The Church of the Nativity

Luke 2, 7 describes how Mary brought forth her firstborn son, and laid him in a manger; because there was not room in the inn. Over this cave-like manger, traditionally Jesus’ birthplace arose the Basilica of the Nativity. From the very beginnings of the Christian era, this was a scared grotto, above which in the fourth century, Emperor Constantine constructed a large church, first piercing a whole in the cave roof for the faithful to lock down in the holy place, then erecting an octagonal altar over it. The altar is still there around 200 years later; Emperor Justinian rebuilt the basilica much as it is seen today, and put up a mosaic pediment of the Magi in Persian dress. Because of this picture, it is claimed, the ravaging Persian troops of 614 spared the church of the Nativity from destruction. No basic changes were made by the Crusaders, except for the decoration of the church with rich paintings and glass mosaics.
The entrance to the Basilica of the Nativity, which is shared by the Armenians, the Greek Orthodox and the Latin’s, has been filled in below the straight wide Byzantine lintel to outline the pointed Crusader doorway. This in turn was partially blocked by the Turks, leaving the present opening small to allow for easy defense and to prevent horses and other animals from entering the church. The rectangular prayer hall is approximately 200 by 90 feet, with four rows of twelve brown Bethlehem stone pillars. The oak ceiling was donated by Edward IV of England and Duke Philip of Burgundy in 1482.
There is a pink marble font to the right and the original eight sided altar directly ahead. In the floor are trapdoors through which remains of the mosaic floor of the original church can be seen. Curved steps descend to the grotto, where a silver star overlies the spot of Jesus’ birth. It bears the Latin inscription “hic de virgin Maria Jesus christusnatus est-1717”; “here Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary-1717”. Nearby, in the chapel of the Manger, which belongs to Greek Orthodox, Mary is said to have laid the child.