raised from the earth in her ecstasy, prayed and turned her eyes to her God, of whom she had become the mother, and who, a feeble new-born infant, was lying on the ground before her.
I saw Our Saviour like a little shining infant, whose brilliance eclipsed all the surrounding splendour, lying upon the rug before the knees of the Blessed Virgin. He seemed to me very small, and to grow larger before my eyes; but this was only the radiance of a light so dazzling that I can scarcely say how I could see it.
The Blessed Virgin remained some time in ecstasy. Then I saw her place a linen cloth over the child; but she did not touch Him nor take Him yet into her arms. After a short time I saw the Infant Jesus move, and I heard Him cry. It was then that the Blessed Virgin recovered the use of her senses. She took the child, wrapped it in the linen cloth with which she had covered it, and took it in her arms against her breast. I believe that she suckled it. I then saw angels around her in human form prostrate themselves before the new-born and adore Him.
About an hour had elapsed since the birth of the child, when Mary called Saint Joseph, who was still praying with his face to the ground. Approaching, he prostrated himself, full of joy, humility, and fervour. It was only when Mary had induced him to press to his heart the sacred gift of the Most High, that he rose, received the Infant Jesus in his arms, and returned thanks to God with tears of joy.
Then the Blessed Virgin swathed the Infant Jesus. Mary had only four linen cloths with her. I then saw Mary and Joseph sitting on the ground near each other. They did not speak, but seemed absorbed in contemplation. Before Mary, swathed as an ordinary child, was laid the new-born Jesus, beautiful and bright as lightning. “Ah!” I exclaimed, “this place contains the Salvation of the whole world, and no one can doubt it.”
They then placed the infant in the crib. They had re-filled it with rushes and beautiful plants, on which they had spread a coverlet. It was above the trough, hollowed in the rock to the right of the entrance to the grotto, which became larger there in a southerly direction. When they had placed the infant in the crib they both stood at the side, shedding tears of joy and chanting songs of praise. Joseph then arranged the sleeping couch and seat of the Blessed Virgin by the side of the crib. I saw her, both before and after the birth of Jesus, dressed in a white garment, which completely covered her. I saw her during the first days sitting, kneeling, standing, or even lying on her side, and sleeping; but neither ill nor fatigued.
The icon above the altar at the grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem