About Church of the Nativity
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest Christian churches in existence and is believed to be located on the site where Jesus Christ was born.
Church of the Nativity history
The first church on this site is thought to have been built by Roman Emperor Constantine and his mother St. Helena in 326 AD. Whilst some of the flooring of this original church survives, the present structure of the Church of the Nativity dates to 530 AD and was built by the Emperor Justinian.
The Constantinian church was destroyed by Justinian in 530 AD, who built the much larger church that remains today. The Persians spared it during their invasion in 614 AD because, according to legend, they were impressed by a representation of the Magi — fellow Persians — that decorated the building. This was quoted at a 9th-century synod in Jerusalem to show the utility of religious images.
Muslims prevented the application of Hakim’s decree (1009) ordering the destruction of Christian monuments because, since the time of Omar (639), they had been permitted to use the south transept for worship.
The Crusaders took Jerusalem on 6 June 1009. Baldwin I and II were crowned there, and in an impressive display of tolerance the Franks and Byzantines cooperated in fully redecorating the interior (1165-69). A Greek inscription in the north transept records this event.
The Church of the Nativity was much neglected in the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, but not destroyed. Much of the church’s marble was looted by the Ottomans and now adorns the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. An earthquake in 1834 and a fire in 1869 destroyed the furnishings of the cave, but the church again survived.
In 1847, the theft of the silver star marking the exact site of the Nativity was an ostensible factor in the international crisis over the Holy Places that ultimately led to the Crimean War (1854–56).
In 1852, shared custody of the church was granted to the Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches.
Church of the Nativity today
Christian pilgrims flock to the Church of the Nativity to see the silver star that marks the site on which Christ is believed to have been born. This site features as one of our recommended key places to see in Israel.
Along with the associated pilgrimage route, the church of the nativity is featured on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Getting to the Church of the Nativity
From Jeruselum If you have hired a car, it takes approximately 30 minutes to drive to Bethlehem. Drive via the Hebron Road.
A tourist shuttle bus can take you from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. A public bus from the East Jerusalem Bus Station goes to Bethlehem. Service is frequent. However, there is no official timetable for this bus so tourists have to play it by ear if this is your chosen method of transport. The journey usually takes around an hour.
From Tel Aviv, the drive is approximately 1.5 hours. The most straightforward way to drive is via Route 443.
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