It is a town known the world over, immortalized in Christmas carols, depicted in art, and dramatized on television programs and films. Bethlehem carries a great spiritual legacy. And while Bethlehem is celebrated by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, many people know little about the city itself.
Located only six miles south of Jerusalem, Bethlehem is currently under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. Widely known for the biblical birth narrative of Jesus, the city of Bethlehem (or Beit Lechem, meaning “house of bread” in Hebrew) sits atop a hill at the edge of the Judean desert.
David, Israel’s second king, was also born here and spent his formative years as a shepherd until the prophet Samuel anointed him as king.
Bethlehem is home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and the largest Palestinian Christian community in the Middle East.
With Bethlehem’s proximity to Jerusalem, it draws over one million tourists yearly. It is a small town of approximately 25,000 residents. Bethlehem is a wonderful addition to any Israel trip, particularly during the Christmas and Easter seasons.
The Church of the Nativity and Manger Square
Built by Constantine the Great in 330 AD, the Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest existing churches in the world. The church is built atop the Holy Crypt, the cave tradition holds to be the actual birth site of Jesus.
The church is visited by thousands of Christian believers each year, making it one of the foremost destinations for tours to the Holy Land. Non-Christians visit the church because of its historical and religious significance.
The Church of the Nativity contains two cathedrals, administered jointly by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches, who work in cooperation with one another.
The iconic Manger Square plaza, the site of the town’s annual Christmas Eve celebration, leads to the church’s entrance, standing prominently as Bethlehem’s city center. Manger Square’s main streets and side streets are also popular dining and shopping destinations, particularly for handmade items made from olive wood, and jewelry.
Milk Grotto and Shepherd’s Square
Visitors can also see the Milk Grotto, where Mary is said to have nursed Jesus when the family fled Bethlehem, as well as Shepherd’s Fields, where a rotunda-topped, round chapel was established to honor the shepherds who left their flocks to find Jesus.
A visit to Bethlehem is a captivating once-in-a-lifetime experience that should not be missed.