Bethlehem Things to Do

  • Things to Do
    by call_me_rhia
  • Inside Church of Nativity
    Inside Church of Nativity
    by Bavavia
  • Spot marking birth of Jesus.
    Spot marking birth of Jesus.
    by Bavavia

Most Recent Things to Do in Bethlehem

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    church of the Nativity

    by mindcrime Updated May 21, 2014
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    99% of Bethlehem visitors come for the church of the Nativity. The fortress-like church on top of the cave where Jesus was born is one of the top attractions in Israel especially among Christian believers. I guess it will be nice to attend a December 24 midnight mass here but we preferred a regular day in October (during the Sunday mass must be also packed with people).

    It must be one of the oldest churches in the world, emperor Constantine The Great ordered the erection of the church in 330AD but emperor Justinian reconstructed the church in 540AD (4 years after the riot that caused the destruction of the church). In 11th century it was renovated and fortified by the crusaders but was seriously damaged the next centuries by neglect and some earthquakes (1834-1869).

    It was interesting that we had to bend down through the small rectangular door to enter the church and feel humble but the truth is that it was created during the Ottoman era to prevent carts being driven in. But once inside it was pretty disappointing, a not so appealing simple and boring main hall(pic 2) and hordes of people that felt detracted anyway. We took some pictures of the wooden temple (pic 3) and then walked down the steep steps (pic 4) that leads to the Grotto of the Nativity, this is where pilgrims go to worship the place where Jesus was born but I have to admit that for many years I thought this happened in a shed, not a cave!

    Some tour buses were already there but if you’re not there with a tour you can skip the never ending queue that may take even 2 hours on a bad day, just go on the left and tell the police officer that you aren’t with a tour but just a couple or whatever and he will let you in from the other side, we thanked many times our taxi driver for this tip :)

    The church is not suitable for disabled visitors.

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    Milk Grotto church

    by mindcrime Written May 21, 2014

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    Not really far from Manger square Milk Grotto was the first church we visited in Bethlehem. It’s the Grotto of Virgin Mary, a serene grotto in a soft white rock that has a simple but nice Franciscan chapel built above it. The church was built in 1872 over the ruins of a 5th century byzantine church.

    According to legend this was the place where Virgin Mary supposedly spilled a drop of her breast milk while she was feeding baby Jesus when they were hiding from the Slaughter of the Innocents that King Herod ordered. Her milk turned the cavern into milky white!

    In our days the white powder is on sale (for 10nis) that is supposed to enhance fertility! Apart from this it was a pleasant visit for us, without many visitors inside, much more into the real feeling of a religious site.

    It’s open daily

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    Catholic Shepherds’ Fields

    by mindcrime Written May 21, 2014

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    Catholic Shepherds��� Fields

    "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." (Luke 2:8-10)

    According to tradition the place where angels came to informed the shepherds was Beit Sahur a small village on the east part of Bethlehem. As expected no one can be exactly sure for the exact site of the Shepherds’ Fields so for one more time we saw 2 different churches (orthodox and catholic) that claim to have their churches on Shepherd’s Fields. Protestants also claim about another spot which is a simple meadow with pine trees!

    The Roman Catholic church is located 2km East of Bethlehem in an area called Siyar el-Ghanam (place for keeping sheep ) and it’s managed by the Franciscan Order. It houses the Chapel of Angels that was built by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi in a tent-shaped design (to resemble the shepherds’ tent) adjoining the remains of a 4th century church that was probably destroyed in early 7th century by Persians. There’s also a small cave outside where mass takes place.

    It’s open daily 8-11.30 and 14.30-17.00

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    Greek Orthodox church (Shrine of the Shepherds)

    by mindcrime Written May 21, 2014

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    According to orthodox tradition Eusebius (265-340AD) marked this place as the spot where angels came to tell the shepherds about the upcoming birth of Jesus Christ because it was exactly 1000 paces from Bethlehem! As no one can be really sure the catholics built their church a bit further (but still in Beit Sahour suburb) but the greek orthodox one which is known as Kaniset el-Ruat(church of the shepherds ) was much more interesting as there are also open excavations of an old byzantine church.

    It’s a red-domed church with a colorful interior, maybe a bit more bright for an orthodox church. As expected we had the chance to speak (in greek) with a priest but we really loved the serenity of the place (there were no other visitors around)

    It’s open Monday to Saturday 9.00-15.00, closed on Sundays

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    remains of old basilicas and Tomb of the Shepherds

    by mindcrime Written May 21, 2014

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    At the back side of the Orthodox Church (Shrine of the Shepherds) we noticed some ruins. According to a sign on the wall these are the remains of three basilicas, all destroyed by invasions of conquerors and barbarians (5-6-7th century AD).

    We walked a bit around, one of them was pretty well preserved and an orthodox mass by a russian priest was taking place over the ruins. These are the ruins and mosaics of the roof chapel basilica of the 6th Century AD.

    Apart from the remains there’s also the cave of the Shepherds that houses the church of Agia Eleni (4th century AD) and the tombs of the Shepherds. St.Helena (mother of emperor Constantine) built this mosaic-floored subterranean church in 325AD, one of the many she built during that period. This cave was the shelter of the shepherds and later their tomb.

    The shepherds heard Archangel Michael’s proclamation about the upcoming birth of Jesus ”Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and will to men…”
    Lucas 2-14

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    church of St. Catherine

    by mindcrime Written May 21, 2014
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    Church of St.Catherine is located right next to nativity church so we decided to check it this church too which is still part of an active Franciscan monastery. It’s a catholic church dedicated to St.Catherine of Alexandria (buried now in Mount Sinai) since 15th century when it was a small chapel within the monastery of the Franciscan Order. According to legend this was the site where St.Catherine saw Jesus who predicted her martyrdom (310AD). The cave under the church houses the tomb of St.Jerome. A statue of St.Jerome can be seen in front of the church (pic 1) while a statue of St.Catherine tops the church façade.

    Once inside we realized it’s a modern fully lighted with bright colors church with a nave and three aisles. It was actually renovated and enlarged in 1881 with funds from the emperor of Austria. Most stained glass windows (pic 3) show the nativity scene but the small cloister is also nice. Not much to see into the main church but we stood for a while listening to the preach. I guess during the Christmas mass it may be more magical, not it was just a peaceful empty modern church.

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    Manger Square

    by mindcrime Written May 21, 2014
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    Manger Square is the main square in city center of Bethlehem and is named after the Manger where Jesus Christ was born. It houses the main attraction for visitors the church of Nativity which was built upon the manger but also St.Catherine church (next to nativity church) and mosque of Omar that was built in 1957 at the other side of the square (I was surprised to learn this is the only mosque in Bethlehem). This is the square we see on the news on Christmas eve when hundreds of pilgrims come to celebrate here.

    There are also some café/restaurants facing the square, we had light lunch at Bethlehem Peace Restaurant. It supposed to be pedestrian only but with so many cars parked here and dozens of taxis it lucks of any character and we could hardly enjoy or just take photos of the fountains and trees. We preferred to walk at the back streets, the Old City was very lively full of locals that were out for shopping at the souq although this was typical for any arab town anyway.

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    mosque of Omar

    by mindcrime Written May 21, 2014

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    Mosque of Omar Bin Al-Khatab is open to non muslims too but expected to wear respectful wear. It’s located on Manger square, on the other side of where Nativity Church is.

    It was originally built in 1860 but renovated in 1957 when Jordan controlled the town. It’s the only mosque in Bethlehem which may be a surprise for an arab town but the majority here are Christian arabs. The good thing is that both religions stand side by side with no problems, it was good to know the site where the mosque was built was donated by the greek patriarch of Jerusalem in mid 19th century.

    The mosque was built here because this was the site where Omar Bin Al-Khattab (head of the Umayyad Caliphate) stopped to pray during his visit in Bethlehem in 638AD after conquering Jerusalem to issue a law that would guarantee respect and safety for christians.

    It’s open 10-11.00, 13.30-14.30, 17-19.00 and is free of charge.

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    graffiti at walls

    by mindcrime Written May 21, 2014
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    On our way out of Bethlehem the taxi took us to the main gate but it was closed, we just took some photos and walked back to the other gate. The Separation Wall is full of graffiti and posters, most of them as expected are about the Palestinian issue of course, the whole city is like a jail due to the wall so many of the graffiti symbolizing things like freedom, suffering, scenes of intifada etc It’s art after all, some may like it some may not but it’s thought provoking for sure. Don’t forget Bethlehem is Palestinian Territory, you need your passport to get through as you come from Jerusalem, it makes you wonder if Joseph and Mary would easily make it coming here going through barriers, let aside foreigners like three magi who visited Jesus after his birth bringing gifts that in our day would be impossible to go through customs without inspection at the army checkpoint :)

    Some of the graffiti along the wall are made by the famous artists Bansky (the armoured dove is outside the Palestinian Heritage Centre) although my favorite one by him is the Flower Thrower located on the side of a carwash building in Beit Sahour near the Shepherd’s Fields and not on the wall itself.

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    Church of the Nativity

    by antistar Updated Mar 11, 2014

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    On Christmas day there were still hundreds, perhaps maybe a thousand, pilgrims in the town, in spite of the recent troubles. On other years tens of thousands have passed through during the Christmas period. In a sea of political tension, the mood at the Church was warm, joyous and exalting. It's a hard and difficult trip to Bethlehem, and some people had obviously come much further than me, like the South American guitar players, so the mood was very upbeat. People were just glad to have made it.

    Outside the Church people sang and danced. Inside the Church, in the adjoining Church of St. Catherine, people prayed. It was such a moving experience, to be there, on Christmas Day, with so many devoted people, that I was compelled to join in myself. That's not something I've done for many years, but it felt completely natural. It's hard to think where else I will get closer to my Christian spiritual roots than Christmas Day in Bethlehem.

    Over the years the famous Church has become a large complex, consisting of two churches and the Grotto itself, the exact place where Jesus is believed to have been born. The main Basilica of the Nativity, with its distinctive Corinthian columns, can be entered through the tiny Door of Humility, which I had to stoop down to enter. At the center of the church there is a trap door, which, when opened, exposes the original mosaic floor.

    As well as being a place of ancient history, the Church also became a place of tragic modern history when it found itself a haven for about 200 Palestinians in 2002. After the Israeli Defence Forces entered the city, a large number of Palestinians, whom the IDF claimed were militants, fled to the church and were given sanctuary by the priests there. Nine Palestinians and the church bell ringer died in the following siege. A fire was also started, damaging the church, which a PBS report blamed on a smoke grenade thrown by the IDF.

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    Church of the Nativity: Grotto of the Nativity

    by machomikemd Written Sep 30, 2013
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    this will be tip and pictures of the Small Grotto of the Nativity situated below the main altar of the Church of the Nativity where the Traditional site of Jesus Birth is marked by the Star and the Manger of the Nativity beside it, where Jesus was placed in a makeshift bed by the Virgin Mary. the line going to the Grotto can take hours specially if it is the roman catholic or greek orthodox holy week (based on different dates as each follow a different calendar) and during Christmas eve and Christmas Day.

    The Church of the Nativity is the star attraction of Bethlehem and is the reason for the vibrant tourist and Christian Pilgrims from all over the world who congregate to this little town. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Church of the Nativity was built and demolished several times since Saint Helena in 326 AD founded the Church, which was finished in 339 and after that if has gone into sevel demolitions and reconstructions, depending on who was in control of Bethlehem Then. The Church of the Nativity is a large complex that doubles as a fortress too and the complex is jointly managed by the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church of which each Group has quarters in the Church of the Nativity (of which the Greek Orthodox have the main Altar and Apse of the Church and the Armenian Apostolics, the Armenian Altars of The Three Kings and Virgin Mary and the Church of Saint Catherine for the Roman Catholics.

    The Church of the Nativity Complex is divided into the Door of Humility (the small entrance to the church), the main hall with 44 columns with assorted crusader era paintings, the Church of Saint Catherine beside it, the various Caves and Chapels underground of Saint Catherine's Church, the floor mosaics underneath the main apse, the main church altar, where the Greek Orthodox say they masses and the main attraction is the Grotto of the Nativity underneath the Church, where a neutral silver star with a hole filled with Armenian Apostilic Incense pin points the exact site where Jesus was Born and beside it is the Chapel of the Manger, the spot where the Virgin Mary put the Baby Jesus in a makeshift bed.

    Opens: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm everyday

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    Church of the Nativity: Main Altar & Side Chapels

    by machomikemd Written Sep 30, 2013
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    this will be tips and pictures of the main altar of the Church of the Nativity, which is under the control of the Greek Orthodox Church and the side Chapels on each side of the main altar (altar to the three kings and Virgin Mary), which are under the Custody of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

    The Church of the Nativity is the star attraction of Bethlehem and is the reason for the vibrant tourist and Christian Pilgrims from all over the world who congregate to this little town. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Church of the Nativity was built and demolished several times since Saint Helena in 326 AD founded the Church, which was finished in 339 and after that if has gone into sevel demolitions and reconstructions, depending on who was in control of Bethlehem Then. The Church of the Nativity is a large complex that doubles as a fortress too and the complex is jointly managed by the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church of which each Group has quarters in the Church of the Nativity (of which the Greek Orthodox have the main Altar and Apse of the Church and the Armenian Apostolics, the Armenian Altars of The Three Kings and Virgin Mary and the Church of Saint Catherine for the Roman Catholics.

    The Church of the Nativity Complex is divided into the Door of Humility (the small entrance to the church), the main hall with 44 columns with assorted crusader era paintings, the Church of Saint Catherine beside it, the various Caves and Chapels underground of Saint Catherine's Church, the floor mosaics underneath the main apse, the main church altar, where the Greek Orthodox say they masses and the main attraction is the Grotto of the Nativity underneath the Church, where a neutral silver star with a hole filled with Armenian Apostilic Incense pin points the exact site where Jesus was Born and beside it is the Chapel of the Manger, the spot where the Virgin Mary put the Baby Jesus in a makeshift bed.

    Opens: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm everyday

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    Church of the Nativity: Main Apse and Columns

    by machomikemd Written Sep 30, 2013
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    This will be tips and pictures of some of the 44 main columns inside the Church of the Nativity decorated with Crusader era Paintings of the Holy Family and the floor mosaics being shown among the wooden trap doors in the Church.

    The Church of the Nativity is the star attraction of Bethlehem and is the reason for the vibrant tourist and Christian Pilgrims from all over the world who congregate to this little town. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Church of the Nativity was built and demolished several times since Saint Helena in 326 AD founded the Church, which was finished in 339 and after that if has gone into sevel demolitions and reconstructions, depending on who was in control of Bethlehem Then. The Church of the Nativity is a large complex that doubles as a fortress too and the complex is jointly managed by the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church of which each Group has quarters in the Church of the Nativity (of which the Greek Orthodox have the main Altar and Apse of the Church and the Armenian Apostolics, the Armenian Altars of The Three Kings and Virgin Mary and the Church of Saint Catherine for the Roman Catholics.

    The Church of the Nativity Complex is divided into the Door of Humility (the small entrance to the church), the main hall with 44 columns with assorted crusader era paintings, the Church of Saint Catherine beside it, the various Caves and Chapels underground of Saint Catherine's Church, the floor mosaics underneath the main apse, the main church altar, where the Greek Orthodox say they masses and the main attraction is the Grotto of the Nativity underneath the Church, where a neutral silver star with a hole filled with Armenian Apostilic Incense pin points the exact site where Jesus was Born and beside it is the Chapel of the Manger, the spot where the Virgin Mary put the Baby Jesus in a makeshift bed.

    Opens: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm everyday

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    Church of the Nativity: Door of Humility

    by machomikemd Written Sep 30, 2013
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    The Main Entrance to the Church of the Nativity is a small door that leads to a bigger wooden doors and finally to the Main Apse and Altar of the the Church. was created in Ottoman times to prevent carts being driven in by looters, and to force even the most important visitor to dismount from his horse as he entered the holy place. The doorway was reduced from an earlier Crusader doorway, the pointed arch of which can still be seen above the current door. The outline of the Justinian square entrance can also be seen above the door. If you have problems of entering the door, you can enter the Church of the Nativity via the Bigger entrance to Saint Helena Church beside it and then via a slightly bigger side door (slightly bigger than the door of humility) to the Church of the Nativity.

    The Church of the Nativity is the star attraction of Bethlehem and is the reason for the vibrant tourist and Christian Pilgrims from all over the world who congregate to this little town. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Church of the Nativity was built and demolished several times since Saint Helena in 326 AD founded the Church, which was finished in 339 and after that if has gone into sevel demolitions and reconstructions, depending on who was in control of Bethlehem Then. The Church of the Nativity is a large complex that doubles as a fortress too and the complex is jointly managed by the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church of which each Group has quarters in the Church of the Nativity (of which the Greek Orthodox have the main Altar and Apse of the Church and the Armenian Apostolics, the Armenian Altars of The Three Kings and Virgin Mary and the Church of Saint Catherine for the Roman Catholics.

    The Church of the Nativity Complex is divided into the Door of Humility (the small entrance to the church), the main hall with 44 columns with assorted crusader era paintings, the Church of Saint Catherine beside it, the various Caves and Chapels underground of Saint Catherine's Church, the floor mosaics underneath the main apse, the main church altar, where the Greek Orthodox say they masses and the main attraction is the Grotto of the Nativity underneath the Church, where a neutral silver star with a hole filled with Armenian Apostilic Incense pin points the exact site where Jesus was Born and beside it is the Chapel of the Manger, the spot where the Virgin Mary put the Baby Jesus in a makeshift bed.

    Opens: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm everyday

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    Church of the Nativity: Overview

    by machomikemd Written Sep 30, 2013
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    this will be a multi part tip of the Church of the Nativity

    The Church of the Nativity is the star attraction of Bethlehem and is the reason for the vibrant tourist and Christian Pilgrims from all over the world who congregate to this little town. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Church of the Nativity was built and demolished several times since Saint Helena in 326 AD founded the Church, which was finished in 339 and after that if has gone into sevel demolitions and reconstructions, depending on who was in control of Bethlehem Then. The Church of the Nativity is a large complex that doubles as a fortress too and the complex is jointly managed by the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church of which each Group has quarters in the Church of the Nativity (of which the Greek Orthodox have the main Altar and Apse of the Church and the Armenian Apostolics, the Armenian Altars of The Three Kings and Virgin Mary and the Church of Saint Catherine for the Roman Catholics.

    The Church of the Nativity Complex is divided into the Door of Humility (the small entrance to the church), the main hall with 44 columns with assorted crusader era paintings, the Church of Saint Catherine beside it, the various Caves and Chapels underground of Saint Catherine's Church, the floor mosaics underneath the main apse, the main church altar, where the Greek Orthodox say they masses and the main attraction is the Grotto of the Nativity underneath the Church, where a neutral silver star with a hole filled with Armenian Apostilic Incense pin points the exact site where Jesus was Born and beside it is the Chapel of the Manger, the spot where the Virgin Mary put the Baby Jesus in a makeshift bed.

    Opens: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm everyday

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