Bethlehem Holy Tour Sites
With Jerusalem as your hub, continue your tour of the Holy Land with a visit to the city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. Both Matthew and Luke tell us that although Jesus' parents resided in Nazareth, they took shelter in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.
The Church of the Nativity was originally constructed above the grotto where Jesus was born. The original basilica constructed by St. Helena was eventually destroyed, but you can still see the sixth century basilica built by Justinian I, as well as expansions and improvements made over the years. The church is currently shared by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian monastic organizations.
Christians from all over the world come to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas. In addition to prayers at the Church of the Nativity, celebrations often include lavish decorations, open-air concerts, marching bands and a 55-foot Christmas tree. Thousands gather in Manger Square to join in the festival.
No matter what time of year you visit, you'll note that today, Manger Square is a welcoming pedestrian plaza with shady benches and marble fountains. It is a meeting place for locals and a great stop for pilgrims to rest and rejuvenate before continuing on their tour.
A few minutes away from Manger Square is the Milk Grotto, where the Holy Family took refuge during the Slaughter of the Innocents, before their flight into Egypt. While Mary was nursing Jesus here, a drop of milk fell to the ground, turning it white. Nursing mothers come to the site to scrape the stone and mix it in water for drinking to enhance their milk. Would-be mothers often place a rock from the grotto under their pillows to encourage fertility.
Just east of Bethlehem is the Christian town of Beit Sahour, which houses Shepherd's Field. It was here that the shepherds saw the Star of the Nativity. The ruins of an ancient church and monastery can be seen, including a large lintel decorated with crosses.