Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza
Itinerarium placentini, 570 A.D.
The anonymous pilgrim, who is believed to have come from Piacenza in Italy, narrates his journey to the Middle East which took place between 560 and 570 AD. In his description of the Holy Places of Bethlehem the pilgrim also introduces us to places of worship near the Nativity linked to the Jewish tradition and that tell the story of salvation. Among these: Herodion, Rachel’s Tomb, the monasteries around the Grotto, and the Grotto itself.
On the way to Bethlehem, at the third milestone from Jerusalem, lies the tomb of Rachel, at the limit of the area known as Ramah. In this same place, in the middle of the road, I saw standing water coming from a rock, in my judgment about seven sextaries [a little less than four liters], of which everyone takes as much as they like and the water neither decreases nor increases.
It is indescribably sweet to drink, and they say this is because St. Mary, when she was fleeing into Egypt, sat down here and was thirsty and this water immediately began to flow. There is also a recently-constructed church here.
From here to Bethlehem is three miles. Bethlehem is a splendid place, with many servants of God. There is the cave where the Lord was born, in which there is the manger adorned with gold and silver objects, and it is illuminated night and day. The entrance to the cave is indeed very narrow.
The priest Jerome excavated rock from the mouth of the cave and made a tomb for himself, where later he was placed. A half mile from Bethlehem, in a suburb, the body of David lies together with that of Solomon, his son: the two tombs are known as the shrine of St. David.
The children killed by Herod have their tomb at this place, and they are all buried together; opening the tomb one can see their bones. In front of Bethlehem is a monastery surrounded by a wall in which there is a large community of monks.