The journey started last summer when Sister Judith from the Convent of the Incarnation, Oxford approached Friends of the Holy Land to source some nameplates for their newly refurbished convent. The convent was looking for ceramic nameplates to put up on the doors with the name of each room. 

Sister Judith explained that they were looking for "something both beautiful and that helped artists in the Holy Land. Our community was due to open a convent in Jerusalem in 1939 and had everything packed to be shipped out when war broke out….so “praying for the peace of Jerusalem” is something we have long felt called to, and incarnating it in this way in our new bricks and mortar was something I hoped would be possible."

Dar Al Majus Bazaar, Pro Terra SanctaThe contact we had hoped to use in Bethlehem took a long time to respond (Palestinian time!) and eventually we had to look elsewhere for a supplier. We contacted the Dar Al Majus Bazaar in Bethlehem, who had contacts with small fair trade businesses who could make the nameplates for us. The Dar Al Majus (meaning 'Home of the Three Kings') Bazaar is a social initiative that supports Palestinian women, individuals in need and people with disabilities. Dar Al Majus Bazaar, Bethlehem

Nadya, our contact at Dar Al Majus Bazaar was able to help facilitate and soon we had emails whizzing back and forth with us and Sister Judith to choose styles, and importantly, how the ceramic plates would be fixed to the doors, positions of screw holes and so on. With all the specifications sorted, the project was on. We had hoped that the plates would be ready in time to be brought back by a group of pilgrims, but it was more important to ensure that the design exactly matched what the Sisters required than speed and therefore they weren't quite ready in time. 

Little did we realise that was when the main journey began and more people would be involved. Fr Michael was staying at the convent when he mentioned he would be in Jerusalem in a couple of months time and would be happy to transport the nameplates to their final home. Sister Judith was keen on the idea and everyone watched the news anxiously as tensions escalated in Jerusalem. Thankfully there was no advisory issued against travelling to Israel and Fr Michael and his companions set off for the Holy Land. 

In the meantime, there was a box of ceramic nameplates waiting in Bethlehem. We arranged for these to live temporarily in our Bethlehem office with our wonderful team, Nancy and Reem. The photo Nancy sent us showed a rather larger box than any of us had imagined! Sister Judith contacted British Airways to ask if the box could travel back and they kindly agreed to organise additional free baggage.  

Fr Michael collected the box on a visit to Bethlehem then returned to the Jerusalem Eye Hospital where he was helping out. The only problem was that now he was worried the box would not be strong enough for the flight and the tiles would be damaged. He happened to mention to someone there that he needed to find a strong carboard box and they managed to find one quickly that was the perfect size. Everything was packed into the new box for travel, Fr Michael fashioned a 'cradle' to allow him to carry it and everyone prayed the tiles would arrive safely.   

Fr Michael had an adventure with Security at Tel Aviv airport. The box was put through the first X-ray machine, but the security personnel said they must examine the actual contents, so all his meticulous work was undone. Thankfully the authorities did not unwrap the bubblewrap around each pair of tiles! 40 minutes later they had X-rayed the wrapped tiles individually in a second machine and Fr Michael was allowed to repack them. They did give him sellotape and the use of a pair of scissors!  He then had to create a cradle once more to be able to carry the box. Fr Michael said after "I prayed for grace not to explode with frustration! Fortunately, that grace was given and I remained calm.  "

His patience was rewarded and when he got to the UK at 8pm on a Sunday night, the Red “Something to declare” lane was unmanned, so he walked straight through.

The final part of the journey saw Fr Michael deliver the box to the Sisters, who were waiting eagerly. Sister Judith was utterly delighted that the first of the 74 she unwrapped was the one for her cell, called after her favourite St Charles de Foucauld! We look forward to seeing the beautifully hand-painted tiles on the doors in their forever home and would like to thank all those who played a part in getting to the tiles to Oxford.