Greetings, pilgrims. Welcome back to our virtual tour of Israel. Today we will visit the birthplace of Jesus: Bethlehem. “O Little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…” the words echo sweetly in our fondest memories of Christmas carols. And now, we are here. Bethlehem. The birthplace of Jesus.
Bethlehem is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 35:19, as the place of Rachel’s death: Ephrath (Bethlehem). The city is situated about 6 kilometers south of Jerusalem in neatly terraced countrysides. Near the fields east of here are where barley and wheat have been raised.
It was in these same fields that Ruth and Boaz met after Ruth arrived from Moab with her mother-in-law Naomi. Their union produced Jesse, father of David, born in Bethlehem, later anointed as King of Israel. The event that made the town of Bethlehem most famous was the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Church of the Nativity hosts one of the holiest sites in Christianity: the manger in Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth to Jesus.
In 385, Helena, the mother of Constantine the Byzantine emperor, built a church over the site and fragments of the mosaic floors can still be seen. The mosaics on the walls, the wax paintings on the columns and the decorations date back to the Crusader period. During the seventh century, the doorway was lowered by partly sealing the Crusader arch, ensuring that Muslims could not enter the church on horseback. Visitors must bend over almost double to gain access to the church.
During the Persian invasion of the seventh century, most religious buildings were destroyed, but the Church of the Nativity was saved from desecration. According to legend, in the depiction of the Three Magi, they were wearing Persian clothing.
The site of the birth is marked by a 14 point star on a marble stone. The church is cared for and managed jointly by Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenians.
Tomorrow’s stop: The Pool at Bethesda