Back to the Beginning
2000 years ago during the reign of King Herod, an angel informed Mary, a young virgin of Nazareth, that she was going to be pregnant with a child who will be the son of God and savior of mankind. Mary and her fiancée traveled to Bethlehem for her safe delivery and took shelter in a stable where she gave birth to Jesus. The greatest man, who was supposed to save the world from anarchy, had no other place to rest but the trough of animals, also known as the manager. To pay homage to this greatest event, the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine, and his mother St.Helena decided to build a basilica over this place in 327. Between 333 and 339 the original basilica, “Church of the Nativity”, was complete but unfortunately got destroyed during a Samaritan rebellion in 529. The building that stands today was built by Justinian, the Byzantine Emperor. Over centuries, this oldest complete Christian church has outlasted all kind of man-made and natural hazard.
The Church of the Nativity is situated in Bethlehem, the west bank of Palestine. The church is within walking distance of the Manger Square which stands at the center of Bethlehem.
Inside the Church: A Trip to the Past
The inside of the church is filled with the Armenian Altars of the Virgin and the Three Kings, the Greek Altar of the Circumcision and the monuments from the 6th century. The mosaic floor of the original 4th-century church is about three feet below today’s floor. In the 12th century, the Crusaders ornamented much of the nave with paintings and mosaics.
“Hic De Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus” (“Here Jesus Christ was born to Virgin Mary”)
There is a small grotto, Grotto of the Nativity, in the basement of the church that marks the humble beginning of the savior. After the Greek Orthodox caretakers prepare and purify the sacred place, the visitors walk down and enter the grotto. Pilgrims form a line to touch and prostrate before an altar which is marked by a fourteen-pointed star and the actual spot where Jesus was born. The little spot is lit with many beautiful lamps just like the ceiling of the cave. The walls are filled with leather paintings.
Divided by Religion, United by Faith
During the reign of Caliph Omar in 638, not the Muslims were also drawn to this holy site since they consider Jesus Christ as an important prophet of Islam. Caliph Omar was known for his non-sectarian attitude and prayed in the south apse of the cathedral. Over a thousand years a mosque has stood across the square facing the church. At present Bethlehem is a habitat of both Muslims and Christians. In 2012, Church of the Nativity was declared as the first Palestinian World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
A historical place where the tolls of the church bell and the sound of Adhan complement each other is a must visit at least once before death.