The Basilica, laid down by Empress Helen on the site of Jesus Christ nativity in Bethlehem in 330 A.D., is the world`s oldest permanent Christian church. If all other temples, including that of the God`s Tomb, were repeatedly destructed, divine services have been almost never stopped in this church, though it was severely damaged in VI century.
In 532 A.D. Justinian restored the temple, having extensively rebuild and extended it. And since that time no significant changes were made to the Temple, excepting that crusaders bricked up all the three doors of the temple leaving only a small low entrance. According to the legend, they did it after one of the Arab horsemen had burst in the Temple. Later, the door was referred to as the Entrance of Submission, as you couldn’t enter it without bowing before the Jesus Christ.
As the Christians date from the birth of Christ you can just imagine the significance of what had happened on the site of today`s Temple for all humans.
Before visiting the Temple you should leaf through the Bible. The most detailed description of Christ’s Nativity is contained within the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew: Joseph and Mary started from Nazareth, where they lived, to Bethlehem, as Caesar Augustus ordered to carry out taxing. They were followed by the Star, which was noted by the three Kings of the East who then came to bow before the new «King of Judea» (their relics are now stored in Cologne). Mary «begot her firstborn son, and swaddled Him, and put Him into the crib, as there was no place for them in the inn (St. Luke`s Gospel, II, 3-7).
On the site of the crib there was set the altar of the church, with silver star indicating the exact birthplace of Jesus Christ. And the Star, being one of Palestine`s sanctuaries, was often the reason for various conflicts and even war.
The Silver Star with 14 rays was put in the altar by the Catholics 1717. The number of rays signifies the tribes of Israel: «from Abraham to David there were fourteen tribes; and from David to Babylonian Captivity there were fourteen tribes; and from Babylonian Captivity to Christ there were fourteen tribes». (St. Matthew`s Gospel, 1:17).
In 1847 disappearance of the Star had led to serious religious conflict between the Catholic and Orthodox Christians. And the incident was one of the primary causes of Crimean War of 1853-1856 between Russia on one side and Turkey, England, and France on the other side.
The Church itself is a magnificent building with huge Corinthian columns. On the floor there preserved the frescoes dating back to the time of its foundation in 330 A.D. Near the altar there located the Infants` Cave, the burial place of many babies killed by the orders of King Herod, when the Eastern Sages refused to point the birthplace of the «new King of Judea». In the immediate vicinity of Basilica there is also the Milk Grotto where Mary fed Jesus, and a drop of her milk having fallen on the stone turned it into chalk.
If you go by car, it would take about half an hour to get from the center of Jerusalem to Bethlehem. However, today Bethlehem is on the territory of Palestine Autonomy and you can not easily visit it on your own. It is separated from Israel by a high wall. You can go there only through the crossing point, which is closed in the periods of tension between Israel and Palestine (which isn’t infrequent event). However, while closing the crossing point the Israelis continue to let out motor-cars, so if you can come to agreement with some Arab cabman in Jerusalem, you`ll have no problems with visiting the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.