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Jesus in Bethlehem

Bethlehem is a very important city to the Christian world since it was the birthplace of Jesus Christ. This city is five miles south of Jerusalem and was turned over to the Palestinian Authority after the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement. About 50,000 people live in the city today, with the Muslim population outnumbering that of the Christians. For centuries, Christians have been making a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, making the two and a half hour walk from Jerusalem to Manger Square in the heart of the city. In modern times, the trip often begins at the Abu Tor train station and then moves along Hebron Road.

Manger Square

Manger Square is certainly an important place on Christmas, when Western Christians celebrate Christ's birth. It is also an important location when the Greek Orthodox mark their Christmas on January 6th and when the Armenians observe their holiday on January 19th.

The Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity, which commemorates the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, is the focal point of any visit to the city. It was constructed in the 4th century by Constantine, the mother of the Byzantine Emperor. It was reconstructed in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian and was also repaired by the Crusaders. Today, this is the oldest church still standing in Israel.

History of the Church of the Nativity

The entrance to the church, as anyone visiting will attest, has a very low doorway. There are many theories about why this is so. Some say that Muslims installed the door during their rule and wanted Christians to bow to their hosts. Others say that the height prevented non-believers from entering on their horses. Still others said that it protected the Christians from their hostile neighbors.

The Alter of the Nativity

The Alter of the Nativity sits beneath a chandelier made of silver and gold. The birthplace of Christ is indicated with a fourteen-point silver star that has white marble in it. There is also an inscription that says, "Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est "("Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary"). There are fifteen lamps that burn continuously at the spot. Nearby, you can also see the Chapel of the Manger, which is where Mary placed the baby Jesus.

Christmas Mass

Christmas Mass is held Christmas Eve in St. Catherine's, the Roman Catholic Church which is next to the Church of the Nativity. There are also a number of other interesting chapels nearby. The Chapel of St. Jerome is where the Old Testament was translated into Latin by the Bishop of Bethlehem and the Chapel of the Innocents is in memory of the babies who were killed by Herod. The Chapel of St. Joseph is the spot where an angel appeared to Joseph and told him that he needed to flee to Egypt.

Other Interesting Sites

Along with these sites in Bethlehem, there are other important places to visit. Milk Grotto is located near Manger Square, and it is said that Mary spilled some of her milk here while nursing the young Jesus. The milk, legend has it, turned the rocks of the cave a chalk white color, and people come to this location today for its alleged healing power. The Shepherds' Fields are also important, as is the location where shepherds saw an angel that appeared to announce Jesus' birth.


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