The Old Man – St Nicholas
Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 24.05.2006:
Beit Jala is an old Canaanite city whose name in Aramaic means “grass carpet.” It hosts the Church of the Virgin and St Nicola’s Church, and also a mosque for Moslems who took shelter in Beit Jala in the wake of the 1948 war. The Ras Mountain, which lies to the West of the city, is 923 metres high. On the northern part of this mountain lies the Cremisan Convent which is famous for manufacturing wine. From 1940 until the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, Beit Jala was a beautiful summer resort frequented by tourists because of its good weather and attractive scenery, and its location on top of a mountain overlooking Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other places. Due to the encroaching expansion of the Jewish suburb of Gilo, it now borders Jerusalem. On the southern side is the small ‘Ayda refugee camp and Rachel’s Tomb, a holy place.
Mar (Saint) Nicola, who came from Cappadocia in Asia Minor, is reputed to have inhabited a small cave in Beit Jala for a period of three years. The present Mar Nicola church was founded on the site of the old cave.
The stories which are connected with the Saint are innumerable. The story which seems to have the most widespread appeal and circulation is the following one. It is of comparatively recent origin. In it the Saint appears as the defender of the town against certain unruly tribes who surrounded it and launched an attack on it. The defenders of the town withstood the onslaught bravely. Every time the invaders tried to take it by storm they saw an old man (Mar Nicola) with a lance obstructing them. The invaders felt that even the olive branches of the trees surrounding the town were taking part in the battle against them. The raiders related how relatively unaffected they were by bullets of the townspeople in comparison with the harrassing of the Old Man who “impeded us” and who never allowed them to proceed to their target.
Source: Issa Massou, Religious stories from Bethlehem.