Famed German Stigmatic Described Cave Where She Said Mary Gave Birth To Jesus
By Michael H. Brown
There are those who describe the birthplace of Christ as a "manger." That's defined as a trough or box in which fodder is placed for animals, or a place where cattle are fed. There are those who describe the Nativity as occurring in a "grotto." That's defined as a cave -- intriguing because, in the centuries since Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary has consistently manifested at caves like the one at Lourdes and more recently in a grotto known near Tre Fontaine in Italy. There seems to be a mysterious attachment.
According to German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich -- who is currently up for beatification and whose revelations are the basis for a new Mel Gibson movie that is currently creating an international ruckus -- the birthplace of Jesus was both a cave and a manger.
Let us state from the outset that like those from any other mystic, the revelations of Venerable Emmerich are not to be taken as gospel and must be discerned individually. She herself never wanted them published, doing so only out of obedience. But in some cases her insights, often gained while she was suffering stigmata, or in an ecstatic, sleeplike state, have proven to be uncannily accurate -- as when she correctly depicted the house where Mary spent her final years, leading to its dramatic discovery in Ephesus, Turkey.
Now, we turn to her revelations about the Nativity:
In vivid, at times startling prose, the stigmatic, who died in 1824, described it as taking place in a spot that had been known to Joseph. "He knew of one place outside the town, belonging to the shepherds, who often went there when coming with their flocks to [Bethlehem]," asserted the mystic. "He said he knew the place from childhood. When his brothers had tormented him, he had often escaped there to hide from them and to say his prayers. Even if the shepherds did come there, he would easily come to an understanding with them; but at this time of the year they were seldom there."
Emmerich asserted in a book called The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary that St. Joseph intended it only as temporary quarters while he looked for a room. Instead, it became history's most famous birthplace. "They went outside Bethlehem to the east of the town by a lonely footpath," said Emmerich in a revelation recorded by poet Clemens Brentano. "A few minutes outside it, they came to a hill or high bank, in front of which was an open space made pleasant by several trees. The place was such as one might find right at the end of the old ramparts of some little town."
It was here, said Emmerich, at the south end of a hill, around which went a road leading to the Shepherd's Valley, that they located a cave which coursed eastwards into the hill through a narrow passage into a larger chamber, "half semi-circular and half triangular," the walls both natural rock and on the south side rough masonry.
"From the ordinary entrance to the cave, which faced westwards, one could see nothing but a few roofs and towers of Bethlehem," said the mystic, who experienced an array of mystical phenomena, as well as the wounds of Jesus. "In front of the main entrance, supported on posts, there was a light roof of reeds, extending round the south of the cave to the entrance on that side, so that one could sit in front of the cave in the shade. On the south side there were, high up, three openings for light and air, closed by gratings fixed in masonry. There was a similar opening in the roof of the cave. This roof, which was covered with turf, formed the extremity of the ridge on which Bethlehem stood."
It was in a compartment of this cave, near the northern part, where Joseph put his donkey, claimed Emmerich. "The Blessed Virgin was in the eastern part of this cave, exactly opposite the entrance, when she gave birth to the Light of the World," she said. "The crib in which the Child Jesus was laid stood on the west side of the southern and more roomy part of the cave. This crib was a hollowed-out stone trough lying on the ground and used for cattle to drink from; over it stood a longish rectangular manger or rack, narrower below and broader above, made of wooden lattice-work and raised on four feet so that the beasts could comfortably eat the hay or grass in the rack and lower their heads to drink the water in the trough beneath. When the three holy kings presented their gifts, the Blessed Virgin was sitting with the Child Jesus opposite the crib on the eastern side of this part of the cave."
So it is that we have a detailed description -- more than we can convey here -- of both a cave and a manger: not the wooden structure so often used in Nativity scenes, but a manger nonetheless. The road to the Shepherd's Valley ran past the south side of the cave, said Emmerich. Here and there were little houses standing on hills, and scattered about in the fields were sheds thatched with reeds on four, six, or eight posts, with wicker walls.
Here were the hills and caves and here, according to the mystic, was where the greatest event in human history took place. "I was told much that had happened in the Cave of the Nativity of symbolic and prophetic significance in Old Testament times," claimed the mystic, who said the cave also served as the spot where, as a youth, Abraham had once hidden.
"Mary had told St. Joseph that tonight at midnight would be the hour of the Child's birth, for then the nine months since the Annunciation would have been complete," Emmerich said. "She begged him to do all that was possible on his part so that they might show as much honor as they could to the Child promised by God and supernaturally conceived. Joseph suggested to the Blessed Virgin that he should summon to her assistance some pious women whom he knew in Bethlehem. She declined, however, saying that she needed no human help."
As the time approached, said Emmerich, Mary radiated an actual light. Both she and Joseph prayed. At one point, claimed Emmerich, Joseph went outside the cave to investigate a noise -- it was a stray donkey -- and when he returned, the Blessed Mother was kneeling on her bed facing east. "He saw her as it were surrounded by flames, the whole cave was as if filled with supernatural light," she said. "He gazed at her like Moses when he saw the burning bush; then he went into his little cell in holy awe and threw himself on his face in prayer...
[next: the actual birth of Jesus]
Mystic Not Only Claimed She Had Details Of Christ's Birth, But Also The Date
What was the actual birth of Jesus like? Could it be true that Anne Catherine Emmerich -- the German mystic whose revelations led to discovery of Mary's home in Ephesus -- also received an accurate glimpse of this world-shaking situation?
That's up to your discernment. Like all mysticism, the revelations must each be individually and carefully weighed. But they are so vivid that they draw the reader right into the mood of Christmas. When we left off, Venerable Emmerich (up for beatification next year) had described the cave with the manger -- and a dramatic scene that included Joseph -- knowing the time was approaching -- spotting a luminosity around his wife.
"I saw the radiance round the Blessed Virgin ever growing greater," claimed the mystic in an ecstatic state. "The light of the lamps which Joseph had lit was no longer visible. Our Lady knelt on her rug in an ample ungirt robe spread out round her -- her face turned towards the east. At midnight she was rapt in an ecstasy of prayer."
At this moment, claimed Emmerich -- whose visions often involved the spectacular, and whose revelations on the Passion are behind an upcoming major movie -- the Blessed Mother seemed to rise off the ground or at least transcend the earth spiritually.
"Her hands were crossed on her breast," said Emmerich. "The radiance around her increased. Everything, even things without life, were in a joyful inner motion, the stones of the roof, of the walls, and of the floor of the cave became as it were alive in the light.
"Then I no longer saw the roof of the cave," said the stigmatic. "A pathway of light opened above Mary -- rising with ever-increasing glory towards the height of Heaven. In this pathway of light there was a wonderful movement of glories interpenetrating each other, and, as they approached, appearing more clearly in the form of choirs of heavenly spirits. Meanwhile, the Blessed Virgin, borne up in ecstasy, was now gazing downwards, adoring her God -- Whose mother she had become."
It is powerful testimony. There are snippets that may be keenly accurate. This is a mystic who had many "hits" during her time as a seer of events in the past. "I saw our Redeemer as a tiny Child, shining a light that overpowered all the surrounding radiance, and lying on the carpet at the Blessed Virgin's knees," she went on. "It seemed to me as if He were at first quite small and then grew before my eyes. But the movement of the intense radiance was such that I cannot say for certain how I saw it."
It was Emmerich's contention that at the Nativity, Mary remained in a rapture for an extended time -- at first not touching the precious, miraculous Child. Finally, he did. "After some time I saw the Child Jesus move and heard Him cry," related Emmerich. "Then Mary seemed to come to herself, and she took the Child up from the carpet, wrapping Him in the cloth which covered Him, and held Him in her arms to her breast."
True? Untrue? At the very least, Emmerich's visions set an incredible, galvanizing tone of history's holiest moment. No doubt, there was a great Light; no doubt there was a commotion in at least the invisible realm; no doubt some of this manifested in the physical, to whatever extent.
Emmerich saw angels "in human form" lying in the cave on their faces -- a description that brings to mind current-day accounts of angels. Joseph too was reluctant to take up the Child -- but did so at the urging of Mary, claimed the seer, who visions of the Passion have influenced a Mel Gibson movie.
According to Emmerich, the Christ Child was wrapped in red and white bands, His head and shoulders swathed with a separate cloth. "In these pictures of Christ's birth, which I see as an historical event and not as a feast of the Church, I do not see such radiant and ecstatic joy in nature as I do on Christmas night when the vision that I see expresses an interior significance," she explained. "Yet I saw in this vision an unwonted joy and an extraordinary movement at midnight in many places even to the uttermost parts of the earth."
According to this German stigmatic, whose revelations occurred in the 19th century, the movement of Spirit affected many around the world.
Pagan idols broke; a fountain of oil sprung forth on a hill near Rome; in another place, a pagan temple collapsed, she asserted.
"I saw heathen priests consulting their records in great alarm," stated the mystic during visions recorded by poet Clemens Brentano. "I saw that both the Roman consuls called for reports about this event and about the appearance of the fountain of oil."
"I saw also in Egypt an event which proclaimed the birth of Christ. Far away in the country beyond Matarea, Heliopolis, and Memphis a great idol, which until then had uttered oracles of many kinds, fell suddenly silent. The idol was thereupon obliged by God to say that it was silent and must give way because a virgin had given birth to a Son, to Whom a temple would here be erected."
Meanwhile, Bethlehem and particularly the Nativity Cave were enshrouded with a "wonderful radiance," she asserted. Something like a mist had settled on the town.
The three kings?
They were star-worshippers, claimed Emmerich, and had a tower shaped like a pyramid, from which they gazed at the sky -- especially a particular star in which they saw various changes. Such phenomena would be reported centuries later at places like Fatima. They also saw visions in the sky, and this time several stars in motion, forming a figure. They saw a beautiful rainbow over the moon.
There was also a disc from which came rays of light like the Blessed Sacrament.
At one point, she claimed, the Emperor himself saw a vision in the sky of a woman and Child above another rainbow.
Incredible claims. Could they be accurate in such intense detail? Most tantalizingly, Venerable Emmerich claimed to have indications of exactly when Jesus was born. Long the subject of dispute -- with many of the belief that the Birth was several years before what is usually acknowledged (in other words, between seven to four B.C.) -- Emmerich put it this way:
"Christ was born when the year of the world 3997 was not quite completed. Afterwards people forgot the period of three years and a portion of a year which intervened between His birth and the year 4000, and then reckoned our new era as beginning four years later, so that Christ was born seven years and a portion of a year earlier than according to our reckoning.
"Christ was born in the 45th year of the Emperor Augustus," she asserted. "Herod reigned forty years in all until his death. He died about the time of Christ's sixth year."
This is a mystery because some historians place the birth of Augustus at 62 or 63 B.C. As for Herod, some believe he died in 1 A.D. -- putting the birth of Christ in roughly the range mentioned by Emmerich. Others argue that Herod died in four B.C.
"In the face of the historical evidence against it, the majority of theologians have up to now placed the birth of Jesus before the spring of 4 B.C.," notes one scholarly book. "They have insisted on this early date because of a reference in Josephus that King Herod died not long after an eclipse of the Moon and before a springtime Passover of the Jews. This eclipse has become an important chronological benchmark in reckoning the year of Herodís death."
Herod was said to have died shortly before a lunar eclipse that some trace to four or one B.C.
Whatever the final determination -- and Emmerich admitted that she wasn't sure -- she also claimed that Jesus was born "in the month of Kislev."
Kislev was the ninth month, corresponding approximately to our November-December period; according to Catherine Emmerich, the Lord was born on the twelfth of Kislev -- which that year was dated November 25.
"The reason why the Church keeps the feast exactly a month later than the actual event is because at one time, when an alteration in the calendar was made, some days and seasons were completely omitted," she stated, adding definitively, "The Birth of Jesus occurred in a year which the Jews reckoned as having thirteen months."
Three Mystics Said To Have Influenced Gibson Movie All Described The Nativity
Catholic mystics -- much in the news these days due to everything from beatifications to a major movie -- had varying ways of describing the way of Christ and especially His birth in Bethlehem. Among the most prominent are German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich, of whom we have extensively written; Spanish seer Mary of Agreda (right), who lived during the 17th century; and a contemporary mystic, Maria Valtorta, who was born in Caserta, Italy, and lived mainly in the twentieth century.
In addition, the lives of Jesus and Mary reportedly have been dictated to Alessandrina Maria da Costa of Portugal -- a mystic who died on October 13, 1955 (anniversary of the Fatima sun miracle) -- and at least three seers in Medjugorje. Da Costa, lay member of the Union of Salesian Co-workers, was born on March 30, 1904, and once threw herself out of a window to preserve her virginity. As a result of the accident, she was gradually paralyzed. From her bed she carried out a precious apostolate of prayer and advice in favor of the numerous persons who visited her, attracted by her extraordinary virtues and charisms. Just this week, a decree was issued recognizing a miracle in line with Da Costa, clearing the way for her beatification.
It is Emmerich, Mary of Agreda, and Valtorta, however, who are most closely associated with such revelations, and all three of whom, to greater or lesser degrees, have reportedly had an influence on an upcoming movie about Christ directed by actor Mel Gibson.
While Emmerich and Mary of Agreda have been declared "venerable" -- a step toward canonization -- Valtorta's revelations, contained in thick tomes known as The Poem of the Man-God, have been controversial, alternately praised and condemned by Church authorities, and at one time placed on a Vatican index of forbidden books. Similar controversies swirled around Mary of Agreda, whose beatification cause was "silenced" in 1778 due to alleged errors in her writings, which at certain points contradicted those of St. Bridget. She was given to ecstasies and trances and allegedly had the gift of bilocation; in some of her trances she said she was teaching Christianity to people in foreign lands. A vision of her, known as the "Lady in Blue" was simultaneously reported teaching the native Tiguas and Caddoes in the areas of what are now New Mexico and Texas. Meanwile, Valtorta was born in 1897 in Caserta, Italy. In 1916 the Lord allegedly attracted her by means of a dream. She died in 1961.
The merits of each mystic we leave for your own discernment. At the least, they have presented us with lucid visualizations of the Nativity. It was Mary of Agreda, in a classic called City of God, who conceptualized the journey to Bethlehem as one accompanied by "ten thousand angels." Like Emmerich, she described Joseph retiring in prayer in the cave and the Blessed Mother in ecstasy immediately preceding her Divine delivery.
"At the moment when she issued from it and regained the use of her senses she felt and saw that the Body of the Infant God began to move in her virginal womb," wrote Mary of Agreda in prose that sometimes differs from that of Emmerich, but mostly in the way of style -- and with some striking consistencies. "Her countenance emitted rays of light, like an incarnadine sun, and shone in indescribable earnestness and majesty, all inflamed with fervent love. She was kneeling in the manger, her eyes raised to Heaven, her hands joined and folded at her breast, her soul wrapped in the divinity and she herself entirely defined."
It was Mary of Agreda's contention that Mary accompanied Joseph during his attempts at finding lodging, while Emmerich -- also named "venerable" by the Vatican, and now herself up for beatification -- described Mary as accompanying Joseph only for a while, and then settling in the cave while Joseph made some final attempts.
Such are not contradictions so much as differences in the length of their narratives. According to Mary of Agreda, the archangels Gabriel and Michael were present at the Nativity. It was Gabriel, she maintained, who appeared to the shepherds (along with "a great multitude of the celestial family"). Hers is a poignant meditation. Some was said to have come to Mary of Agreda after apparitions of the Blessed Mother herself.
But it remains Emmerich who presents the most vivid rendition. She saw the scene as one in which the shepherds gazed up to the sky as a cloud of light sank down towards them. "As it drew near, I perceived a movement in it, a changing and transformation into figures and forms, and I heard a song which gradually grew louder," she dictated in an ecstatic, trance-like state. "The appearance of the angels to the shepherds in the hour of Christ's Birth has made the story of the wonderful Child of the Promise known to all good folks here in the valleys."
It is Emmerich who is most frequently mentioned in line with the Gibson movie, and her relic the actor carries with him. That there is a mystical force in the film is evident from the power it possesses and the huge attention it has received. For good reason: while based mainly on the Gospels, any work involving such detail brings the most powerful events known to mankind into living and not just cinematic color.
Adding to what is known, Emmerich asserted that St. Joseph's relatives visited them in the cave. "Among them was the father of that Jonadab who at the Crucifixion brought Jesus a cloth to cover His nakedness," she said. "The Blessed Virgin remained with the Infant Jesus about four hours in the side cave, and then returned to the crib," added Emmerich, describing an event in which Joseph moved them from the main cave for fear of Herod. "No one [came] here from Bethlehem, except the shepherds whose duties brought them here. In general no one in Bethlehem paid any attention to what
By All Odds 'Star Of Bethlehem' Was Not Astronomical But Rather Beyond Nature
The secularists -- the scientists -- have always tried an astronomical approach. The Star of Bethlehem, they have surmised, may have been a comet, a planet, or a star near the North Star. Astronomers have proposed conjunctions of some of the planets as one likely explanation of the "star," notes the U.S. Naval Observatory. "Possible conjunctions involve Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C.; Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars in 6 B.C.," it states, referring to what is thought to be the actual time of Christ's Birth. "And Jupiter and Venus in 3 B.C. Other possibilities are appearances of comets in 5 B.C. and 4 B.C., and a nova (exploding star) in 5 B.C. Alternatively, there may have been a sighting of the then unknown planet Uranus, which, though faintly visible to the naked eye, was not discovered until AD 1781. lf the appearance of the 'star' was a miracle or a myth, astronomical explanations are unnecessary and invalid."
Astronomical or supernatural? It all starts with Matthew's account, beginning in Chapter 2 verse 1: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.'"
That seemed like an astronomical observation. But then we pick up Matthew's narrative in verse 9, which states: "And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh."
It was a moving star. It seemed to have meaning. It seemed to have sentience. The magi told Herod that the star was rising in the east, implying a "new" star: it was something very different. It certainly does not fit the description of a comet. Nor does it sound like a nova. A nova does not move. And only a comet of the prominence of Hale-Bopp would have been so lucidly presented.
More probably, it was what Scripture implies and what the Naval Observatory acknowledges as possible: a supernatural manifestation, a "miracle." In the Bible itself we see that Moses led by a strange luminosity (the "pillar of fire"), and unusual, moving, and sometimes even colored or splitting stars have been reported at apparition sites such as Fatima. Centuries ago, the appearance of seven stars over a hillock in Spain led to discovery of a buried icon, and at Medjugorje, three meteors or "stars" precede appearances of the Madonna. In the annals of those who have reported near-death visions are descriptions of angels who at first appeared as star-like lights -- and we even see this representation in the classic Christmas movie It's A Wonderful Life.
During my first trip to Medjugorje, I myself witnessed a "star" that split into three separate, colored stars (white, blue, and red), which squiggled apart, only to rejoin as one a few minutes later. It kept doing this; the whole group I was with witnessed it for about 15 minutes through binoculars. This was to the west of the village. At Fatima I saw the image of the Crucifixion as well as letters that seemed like ancient script and the form of the Blessed Mother in another "star" in front of the basilica (at the base of the tarmac).
Was the Star of Bethlehem something similar -- but on a much larger scale? If it was, the most intriguing description of this light that announced Christ comes -- as do many such descriptions -- from German stigmatic Anne Catherine Emmerich, who was said to have relived the lives of Jesus and Mary during ecstasies and who envisioned both the Star of Bethlehem and what she described as the long journey of the three kings or "wise men."
"I always saw the kings approaching Bethlehem when I was putting out the Crib in the convent," she said. "I have already related how I saw the Birth of Christ being announced to the kings on Christmas night. I saw Mensor and the dark-skinned Sair gazing at the stars from a field in Mensor's country. They were on a pyramid-shaped tower looking through long tubes at the Star of Jacob, which had a tail. The star split asunder before their eyes, and I saw a great shining virgin appear therein -- before whom a radiant Child hovered in the air."
Emmerich claimed that the third king, whom she named as Theokeno, lived a few days to the east and saw the same thing. It was an event that lasted more than a month. Was it a comet the prominence of something like Hale-Bopp -- or something entirely different?
"The star which led them was really like a round ball with light streaming out of it as from a mouth," wrote the mystic in a book called The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "It always seemed to me as if this ball, which was as it were swinging on a shaft of light, was guided by the hand of a supernatural being." It was Emmerich's contention that when they told the king of Causur what they had seen, he was astonished and took a look for himself, seeing "a little child with a cross."
Whatever the accuracy of such particulars, stars splitting into other stars have been reported at Medjugorje -- where strange sky movements have long been a staple of alleged phenomena -- and at Fatima, sacred images have been seen in a night-time light. Could this have been similar? Could the Star of Bethlehem simply have been a larger manifestation of what has been seen at apparition sites in the centuries since Bethlehem?
We would discount such notions as holy fantasy were it not for the fact the Emmerich correctly led investigators to the ancient house of Mary in Ephesus -- itself a phenomenal story -- and described the one king Mensor, the brown-skinned one, as coming from a place that sounded like "Acjaja."
It was later learned that "Achajacula" was a castle on an island in the Euphrates in Mesopotamia!
Two of the Three Kings saw the star together, claimed Emmerich, while the pale one, Theokeno, saw it at his home and caught up with the other two. The kings were descendents of Job, the mystic asserted. They are described as journeying far. The mention in Matthew of a "house" may imply that by the time they reached Him, Jesus may have been in an actual home, as opposed to the Nativity cave. "They travel with perfect orderliness," said Venerable Emmerich in her revelations. "First comes a big camel with boxes on each side of his hump covered with large carpets on which sits the leader with a goad in his hand and a sack at his side. Then follow smaller beats, such as horses or big donkeys, carrying packages and ridden by the men belonging to this leader. Then comes another of the leaders on a camel and so on.
"Sair, the dark-skinned one, lived three days' journey from the home of Mensor, the brown one, and Theokeno five days' journey. Each day's journey was reckoned as lasting twelve hours. Mensor and Sair were together in the former king's camp when they saw the vision of the star of Our Lord's Birth, and started off the next day with their followers. Theokeno hurried in great haste, catching up with the other two in the deserted city. I did know the length of their journey to Bethlehem, but have partly forgotten it. What I remember, more or less, is that their journey was about 700 hours and still another figure with six in it. They had about sixty days' journey, each reckoned at twelve hours, but they performed it in thirty-three days owing to the great speed of their beasts and to their traveling day and night."
In this way did they proceed, claimed the mystic; in this way were they guided; in this way did they pay homage to the new and true King Who the mysterious light announced.
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