Grotto of the Nativity – Oldest Church in the World

The Church of the Nativity is one of the world’s oldest churches, built like a citadel over the cave where it is believed that Jesus was born. During the millennia the church became a holy place for many world religions, and so it is today a sacred place for various Christian religions and for Muslims. Map.

The main basilica above the cave is today Greek Orthodox, the adjoining church is Roman Catholic and the is neutral although it features primarily Armenian Orthodox design.

The Bible does not mention the existence of a birth cave, it only tells of a manger in a barn. Skeptics note that many biblical events were commemorated in caves because it is more convenient for pilgrims (and the site operator) to be sheltered from sun and rain.

But in this area many houses are built in front of caves, where the cave provides shelter for the animals or storage room. And so it is logical to interpret the typical barn of the area as a cave.

The Grotto of the Nativity is entered through a pair of Crusader Gothic doorways on either side of the raised sanctuary, two flights of steps lead down to the Alter of the Nativity. The cave is an irregular chamber more or less rectangular in shape, 12.3m long and 3.15m wide.

The walls are partly of rock, partly of masonry, and largely covered with hangings. Altars mark the traditional places of the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi and the Manger. The altar of the Nativity is located right on the spot where Jesus is said to have been born.

The exact location is marked by a hole in the marble flow below the alter, surrounded by a silver star and silver lamps. At the end of the Grotto of the Nativity a door leads to a few chapels, the key of which belongs to the Franciscans. They dug a passage in 1470 in order to have access to the Grotto from the Church of St. Catherine.

  • Church of the Nativity – The Birth Cave – Bethlehem city center, West Bank. 10km south of Jerusalem.
  • Open: In Winter daily 8-17. In Summer daily 7-18.
  • Fee: free
  • Classification: Karst Cave.  Cave Church
  • Map.

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