The acrid smell of smoke wafted through the air as dark-skinned, bearded men wearing turbans pushed open the door of the church in Bethlehem. They were heavily armed and each carried a torch. It was 614 AD, they were Persians, and they were burning the churches of Palestine to the ground.
But this church would be different. Once inside, their torchlight illuminated the pillars of the nave and what they saw painted on the pillars which lined it, gave them pause.
They look just like us…
During this time in history, most of the populace was illiterate. In order to educate these men and women in religion, important events from scripture would be painted on the walls and pillars in the church. When the Persians entered the church in Bethlehem in 614 AD to burn it to the ground, they happened upon a pillar which was painted with the scene depicting the arrival of the Magi from the East, men who were from Persia. Men who were painted wearing attire much like the clothes the invaders were wearing. This simple scene gave them pause and the church was spared.
The Church of the Nativity has suffered through the centuries but stands today, and if one looks very, very carefully at the pillars which line the nave, ghostly images of faces painted long ago peer out through layers of patina to watch over the pilgrims of today.