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The Prince's Journey to Bethlehem

Although not directly on his route, the Prince of Wales' tour of the Middle East included a special journey to Bethlehem, the town in which the Christmas story began.

On 3 April, 1862 he wrote in his diary:

'Our tents were struck at 8.30 A.M. and we started at that time (on horseback of course) for Bethlehem [...] stopping on the way at Rachel’s tomb [...] On arriving at Bethlehem we visited the Church of the Nativity, which belongs to the Greek, Roman Catholic and Armenian Church. The spot was shown in the church where the Lord is said to have been born, and where his cradle was.’

Bethlehem from the roof of the Convent, 3 April 1862, RCIN 2700927 ©

One of Bedford's photographs captures this scene. It shows a view of Bethlehem from the roof of the Church of the Nativity, said to be built on the spot where Jesus was born. Manger Square can be seen in the foreground, before a timeless cityscape.

This photograph would have been of great interest to the Victorian audience, who knew very little about this part of the world. Drawn to the idea of the timeless, unchanging East, they would have felt that they were looking at the scene as it was in the time when Jesus was born.

 

The Shepherds’ Field, 3 April 1862, RCIN 2861592 ©

A second photograph shows the Shepherds’ Field where the Angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to the shepherds.

Both photographs were exhibited in London by Bedford in 1862. An extract from the Day & Son exhibition catalogue demonstrates the symbolic importance of the images for Bedford’s contemporaries:

‘The plain, stretching along the upper part of the view on the left-hand side, bears the name of the Shepherds’ Field; nor is there any need to doubt that it was somewhere on the gentle slopes of those hills the shepherds were watching over the flocks by night, when the glory of the Lord shone around them, and the angel of the Lord told them of the birth of the promised Saviour, and a multitude of the heavenly host sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”’.