Israel Explored – Bethlehem

Entrance to Church of Nativity, Bethlehem
Entrance to the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Darkness and light – on the same day. After visiting the Holocaust museum of Yad Vashem in der morning (see yesterday’s post), we continued on to Bethlehem to visit the site of Jesus’ birth inside the Church of Nativity. Read about it in this episode of “Israel Explored – Bethlehem”….

West Bank Wall Check Point, Bethlehem
West Bank Wall Check Point, Bethlehem

While Bethlehem is only a short drive from Jerusalem, it is situated in the West Bank, which is separated by a wall from the rest of Israel. Entering the Palestinian territory, our bus had to cross a checkpoint at Bethlehem’s city limit.

West Bank Wall, Bethlehem
West Bank Wall, Bethlehem

The Israeli West Bank Wall is a separation barrier built by Israel between its territory and the West Bank following a wave of Palestinian political violence and incidents of terrorism inside Israel during the second Intifada (2000-2005). The wall has a total length of 708 km (440 mi). While the barrier was initially presented as a temporary security measure at a time of heightened tensions, it has since been associated with a future political border between Israel and the State of Palestine. Israel describes the wall as a necessary security barrier against Palestinian terrorism, whereas Palestinians describe it as an element of racial segregation and a representation of Israeli apartheid.

Mural of Leila Chaled, Bethlehem
Mural of Leila Chaled, Bethlehem

The Palestinian side of the wall is known for its many murals. Famous is this one of Leila Chaled, a leading member of the terrorist organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and one of the first female airplane hijackers in history as she took part in the infamous hijacking of TWA Flight 840 in 1969.

Bethlehem, Israel
Old View of Bethlehem with the Church of the Nativity on top of the hill
Bethlehem Girls
Bethlehem Girls
Bethlehem, Israel
Old Volkswagen Beetle
Church of Nativity, Bethlehem
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

We went directly to the Church of the Nativity on top of the hill of Bethlehem, built over the presumed birthplace of Jesus Christ. The Church of the Nativity is one of the few examples of perfectly preserved early Christian church buildings. The cave under the church, which Christians consider the birthplace of Jesus, was venerated from the 2nd century.

Emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Helena had a memorial church with rich mosaic floors built at the birthplace, which they dedicated to Jesus Christ before 335. It was destroyed by fire during the Samaritan revolts of the sixth century, and a new basilica was built a number of years later by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who replaced the original octagonal sanctuary with a cruciform transept complete with three apses, but largely preserved the original character of the building, with an atrium and a basilica consisting of a nave with four side aisles.

While other church buildings were damaged in 614 by the Persians advancing against the Byzantine Empire, this church was spared; it is thus the oldest preserved and continuously used church in the Holy Land. It is believed that a relief above the entrance gate depicting the Magi in oriental dress was the reason for sparing this church.

Church of Nativity, Bethlehem
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

The Crusaders restored the church from the ground up (1161-1169). In the 12th century the world’s oldest preserved organ was built in the Church of the Nativity, it was dismantled and hidden in the 13th century in the face of the Mamluk advance on the city. Unlike other churches in Palestine, which they destroyed, also the Mamlukes left the Church of the Nativity standing.

Church of Nativity
“Christmas Decorations” at the altar of the Church of the Nativity
Entrance to Jesus birth site in the church of Nativity
Entrance to Jesus’ birth site in the cave under the church

Two narrow staircases lead to the Grotto of the Nativity, where the place of the Nativity is shown under the altar of the Nativity, marked with a silver star on which is written the Latin inscription “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est” – ‘Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary’. To the right of it is that place where the manger is said to have stood.

Site of Jesus birth in Church of Nativity, Bethlehem
Site of Jesus’ birth under the altar of Nativity
Silver star marking site of Jesus birth in Church of Nativity, Bethlehem
Silver star marking site of Jesus’ birth
Site of the manger in Church of Nativity, Bethlehem
Site of the manger
Cloister in Church of Nativity, Bethlehem

Over the centuries, the complex was expanded and today covers about 12,000 square meters. It consists of three different monasteries: a Roman Catholic, an Armenian Apostolic and a Greek Orthodox. A 250-year-old understanding among religious communities ensures the equal use of the holy site. Since 2012, the Church of the Nativity is a World Heritage Site and was the first to be listed by UNESCO under ‘Palestine’.

Regardless if Jesus was really born at exact this site (some say he was actually born in Nazareth), it has been a continued place of Christian worship for a good part of one thousand nine hundred years, which is an incredible amount of time. And it is a truly fascinating place to visit in the Holy Land.

All photographs were taken with my iPhone 12 Pro Max, that I was forced to use exclusively for my travel photography on this trip, when my brand new Leica SL2-S failed me on the third day.

[Update on the Leica: Already back in Nuremberg, I brought it to the Leica shop in town for repairs. They will have to send it to Leica HQ to have the shutter fixed. Expected time: 4 weeks. Premium brand, premium price, but no premium service. I will keep you posted on the developments]

Stay tuned for more episodes of “Israel Explored”, as we moved on to Jerusalem.

Have a great Saturday


Related Posts:

Israel Explored – Yad Vashem

My Leica failed me

Israel Explored – Sea of Galilee

Travel Day (18)

17 thoughts on “Israel Explored – Bethlehem

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  1. Your photos are quite good even though you were without your Leica. I recognize many of these same places, and all of them bring back fond memories. We had a tough time with crowds and traffic when we visited. It looks as if you were there at a good time. Thanks for posting.

  2. Marcus, thank you so much for these beautiful and very important photos! He is risen! I agree with you and the other comments, no premium service considering your investment isn’t right at all! The iPhone 12 did a fantastic job. Be well, Marcus and family.

    1. So glad your liked this post, John! Bethlehem was a special place to visit for sure. On the Leica, still waiting for the cam. No words so far from them. I’m glad I have my iPhone. But I will have a portrait session week after next and I sure would like to have my cam back by then. Have a splendid weekend, John!

      1. Wow, it’s sad that they aren’t getting your camera repaired faster, I hope you have it back in time for your big shoot! Yay for the iPhone, you’ve always got a camera handy with you!

  3. Marcus–the photos are beautiful. Good-bye Leica, hello iPhone for gorgeous photography. What a rip–no premium service. Silly me, but I think that should be a given.

    1. Thanks, Lois, so much appreciated! n the Leica, still waiting for the cam. No words so far from them. I will have a portrait session week after next and I sure would like to have my cam back by then. Sigh…..

  4. “Premium brand, premium price, but no premium service”

    This. This describes the problem with so-called premium. Perhaps the problem is ours? I mean, we think of it as premium as in quality, whereas they’re thinking of it as in “insurance premium”.

    Who knows.

    (I liked the photos and the post as well… I’m not solely focused on the broken camera; but it’s definitely something I can sympathise with you about).

  5. Now that’s an interesting site! I can see why those people are just sitting there and taking it all in. How fascinating, whether it is actually the spot or not of Jesus’ birth… so ornate! Quite the place to have visited.

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