Category: Religious & Historical Sites

Rachel’s Tomb

Rachel’s Tomb is a small domed structure marking the grave of Jacob’s favorite wife, who died giving birth to Benjamin and “was buried on the way to Ephrath, which Bethlehem”(Gen.35,19). Revered by Christians and Moslems as well as Jews, the tomb is and has been for generations, a place of Jewish pilgrimage, where throngs of pilgrims, particularly childless wives, come to pray to the youngest and loveliest of the Matriarchs.
Mentioned as early as 333 by the Bordeaux Pilgrim as being covered by a pyramid of stones, it was rebuilt by the Crusaders who protected the cenotaph by a domed roof supported on four columns. In 1788, the arches were blocked to form a closed chamber; then in 1841 Sir Moses Montefiore repaired the building and added a vestibule with a mihrab, or south pointing prayer niche, for Moslem worship.

The Monastery of St Saba

Built on the steep bank of the Kidron Valley, in the heart of the Judean wilderness between Bethlehem and Dead Sea, the Laura of St. Saba’s, the founder who died in 533, is one of the most venerated of the monastery.

Solomon’s Pools

Solomon’s pools located in the south-west of Bethlehem near the old road (Al-quds-Hebron road) that runs from Jerusalem to Hebron, Bethlehem. It is far away by 4 kilometers from the birthplace of Jesus Christ “glory to his name” in the biblical and historical city of Bethlehem, the land area equal to 170 acres. It has many unique places to go there, like the Convention palace, restaurant and museum that exist in Murad castle and bazaar (marketplace).
Moreover, there is a religious place close to Solomon Pools, called St. Mary of the Hortus Conclusus; it was built in the nineteenth century by Argentinian bishop. The small, fertile valley in which it is situated is said to be the enclosed garden, the hortus. Conclusus, of the Song of Solomon 4, 12: “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse”.
Also, there is Kalat el-Burak, the castle of the Pools. It was built in Turkish times to guard the triple reservoirs called “Solomon’s Pools” so called from Solomon’s declaration in Ecclesiastes 2, 6 “I made me pools of water”. Partly rock –hewn, partly masonry- built the plaster lined, these enormous artificial pools filled with rainwater collected from the surrounding hills to feed Herod’s elaborate system of aqueducts supplying Jerusalem with water at all seasons.

Herodion

Set on a high hilltop in the Judean wilderness is the strange, truncated cone of Herodion, built by Herod the great in 37 B.C. and described in detail by Josephus Flavius in his wars of the Jews. Archaeological diggings have confirmed that in this remarkable construction Herod “built around towards all about the top, and filled the remaining space with costly palaces, He brought a mighty quantity of water from a great distance, and raised an ascent of two hundred marble steps of the whitest marble”. Within the enclosure are remnants of Herod’s Fresco-painted halls and chambers, a bath-house and one of the earliest underground synagogues ever discovered. Herod, Josephus writes, died in Jericho in 4 A.D. and was placed on a bier of all gold, embroidered with precious stones, and a crown of gold on his head, and the body was carried to Herodion, “his grave has not yet been brought to light”.

Milk Grotto

The milky white church of the milk grotto is a Franciscan chapel built over the cave in which the holy family sheltered during the flight to Egypt. When King Herod heard from the three wise men that the new born king of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem, he ordered that all male children aged two years and less should be killed. An angel warned the holy family of these murders, and they fled to Egypt. Tradition holds that while nursing the baby, some of Mary’s milk spilled on the stone floor turning the entire cave white. Packets of the powdered white stone are sold there and are especially popular with nursing mothers who believe that the powder will ensure a plentiful supply of milk.

Shepherd’s Field

Shepherds still pasture their flocks around Bethlehem, where the shepherds heard the good tidings of Jesus’ birth from the angel of the lord who told them to go to Bethlehem to adore the child. Shepherds’ Fields, sometimes called Ruth’s Field, is near the village of Beit Sahur. Everywhere, evidence is found of Byzantine convents, and a Greek Orthodox Church covers a cave which has a fine fourth century mosaic floor. Another church, called “Campo Dei Pastori”-“Shepherds’ field” was rebuilt for the Franciscans by Antonio Barluzzi, in 1950.
The design of the church represents a shepherd’s tent and the light penetrating. The church through the glass openings of the dome recall the light that shone on the shepherds when the angel appeared to give them the tidings of Jesus’ birth. The walls are decorated with frescoes depicting the story of the shepherds and in the center of the church are an altar supported by bronze statues of shepherds.

Chapel of St Catherine

Adjacent to the church of the Nativity is the Franciscan Chapel of St. Catherine of Alexandria, sensitively restored by Antonio Barluzzi in 1933. From here, the Christmas service at Bethlehem is broadcast all over the world. A statue of St, Jerome, who lived here in the fourth century and translated the bible into Latin, stands in the middle of the courtyard, while interesting crypts, said to be the burial places of St. Jerome, St. Paula and St. Eusebius of Cremona, honeycomb the rock. Another door, always kept locked, links the crypt with the Grotto of the Nativity. Within the church of St. Catherine are the Chapel of St. Joseph, where Joseph was commanded by an angel to flee to Egypt, and the Chapel of the innocents, commemorating the deaths of the babies killed by King Herod.

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.