No room in the kataluma

In ancient farm households in many parts of the world, animals are kept under the house in the winter or at night. The advantages are that it keeps them safe, and that they provide heat for the family above.

Sheep kept under the house in a modern small farm

In the ancient Greek world, the upstairs living and dining area was called the ‘kataluma‘. This is the word used in the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels, but commonly translated into English as ‘inn’.

When Joseph went to visit his family in Bethlehem towards the end of Mary’s pregnancy, there was ‘no room in the kataluma‘ – and no privacy for childbirth either – so naturally Mary had the baby downstairs and put him in a manger. Again, the manger was a logical choice: off the ground, and away from the animals that were out in the fields with the shepherds (and angels…) It wasn’t winter, or the sheep would have been inside; it was the spring lambing season, or the shepherds wouldn’t have been so attentive.

A fairly substantial traditional farming house: kataluma upstairs, manger in a room underneath

And if anyone has better pictures of a kataluma, please share!

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