My grandmother’s journey to the Holy Land

During her visit in 1935, Ida Bebbington took copious notes and historic images

People praying at the Western Wall in 1935 (photo credit: IDA BEBBINGTON)
People praying at the Western Wall in 1935
(photo credit: IDA BEBBINGTON)
I have been working as a journalist in Israel for many years, and I think the country is an amazing place to be at this time. But every so often I get the chance to go home to Carlisle, Cumbria and see my family.
The last time I was home, I was busy packing and sorting out stuff in my father’s house because he was getting married, and he and his new wife wanted to move into a new house together.
My father was busy in the loft sorting out and throwing rubbish away when he came across 12 pieces of paper that were written by my Christian grandmother, whose name was Ida Bebbington (Calvert was her married name).
She had come to British Mandate Palestine in 1935, and written her experiences on paper in beautiful handwriting.
Can you imagine holding a travel diary 84 years old that contained my own grandmother’s thoughts on the Holy Land? I really enjoyed reading them, and although they are personal to my family, I though they really must be shared.
She also kept a photo album of her time here, so we can see as well as read about her unique experience.
Arrival in Palestine, December 5, 1935
When I landed on the shores of Palestine, I felt at once that I was treading on holy ground. We had intended landing at Jaffa, but unfortunately it was far too rough, there is no harbor there, and passengers are taken ashore in small boats. The captain took us up the coast of Haifa. This is a German colony, and mostly inhabited by Germans. A number of them were pitiful to see: walking about in rags and bare-footed, working terribly hard in the severe heat.
There in the not very far distance stood the beautiful Mount Carmel, its heights rising to 1,500 ft. One couldn’t help thinking of Elijah and Elisha, for it was on this mount that Elijah so successfully opposed the false prophets of Baal. This we read in the first Book of Kings, Chapter 18.
Numerous travelers have described it as the most beautiful mountain in Palestine.
We eventually landed at Nazareth, where at the hotel we had a belated lunch and afterward explored this ancient place. We saw a shepherd with his sheep and were very much impressed that he was leading and not driving his flock. One of the sheep – which is the leader – wears a bell, so if he wanders out of sight the others know where to follow.
The sheep are very obedient to their shepherd, and know his voice, as he is always talking to them like children. By this we are reminded of Christ leading and not driving his sheep, and the obedient ones know his voice.
We traveled north to Tiberias, which stands on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was dark and very late when we arrived at the hotel. The next day being Sunday, we held our morning service down by the sea shore. Both hymns and sermon were very appropriate, one couldn’t help feeling that Christ must have walked on that very spot. “It was a hallowed place indeed.”
Somewhere in the region of 60 men earned their living on the sea of Galilee, by following the trade of St. Peter, they are all Arabs and mostly Muslims. There are three kinds of nets used:
The hand net or shabakeh
The draw net or jarf
The floating net or mebatten
The first two are the most popular, the hand net is used all over the lake, but the draw net is employed chiefly in the Jordan estuary at the north end.
The musht fish – otherwise called by the natives St. Peter’s fish – is caught mostly. It was out of the mouth of this fish that Peter took the tribute money.
It was very nice weather and extremely hot, but we did have one huge storm.
Although the lake is practically surrounded by mountains, it reminded one of a very rough sea, huge waves slashing the sides of the jetty.
On Sunday evening we attended the Scottish mission church and had a splendid service, the Scotch missionary conducting the service.
It was not a church with rich carvings, “Just a plain white-washed building” with simple wooden seats, but it was all they could afford, and they are mighty proud of it.
Just opposite is the Scottish mission hospital. This I visited, and the matron gave me a warm welcome and showed me around all the wards and the operating theater. They just had word that the high commissioner was coming to visit the hospital, so everything was hustle, bustle.
During my tour of the wards the matron introduced me to an orphan girl who had been converted, who made her home at the hospital and who was was totally blind. She never tired of telling the patients of Christ’s love and his death on the cross. She had been taught Braille and had a Bible in Braille, so she was able to read it to the sick and comfort the suffering. Anyone could see by the smile on her face that Christ was her personal friend. Both the matron and the nurses loved her dearly.
King David Street in Jerusalem (Credit: IDA BEBBINGTON)
King David Street in Jerusalem (Credit: IDA BEBBINGTON)
On to Jerusalem
We motored to Jerusalem and I think we realized how Christ must have felt when he left his beloved Galilee, so calm and beautiful, for the hustle and bustle, and eventually his death, in the capital.
On our way we motored through some beautiful country, hills and valleys all the way and shepherds rearing their flocks – the sheep waited for cars to cross the road and then following on like children. As we passed through old Samaria, we visited Jacob’s well and I washed my hands in the water drawn from it. This well is situated near old Shechem where our savior conversed with the woman of Samaria. The well is 35 feet deep and nine feet in diameter. The fields around are the (parcel of ground) which Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
The main roads are very good as they were made during and since the last war by the British, and the Arabs are splendid drivers who never slacken their speed when coming to hairpin bends.
As we neared Jerusalem we began to climb and understood why it was always said, “We will go up to the capital.”
The chief glory of Jerusalem is the Temple area. We saw the ruins of Solomon’s Temple – we are told that about 183,600 men were employed in the erection and it took seven years to complete it. One can still see the magnificent work and carvings.
The Dome of the Rck is in the Temple area. When you visit the Dome of the Rock, you are visiting the ghost of the Temple in whose courtyards Jesus preached, and from whose gates he drove the hucksters. This shrine contains the rock of the alter of burnt offerings. It is magnificent inside, and all the stone pillars are decorated with fine gold, and lovely mosaic is seen everywhere, mostly in blue and red. Around the rock one can see little gulleys where the blood ran away from the sacrifice, down into the cavern and into a channel to the Valley of Kidron.
The rock is highly polished and gives one the impression that Mount Moriah is pushing its way through the floor, for the building is on that mountain. At the southern extremity of the temple area is the church-like mosque of al-Aqsa – this has replaced the old Jewish Temple, but we are told the resemblance is astonishing. For instance the sheikhs who trim the lamps and keep the place tidy and lock the doors and so forth live in quarters under colonnades of the mosque, just as the priests of Solomon’s Temple used to do. Like them they have regular terms of office, at the completion of which they return home until their turn comes round again. The reason why the Temple area is less confusing than the other sites in Jerusalem is because it is the only spot that has not been built on again and again. It has descended to us essentially unchanged since the time of Christ.
As we were leaving the Temple area we were privileged to see the high commissioner who was visiting Jerusalem at that time. He is a Scottish man, Sir Thomas Wauchope.
Everywhere you go there are always photographers who will take your photograph and have it ready in a very short time. And children by the score, holding out their hands and saying “Baksheesh,” which means something for nothing.
The Dead Sea
The following day we made a tour to the Dead Sea. Shortly after leaving Jerusalem we came to the Garden of Gethsemane and this was beautiful. There still exists an old olive tree under which tradition says our Lord prayed the night before his crucifixion. Its trunk is bound with iron bands to try and preserve it. The flowers in the garden are simply wonderful, and the old monks were very proud of it, and kept it most tidy. As we came away we were each given an olive sprig.
Then we passed on to Bethany, which is only a tiny village. Here we saw the site of the house of Martha and Mary, also the tomb of Lazarus. All the houses are the same except some have painted doors. They have no windows and no chimney – what fires they have outside.
Terrible sickness is seen everywhere one goes, blindness and deformity being the most prevalent, and this brings to mind the terrible need for hospitals, doctors and nurses.
The poor creatures have no one to whom they can go and no one cares whether they live or die, it is pitiful to see them. There they sit begging and moaning, there is only about one in every dozen you meet who hasn’t got a cataract on one or both eyes. And some children have both eye sockets empty. One begins to think, it depends on us, as much as anyone, whether they have help sent to them, and I think Christ wasn’t only thinking of the people next door when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He meant everyone who needs help.
Traveling on down the Jericho road we came to the Good Samaritan inn. Natives still live there, and we were taken into the courtyard. The floor was beautiful mosaic. I brought a small piece back with me, here as at every other stopping place there were dozens and dozens of oranges, as big as melons. I never ate so many oranges in my life, they were the nicest flavored oranges I have ever tasted, however I don’t want to make your mouth water, as those I brought home from Jaffa have long since disappeared.
We went to the Winter Palace Hotel for lunch, and oh how nice I thought it was to get into the cool atmosphere and to have a nice refreshing drink and an eastern lunch, which was all enjoyed. When we came out there were six or eight native girls in their native costumes dancing and then asking for Baksheesh. If you only take a snap they think you ought to give them Baksheesh for the privilege.
The tour party posing for a photograph on the Temple Mount (Credit: IDA BEBBINGTON)
The tour party posing for a photograph on the Temple Mount (Credit: IDA BEBBINGTON)
Donkey ride
On the following day we had the most enjoyable donkey ride around the old walls of Jerusalem. The donkeys and their individual donkey boys arrived at our hotel, each boy shouting in their native language, “his donkey was the most perfect donkey in Jerusalem and he was the nicest donkey boy.” These donkeys and boys belonged to one man who hires them to parties. There were small donkeys with young men in attendance, and big donkeys which looked more like mules with tiny boys running alongside.
I tried two donkeys before I found one to my liking, and the donkey boy (who was almost black skinned) gave me a huge grin and seemed tremendously pleased. Of course, he was thinking of Baksheesh at the end of the journey. However he turned out to be terribly cruel (the Arabs are noted for cruelty). On the way I took his stick away from him – he was thrashing the donkey till it bled, then he looked at me as though he would have killed me.
We went around the old walls and the road or pathway was very dangerous, as it lay on the side of the mountain. At one part we went into the Valley of Kidron and I saw the pillar of Absalom and the tomb of Zeckariah. Then we came to a little brook, then we or rather the donkeys had to jump. This was very amusing, as there were two Arabs waiting to hold each person on their donkeys as they jumped the brook.
One lady – rather stout – fell off, but it didn’t deter her from going on. She mounted her donkey again, and with shrieks of laughter followed on. At one part in the road lay a dead camel’s carcass, they never bother about removing dead bodies (so you will gather what a lot of places are like).
We had very kindly been invited to the massive YMCA in the capital for tea, and to this we came on our donkeys. Here we dismissed the donkeys and boys, after giving them Baksheesh, but whatever is given they still want more. When they hold out their hand and say “Baksheesh, Baksheesh,” you say “Imshe,” which means, “get away with you.” If pestered further you say “Yalla,” which means the same thing only in stronger language.
The YMCA was built by a rich American and cost half a million, it is a magnificent building like a university. Here they very kindly gave us an English tea, which was very much relished after having much of the Eastern foods. After spending a very enjoyable time we returned to our hotel, which was only a few yards from the old Jaffa gate.
The following day being Sunday, we went to an English church (Christ Church) in the capital, this is connected with a mission station. The band of an English regiment stationed at Jerusalem played for the morning service. The church was so packed, there were chairs down the aisle. The soldiers were delighted to see someone from the old country.
On the Sunday evening, Dr. Shelley (who has been out there since the Great War) spoke to us about the return of the Jews to Palestine. He told us how very quickly they were returning, and what tremendous wealth they were bringing with them. It is very noticeable when traveling in Palestine the difference in the land: Wherever there is a Jews colony you will find the land cultivated and good crops, but wherever the Turks are is dilapidation and filth.
I was very kindly taken by the Vicar of Christ Church to Bethlehem. As he had been in Palestine for many years, he was able to take me to the most interesting places without delay. We went down one of the native streets in Bethlehem. It was so narrow, it was impossible to open the car door on either side without touching the houses. So, you will gather the width of the street.
The houses were mere hovels, some kept as clean as could be and others not fit for pigs. We visited the Church of the Nativity, which was the first Christian church and built by Constantine the Great, as a sign he had become a Christian. It is still in use today. On the walls are the remains of dim gold mosaics. The church was built above a cave, which is recognized as the birth place of Jesus Christ, two centuries before Rome became a Christian state.
Beneath the high altar is the cave, which is entered by a flight of steps. It is a small cave, about 14 yards long and four yards wide. Its walls are covered with tapestry that reeks of stale incense. Gold and silver ornaments gleam in the pale glow of the 53 lamps which burn in the cave, and which the old Greek monks keep lit.
When you enter and stand still and listen you seem to hear voices singing “Come all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.” Then again when I knelt before the manger one imagined one could hear “While shepherds watched their flocks by night.” It was a wonderful 10 minutes I spent in that grotto, and I shall never forget how near Christ felt to me.
Most of the old houses are built over caves, no one who has seen these houses can doubt that Jesus was born in one of them and not in the stable of European tradition. The caves underneath the houses is level with the road, and the room that the family lives in is reached by flights of steps – 15 to 20. The caves are used today as stables, therefore I believe we must imagine the nativity to have taken place in one of these old cave-houses of Bethlehem.
The married women wear high head dresses with long flowing white veils, and the single ladies wear the veil flat to their head (exalted position when married).
When one visits the Holy Hand and the actual places, everything seems so very real. Although our western countries have been modernized, nothing has altered in Palestine. They live as they did when Christ was on earth, and if you follow your Bible when visiting the different parts, you will find how very accurate the Bible is. So don’t let us ever lose faith in our Bible and the living Christ.