Located about six miles southwest of Jerusalem, Bethlehem is a city of approximately 30,000 inhabitants, half of whom are Muslims and half of whom are Christians. Bethlehem is best known for being the birthplace of Jesus Christ, but it is also sacred to Muslims and Jews. The Church of the Nativity in Manger Square, one of the most important Israel travel destinations for Christians, is located in Bethlehem. Christian pilgrims have walked from Jerusalem to Manger Square for centuries.
The Story of Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem
Mary and her soon-to-be husband, Joseph, lived in the city of Nazareth. They had to travel to the city of Bethlehem to register for a census ordered by the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, while Mary was pregnant. When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, there were no accommodations available, so they stayed in a stable where animals were kept. Jesus was born that night. Because they didn’t have a crib, Mary and Joseph wrapped Jesus in cloths and laid him in a manger.
On the night Jesus was born, shepherds were staying out in nearby fields, watching their flocks. An angel appeared, telling them that a Savior was born and that they could find him lying in a manger. The shepherds went to Bethlehem and found Jesus in the manger. After seeing Jesus, the shepherds spread the good news.
Some time afterwards, wise men from eastern countries saw a star in the sky signaling that a new king was born. They headed towards Jerusalem and Bethlehem in search of the new king. There they found the stable where baby Jesus was. They brought him gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts and knelt down to worship him.
What to See in Bethlehem
The Church of the Nativity
The Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in the Holy Land, was founded by Constantine and his mother St. Helene in 326 A.D. The church was built over the Grotto of the Nativity, where Jesus Christ was born. The manger is located on the north side of the Grotto and an altar dedicated to the wise men is situated across from the manger.
Manger Square is Bethlehem’s pedestrian-only central plaza, where vibrant Christmas Eve festivities take place each year. Manger Square is surrounded by the Church of the Nativity, the Church of St. Catherine, the Palestinian Peace Center, and the Mosque of Omar.
The Milk Grotto is where Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus took shelter to hide from Herod’s soldiers during the Slaughter of the Innocents. It is said that Mary nursed Jesus there before heading to Egypt. According to tradition, her milk fell to the floor of the cave, causing the rock to transform into white, chalky stone. Lactating mothers believe that the Milk Grotto has healing powers.
Located near the adjacent town of Beit Sahour, the Shepherds’ Fields are one of the most sacred Israel travel destinations for Christian pilgrims. The Shepherds’ Fields are where the shepherds received word of Jesus’ birth.
Explore Jesus’ Birthplace with Christian Holy Land Tours
Christian Holyland Tours (CHT) offers uniquely programmed Christian travel packages in Israel. Join us for a tour of Mount Carmel, which played an important role in the Old Testament. For more information, please call 1.800.2.ISRAEL (or 1.800.247.7235)