Nativity Church

Nativity Church, Bethlehem

West Bank Wall Jesus Birthplace
Nativity Church Bethlehem

Church of Nativity, Bethlehem

Nativity Church in Bethlehem* commemorates the nativity - i.e., birth - of Jesus, which according to the Bible was to a poor girl in a Bethlehem barn, which would have been filled with animal excrement, before being wrapped and placed in a manger, which is an animal food bowl.

Nativity Church Mosaic FloorThe humility of that nativity is lost on Bethlehem's hulking Church of Nativity, which has a turbulent past. The original Nativity Church was built in 326 AD as ordered by Constantine, the first "Christian" Roman Emperor. On the right is the mosaic floor of that church, which was destroyed in 529 AD when the Byzantine (the surviving eastern half of the former Roman empire) army sacked Bethlehem while crushing the Samaritan Revolt.

Justinian I, the Byzantine emperor, rebuilt the Nativity Church in Bethlehem toward the end of his reign in 565 AD. Ever since then, the Nativity Church has been expanded, added to and fought over between the Orthodox church and the Catholic church.

Today's Nativity Church actually consists of two churches - the Orthodox Basilica of the Nativity and the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Catherine - and their additions sandwiched together. The resulting structure is big (compare the size of the church above to the two men at the bottom left corner), but it isn't exactly an eye pleaser.

Even more of an eyesore are the occasional brawls between the Orthodox and Catholic monks inside Nativity Church, not unlike those at the Holy Sepulcher Church, reflecting the tension that continues to simmer between the two groups in Bethlehem.

* Bethlehem literally means "House" (Beth) of "Bread" (Lehem) in Hebrew. Jesus called Himself, "bread of life": And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst" (John 6:35). The bread of life was born in a bakery, but is this church really Jesus' birthplace?

Travel Tip
My taxi driver took a visibly circuitous route to drop me off at his "cousin's" gift shop at what I later discovered to be the rear of the Nativity Church and insisted that I "just look around" the shop while he fetched a "free" tour guide for me despite my insistence on the lack of need for one. As suspected, the shop owner wasn't his cousin and the tour guide wasn't free. Those with less time than I had may wish to pinpoint to their driver that your destination is the Church's front door, which is the little black door an inch in from the photo's bottom left corner. And if that door looks unusually small, it's because it is. The entrance to a church complex covering over 14,000 square yards - bigger than two football fields put together - is the 5 foot tall "Door of Humility" through which adults can enter, one at a time, only by bowing.

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