Church of the Nativity

2467 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

October, 2013

Product name

Product country

Product city

Travelled with

Your husband, wife or partner

Reasons for trip

Recently hearing about the Vatican returning Jesus ‘crib fragment’ to the Church of The Nativity, reminded me of our visit some time back.

The basilica is the oldest complete church in the Christian world and was built by emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It replaced Constantine the Great’s original church which was said to have been built over the cave venerated as Christ’s birthplace, dedicated in AD 339.

I remember it being somewhat dark inside but restoration has been going on for some time. A temporary roof was installed to allow the restoration of the ancient roof system. Ancient wood from Italy was brought in to replace the decaying sections of the joists. In restoring, the aim was to retain as many of the original materials as possible.
External walls and internal plaster work had been badly affected by the rain and humidity.

As you enter the church you have to stoop low. The only doorway (the Door of Humility),in this fortress-like front wall is just 1.2 metres high. Interestingly, the previous entrance to the church was lowered around the year 1500 to stop looters from driving their carts in and even forced important visitors to dismount from their horses as they entered the holy place.

Prior to Constantine, the first Christian emperor, the Romans had tried to wipe out the memory of the cave by planting a grove dedicated to the pagan god Adonis

Thirty of the nave’s 44 columns have Crusader paintings of saints and the Virgin and Child, although they are difficult to see because of age and lighting conditions.
The columns themselves are made of pink, polished limestone.

Fragments of wall mosaics date back to the 1160s and they decorate both sides of the nave.

Trap doors in the floor show sections of floor mosaics surviving from the original basilica. The mosaics feature complex geometric designs with birds, flowers and vine patterns. Similar doors in the north transept protect another 4th-century mosaic that shows the Constantinian apse was octagonal and these are sometimes opened upon request.

An octagonal baptismal font, dating from the 6th century can be seen in the south aisle and once stood near the high altar. An inscription reads, “For remembrance, rest and remission of sins of those whose names the Lord knows.”

Archaeologists discovered an octagonal bed of exactly the same dimensions over a cistern near the altar which provided the water. Legends emerged after the font was moved in the Crusader renovation. It was said it was the well into which the star of the Magi fell; the well where the Magi watered their horses; or, the well to which David’s three heroes came.

The Grotto of the Nativity Church, is a rectangular cavern beneath the church – and the focal point. You go down a flight of steps by the church altar into the cave that has been honored as the site of Christ’s birth since at least the 2nd century. There are usually long queues waiting to go in so you have to patient!

As you get closer, you will see a silver star in the floor marks – the spot where Christ is believed to have been born. The star’s Latin inscription reads, “Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born — 1717.” The floor is paved in marble, and there are 15 lamps hanging above the star (six belonging to the Greeks, five to the Armenians and four to the Latins).

Other furnishings date from after the fire in 1869, except for the bronze gates at the north and south entrances to the Grotto. These are from Justinian’s 6th-century church.

As you step away from the birthplace shrine you see the Chapel of the Manger, owned by the Roman Catholics.

Visited by thousands of visitors, this is certainly a place to be on your list if in Bethlehem or nearby.

Silver Travel Advisor

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.