Nativity Church

Nativity Church - Bethlehem, Israel

Jesus Birthplace Nativity Church West Bank Wall
Nativity Church Bethlehem

Nativity Church - 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 during the first century was filled with animal excrement) before being wrapped and placed in a manger - an animal food bowl.

The humility of that nativity is lost on Bethlehem's hulking Nativity Church, which has a turbulent past.

Nativity Church Mosaic FloorThe original Nativity Church was built in 326 AD on orders of 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 Roman 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 to the two men at the bottom left corner), but it isn't exactly an eye pleaser.

Even more of an eyesore are the frequent 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.

It should be noted that Muslims ruled Bethlehem for long stretches over the centuries but for the most part stayed out of the fight between the Orthodox and the Catholics; they did, however, build a mosque next door whose minaret still towers over the Nativity Church.

* Bethlehem literally means means "House" (Beth) of "Bread" (Lehem) in Hebrew. Jesus called Himself the "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 being born in a bakery is certain, 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 turned out to be the rear of the Nativity Church and insisted that I "just look around" while he fetched a "free" tour guide for me despite my insistence on my 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 taxi 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.

Jesus Birthplace West Bank Wall