Bethlehem Church of the Nativity
Places of Interest
Bethlehem Church of the Nativity
1. The Church of the Nativity is located in Bethlehem, about 6 miles (9 km.) south of Jerusalem.
2. It is right beside Manger Square and Manger Street.
3. It is located on the upper mountain plateau route that connects the southern Negev to the upper Galilee region. On this route were cities from the south, like Beersheba, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethel, Shiloh, and Shechem to the north. It was a highly traveled route.
4. Today, Bethlehem is in the West Bank but is very safe. Thousands of tourists visit its Christian sites each month with no issues whatsoever.
Historical Background of Ancient Bethelem
1. Bethlehem means House of Bread.
2. It had a population of around 1,000-3,000 people in biblical times.
3. The area of Manger Square, Church of the Nativity, and the area around them actually sit upon a tel. This is called Tel Bethlehem and is where the original town was located.
4. Many of the homes consisted of caves and structures. Often, a home would have both a cave below it and a home on top or beside a cave.
5. The caves would be used for living and livestock as they were cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
6. Discoveries under the Church of the Nativity reveal layers of archaeological evidence dating to the time of Christ, the time of David, and the time of Abraham. They all attest to the location of Bethlehem.
7. According to the archaeological evidence and eyewitness accounts, Jesus was born in a cave where animals were kept. This is why He was placed in a manger after birth.
8. Justin Martyer (150 AD), Origen (248 AD), Eusebius (313 AD), and Jerome (395 AD) all attest as eyewitnesses that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a cave.
9. Under the Church of the Nativity is a cave complex where Jesus was born. There are quite a few caves that are interconnected.
Historical Background of the Church of the Nativity
1. Shortly after Christ’s ascension back to heaven, worshipers began marking the key places surrounding the life and events of Jesus.
2. Christ’s birthplace was marked out, and worshipers began commemorating this site.
3. In 135 AD, Hadrian, a Roman governor, destroyed the Christian sites and built shrines to false gods on top of many of them. He also renamed Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina and banned Jews from entering the city.
4. On top of Christ’s birthplace, he erected a shrine to Adonis, the Greek god of beauty and desire.
5. Evidence that this was the birthplace of Jesus also surfaced in the writings of Justin Martyr in around 160 AD. It was also affirmed later by Origen and Eusebius in the 3rd century.
6. Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, received Christ as her Savior and came to the Holy Land to build churches on key Christian sites.
7. Constantine and his mother, Helena, commissioned that the Church of the Nativity be built over the cave, marking the birthplace of Jesus. It was dedicated in 339 AD. It consisted of an octagonal floor plan and was placed directly over the cave. In the center of the octagonal part, a viewing area with a railing provided a view of the cave. Part of the mosaic of the original floor has survived and can still be seen.
8. Jerome, who translated the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into Latin (the language of the Roman Empire) to form what is called the Latin Vulgate, did much of his translation work in a cave beside the Church of the Nativity from 382–405 AD. He was later buried here, and today, it’s called Jerome’s Grotto. His remains were carried to Rome by the Crusaders in around 1165.
9. The church was burned down during a Samaritan revolt in 529 AD.
10. Justinian, emperor of the Byzantine Empire, rebuilt a larger church in 565 AD that has survived to date. It is the oldest functioning church in the world.
11. The Church of the Nativity was the only church spared by the Persians during their conquest of the Holy Land in 614 AD because they saw paintings on the outside of the church honoring the Magi from the east, who were fellow Persians.
12. The Crusaders renovated the church in around 1165 AD and painted murals on the pillars and mosaics above the pillars on the walls of the main nave.
13. The church has been neglected and renovated several times since the Crusader period to the present.
14. Today, the custody of the church is in the hands of the Roman Catholic, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox churches. The Greek Orthodox Church cares for the Main Nave and Grotto of the Nativity.
15. A 25 million USD renovation has recently been completed to the Church of the Nativity.
Places of Interest
1. Entrance to the church
Original columns from the Byzantine Period (339 AD)
Door Arch from the Crusader Period (1165 AD)
Door of Humility – To provide a humble entrance and keep horsemen and carts from entering the church to loot it during the Muslim Ottoman Period (1500 AD).
2. Entrance Lobby
3. Main Nave
The Main Nave is from the Byzantine Period that Justinian built (565 AD).
There are 40 limestone pillars with two rows on each side that support the structure. All the pillars are from the Byzantine Period.
Many of the pillars have paintings of kings and saints from the Crusader Period (1165 AD).
Above the pillars on the walls are Crusader Period mosaics. Some show the genealogy of Jesus.
Mosaics of the Byzantine Church under the floor.
4. High Altar (front part of the nave)
Mosaics of the original church on the left side of the High Altar.
5. Birthplace Grotto
Located under the main altar.
The entrance is to the right of the altar, and the exit is to the left.
Manger where Christ was placed – on the right side of the grotto.
A 14-pointed star marking the birthplace of Christ is in the center of the grotto (14 points for the three sets of 14 generations in Matthew 1:17, and for the 14 Stations of the Via Dolorosa).
6. Church of St. Catherine
A Roman Catholic Church named after Catherine, who was a 4th-century martyr from Alexandria.
It was built in 1880 AD upon the ruins of a 5th-century monastery and a 12th-century Crusader church.
Statue of Jerome in the courtyard
Several chapels are found in the caves accessed from St. Catherine's Church by a narrow staircase inside on the right side.
The Chapel of Saint Joseph commemorates the angel's appearance to Joseph, commanding him to flee to Egypt.
Chapel of the Innocents commemorates the children killed by Herod.
Chapel of Saint Jerome, where tradition holds he lived while translating the Bible from Hebrew to Latin (the Vulgate).
7. Manger Square – Located across from the Church of the Nativity.
Birth of Christ in the Bible
1. Bethlehem was the prophesied birthplace of Christ.
Micah 5:2: But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
2. Christ was born in Bethlehem as prophesied.
Luke 2:1–7: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
3. Many angels appeared to the shepherds near Bethlehem who were watching their flocks.
Luke 2:8–16: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
4. Wise men (Magi) from the east visited and worshiped Christ in Bethlehem.
Matthew 2:1–12: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 "'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'" 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
5. God warned Joseph to flee to Egypt because Herod planned to kill Jesus.
Matthew 2:13-15: Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
6. Herod had all the male children 2 years and younger murdered here in Bethlehem in his attempt to kill Christ.
Matthew 2:16–18: Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
7. After the death of Herod, Jesus and His family returned to Israel to live in Nazareth.
Matthew 2:19-23: Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
Faith Lesson from the Birth of Christ
1. Bethlehem was the prophesied birthplace of Christ.
2. Christ fulfilled over 200 prophecies regarding his first coming.
3. The birth of Christ was a historical supernatural event witnessed by many.
4. The fulfillment of prophecy proves that Christ was the Son of God and that the Bible is inspired.
5. Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection were all miraculous events, also proving Christ to be the very Son of God.
6. Christ claimed to be God in the flesh and proved it through His supernatural life and miracles.
7. Do we believe Christ is the Son of God, and have we received Him as our Lord and Savior?
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