Bethlehem is believed to be the birth place of Jesus, making it an important center of Christian pilgrimage, and nowadays a much visited place during an Israel vacation. Bethlehem is also revered by Jews as being the home town of David, and is also the traditional site of Rachel’s Tomb, a site celebrated by Christians, Jews and Muslims.
The Church of the Nativity
Manger Street stretches from Rachel’s Tomb to Manger Square where the Church of the Nativity is situated. One of the oldest churches in the world, the first building was erected here during the reign of Emperor Constantine in AD 330. Underneath the floor of the church are beautiful mosaics typical of the Byzantine era. The actual site of Christ’s birth is within a cave inside the church, and a star marks the exact location of the birth. The tradition that the birth was in a cave is one of the earliest Christian traditions, mentioned in the 2nd century by Justin Martyr. At this time, Origen also noted that the cave of Jesus’ birth was known during his lifetime as being the place where he was born. This site is called the Grotto of the Nativity.
Other sites of interest on a holy land tour
The Shepherds’ Fields is located in the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Sahour, said to the be where the angels visited the shepherds, while the Milk Grotto is believed to be where Mary spilled a few drops of breast milk while feeding Jesus. King David’s Wells are located off Manger Square and mark the site where David’s army supposedly broke through a Philistine garrison to bring him water.