For many Christians all over the world, a trip to the Holy Land is one of the most dreamed of journeys of their lifetimes. When traveling to this region, one place that absolutely cannot be missed is the city of Bethlehem. Recognized as the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem is home to a multitude of different Christian sites. The following is a list of just a few of the places of religious important to Christians in and around Bethlehem.
Church of the Nativity – With construction of the Church of the Nativity beginning in the 4th century AD after being commissioned by Roman ruler Constantine and his mother, this is the oldest functioning church in the Holy Land. The site of the church is upon a cave, which legends dating back to the 2nd century AD say is the actual birthplace of Jesus.
With a number of renovations taking place over the past 1500 years, the Church of the Nativity is an amazingly beautiful and scenic site. This church is considered by many visitors to the Holy Land to be one of the most sought after places to visit on their trip.
King David’s Wells – These three wells just north of town are said to be where King David drank from after his army defeated the Philistines barrier next to this site. According to accounts, King David, who was born in Bethlehem, longed for the water. When his troops retrieved it for him from these wells, however, he poured it out in honor of God. The catacombs which are underneath the neighboring Church of St. David is said to be King David’s resting place and attract a countless number of religious visitors every year.
Shepherd’s Field – Just to the east of Bethlehem is the site of the Shepherd’s Field. This is believed by most to be the site where the shepherds were visited by an angel and told about the birth of Jesus. Located just a couple kilometers outside of the city, the area is home to two separate religious sites – one of Roman Catholic origin and a Greek Orthodox site with its beginnings dated back to the 4th century AD. Since that time, the Shepherd’s Field has been one of the most visited pilgrimage destinations in the region.
- The Greek Orthodox Shepherd’s Field is located at Kanisat al-Ruwat is built upon a cave used in the 4th century as a place of Christian worship complete with ancient frescoes and mosaics dating at least 1600 years old. The church located above the cave was functional from the 4th century until 1955, when a modern, larger place of worship was built.
- The Roman Catholic Shepherd’s Field is situated just north of Kanisat al-Ruwat at Khirbat Siyar al-Ghanim. This site is home to a small rock shelter which many believe is where the shepherds were resting when they received their angelic visit. Upon this site is a church designed as a tent to pay homage to the shepherd’s humble accommodations.
Manger Square – Manger square is one of the busiest areas in Bethlehem when it comes to religious celebrations. Located directly in front of the Church of the Nativity, this square becomes a major sight to see during Christmas Eve as its celebration of the birth of Jesus fills the streets and square with Christian visitors. Spectators can admire the large Christmas tree erected in the square each years, as well as the countless Christians sing hymns to celebrate the birth of Jesus leading up to Christmas Day. Also surrounding the square is the Muslim Mosque of Omar and the Palestinian Peace Center, which also sit as testaments to the long, peaceful history that Christians and Muslims have shared in the city.
Enjoying the pedestrian-friendly Manger Square is as simple as relaxing upon benches located because numerous shade trees lining the square. It is common to find religious visitors relaxing next to the white-yellow stone fountains, keeping shelter from the Bethlehem sun.
Milk Grotto – Located along the south side of the Church of the Nativity, the Milk Grotto is considered a sacred place because of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus took sanctuary during the Slaughter of the Innocents. According to legend, while the Virgin Mary was feeding Jesus, a drop of her breast milk dripped onto the cave’s floor, instantly turning the rocks into a chalky white color.
The Milk Grotto is a site of pilgrimage for many mother and those expecting as the grotto’s rock walls are said to increase a woman’s milk production and fertility. For nursing mothers, grinding up a small amount of the stone and consuming it is considered a sure-fire way to increase milk productivity. For mothers-to-be, legend tells them to sleep with the stone under their mattress.
Herodion – Herodion is the site upon which the remains are found of a magnificent palace which was built by Herod the Great in honor of his victory against Antigonus. This grandeur home featured some of the most advanced and stunning architectural features of the time and is reported to be where the king is buried.
Built upon a large natural hill, the former home of the famed king overlooks all of the surrounded areas. Built out of large, smooth stone blocks, Herod’s fortress was converted to a synagogue following the Great Revolt in 66AD and then was eventually destroyed by Persian invaders during the Arab conquest of the Middle East in the 7th century.
Regardless of what you are coming to the Holy Land to see, a trip to Bethlehem should be high on your priority list. Whether you are visiting the birthplace of Jesus, or the wells from which King David drank, the city of Bethlehem will surely amaze you with its collection of history and religious importance. A number of the most important and highly regarded sites in the entire region are located in and around the city, and no trip of a lifetime would be complete without visiting this historic sites.
Itzik Ben Ari founded and operates BeinHarimTours.com which develops custom, guided tours for visitors to the Holy Land. Very popular for his Bethlehem tour opportunities, Itzik is commonly found sharing his 30 years of industry knowledge in various travel publications and on popular blogs.