Here is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It’s a little hard to figure out where the front is. Below is a diagram of what’s where inside the church.
This was the line to get into the church through a very small door.
But once inside, things opened up and we could feel the immensity of this church or basilica, considered by many the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
According to Wikipedia:
“The grotto is the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity, and the basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land. The church was originally commissioned by Constantine the Great a short time after his mother Helena’s visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 325–326, on the site that was traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. That original basilica was likely built between 330 and 333, being already mentioned in 333, and was dedicated on 31 May 339. It was probably destroyed by fire during the Samaritan revolts of the sixth century, possibly in 529, and a new basilica was built a number of years later by Byzantine Emperor Justinian (r. 527–565).
The Church of the Nativity, while remaining basically unchanged since the Justinianic reconstruction, has seen numerous repairs and additions, especially from the Crusader period, such as two bell towers (now gone), wall mosaics and paintings (partially preserved). Over the centuries, the surrounding compound has been expanded, and today it covers approximately 12,000 square meters, comprising three different monasteries: one Roman Catholic, one Armenian Apostolic, and one Greek Orthodox, of which the first two contain bell towers built during the modern era.”
Most of the time we spent in the church, we were lined up (on the left side) to see the grotto (a star on the ground) that is supposedly the place where baby Jesus came to earth.
It was hard to fit everything into one photo–the ceilings were very high, the floors were very old, and the ornamentation was, well, there was a lot of it.
We continued waiting in the line:
Getting closer to the room with the grotto:
Here is the grotto with the star marking the spot:
I recorded in my journal: “We waited in a long line to see the grotto. It used to feel like a cave. Now it’s been made into a room with no exposed stone. There is so much gold covering so much decor that it felt obscene to me. I could imagine Jesus rolling his eyes at it, the complete opposite of the place where he was really born–simple and humble. They messed it up, if it even is the actual place.
Enjoyed walking through parts of the church on our way out. No time to linger, had to get back to the bus.”
As we came out the other side of the grotto room, it happened that a church worker was showing some of the Very Old floor mosaics that are usually kept covered.
So many pretty twinkly lights in here!
There are still holiday decorations up in Bethlehem Square.
Here is the West Bank border crossing where we returned to Israel. It was much less intimidating in a bus that it was on foot when we were here Christmas Eve.