On the 26th of August 2012 the Sisters of Carmel in Bethlehem celebrated their 29thanniversary of the beatification of their founder St. Mary of Jesus Crucified. She was beatificated in 1983 by Blessed Pope John Paul II.
For that annual occasion, many Christians from Bethlehem and other parts of the Holy Land gathered in the beautiful chapel and gardens of the monastery. The feast began with a solemn mass and special prayers to the St. Mary and was followed by a sweet treat prepared by the sisters.
History of the Carmelite Convent in Bethlehem
The Carmelite Convent in Bethlehem was founded by Mariam Baouardy – Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified. On 20th of August 1875, ten sisters under her leadership left their mother monastery in Pau, France to start the Carmel in Bethlehem, the town where Jesus Christ was born.
Who was Sister Mariam?
Mariam Baouardy was born in 1846 to a poor Melkite family in Ibilin, a village between Haifa and Nazareth in the Galilee of the Holy Land. Mariam’s parents suffered before her birth – they had twelve children who were stillborns. The mother prayed to God for a child and in exchange Mariam’s mother promised to dedicate her next child to God.
Unfortunately, Mariam’s parents died quite young, so her uncle took her with his family to Cairo in Egypt. There he wanted her to be engaged to a much older man, however, Mariam refused.
After that, her uncle treated her badly and made her one of his servants. The other workers wished to dissuade her from her Christian faith, but she was strong. One night, one of the servants beat her almost to death. It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to Mariam, healing her wounds and miraculously bringing her back to life.
From that point, Mariam decided to devote herself to God and went to a Carmelite convent in Pau, France and took the name of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified. It is said that she had supernatural powers: she could predict the future; levitate during prayers; and she received Jesus’ stigmata. Sister Mary was very active and she founded three different Carmelite monasteries: one in India and two in the Holy Land – one each in Nazareth and Bethlehem.
Initially the ten sisters lived in a temporary house close to the Basilica of the Nativity. Sister Mary, guided by God, chose to locate the future Carmel on a hill facing the hill of the Nativity.
Although the building was still under construction, the inauguration of the convent took place in November 1876. Mariam died on 26th of August 1878, before the building was completed.
According to her wish, she was buried on the grounds of Bethlehem’s convent. Her relics are housed in the monastery’s chapel.
Present Life in the Convent
Nowadays, the Carmel community in Bethlehem has approximately 15 sisters from both local and international backgrounds, but they communicate with each other in French. The sisters live a lifestyle focused on prayer and fellowship and most of the sisters remain in the monastery each day.
The sisters operate a pilgrim house for those travelers seeking a quiet and spiritual place in Bethlehem.
If you go:
The Carmelite Monastery in Bethlehem is located at 119 Jamal Abdel Nasser St. All guests are welcomed to the convent, however, the sisters are not always available as they have designated hours for prayers.
Please call before visiting: +972 (02) 2742486 or contact online: firstname.lastname@example.org
Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.