Nativity Church

Nativity Church, Bethlehem

West Bank Wall Jesus Birthplace
Nativity Church Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem ("Nativity Church") 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. Jesus was then 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 Nativity Church, 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 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. Since then, the Nativity Church has been expanded, added to and fought over by and between the Orthodox church and the Catholic church.

Today's Nativity Church is actually two churches - the Orthodox Basilica of the Nativity and the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Catherine - sandwiched together, along with their additions. The resulting structure is big (compare the size of the church above to the men at the bottom) 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.

* "Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:4-7)

** 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? Click here (also see Jesus tomb and why was Jesus crucified?). 

Travel Tip
Taxi drivers in Jerusalem will try to sell you a round trip to Bethlehem, which is only 7 kilometers away, for hundreds of shekels. A much cheaper option is to take the air-conditioned bus #21 from the bus station just northeast of Damascus Gate for 6 shekels. Get off bus #21 at its terminus, which is half way down a hill in the center of Bethlehem, walk down the hill, turn left at the first major intersection and then walk straight for 15 minutes, through a bustling market, to the Nativity Church. If you take a taxi, the driver will try to upsell by dropping you off at a gift shop near the Nativity Church and introducing you to a guide. If you want neither, agree before getting his taxi that he is to drive directly to the Nativity Church's front door, which is the little black rectangle near the bottom left corner in the top photo. 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" (below) through which adults can enter, one at a time, only by bowing.

Door of Humility

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