According to the tradition, the grotto of the Nativity is the place where Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. On this grotto, a Basilica with a nave and 4 aisles was built and it is accessible through a humble entrance. Around the grotto of the Nativity, there are other grottoes tied to the memory of St. Jerome. Next to the Basilica lies the Church of St. Catherine preceded by a small courtyard.
After the Gospels, the most ancient witness concerning the place of the birth of Jesus is Justin, the philosopher and martyr (towards the 2nd half of the 2nd century). He was originally from Flavia Neapolis (today Nablus) in Palestine. Justin writes, “At the moment of the birth of the Child in Bethlehem and not having a place to stay in that village, Joseph stopped at a grotto near the populated area; and while they were there, Mary gave birth to Christ and laid him in manger.” The particular mention of the grotto as a makeshift lodging is recognized as an echo of the local tradition, attested by the apocryphal Gospel of James (3rd cent.), and also repeated by Origen (3rd cent.). Subsequently, the grotto has been at the heart of all the history of the Shrine of Bethlehem. This same grotto was then surrounded by magnificent buildings built by the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helen, not long after 325 A.D., as told by the historian Eusebius of Caesarea, a contemporary of these accomplishments. In 386, St. Jerome settled somewhere near the Basilica with the Roman matron Paula and other followers, living a monastic life and dedicating himself to the study of Sacred Scripture, writing his famous Latin version of the Bible (the Vulgate), which later became official for the whole Western Church.
The 4th century Basilica was substituted in the 6th century by a bigger one which is standing to date. In the Crusader period (12th cent.), the walls were embellished of precious mosaic incrusted with gold and mother-of-pearl, of which are still left broad fragments with scenes of the NT (in the transept with Latin inscriptions) and symbolic representations of ecumenical councils (in the nave with Greek inscriptions). Above the columns of the nave, in a series of medallions, are depicted the ancestors of Jesus (with Latin wordings). At the feet of one of the adoring angels to the left of the wall is an inscription in Latin and Syriac with the name of the artist, the painter Basil. Excavations conducted in the years 1934-35 by the British Mandate at the time have brought to light considerable remains of mosaic floors of the Constantinian Basilica, much of which is still as visible in the nave as it is in the transept of the Basilica.
The Franciscans, who have been living in Bethlehem since 1347, have their own convent next to the Basilica of the Nativity and a church dedicated to the holy martyr Catherine. The church exists since 12th century and was gradually enlarged.
5. Entrance to the Grotto.
6. Grotto of the Nativity and the Manger.
7. Parochial Church of St. Catherine.
9. Medieval Cloister.
10. Entrance to the Franciscan Convent
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; look, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The Visit of the Magi
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The Flight into Egypt and the Slaughter of the Innocents
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
Guide: In this holy place, in which the bounty of God, our Savior, and his love for humanity are manifest, we direct our prayer to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, trusting in his power and mercy. All: Lord, hear our prayer.
1. For the Church spread throughout the world, that in every time and place she may embrace and announce Christ, the Lord, whom the Virgin Mary conceived and gave birth in a miraculous way. Let us pray.
2. For all peoples of the earth, that they may recognize and embrace the true peace and the salvation in the Son of God, who was born of Mary and became citizen of this world. Let us pray.
3. For political and medical authorities, that, by respecting the fundamental values, they may protect life from the moment of conception and promote assistance to expecting mothers. Let us pray.
4. For those who do not have the joy of believing in Christ, that enlightened by the Holy Spirit they may welcome the message of peace that the birth of Jesus offers to every person of good will. Let us pray.
5. For us pilgrims and for all humanity, that the grace of Bethlehem may help us to embrace ever anew from Mary the gift of the Savior and make him known to the world by word and deed. Let us pray.
Guide: O Father, who never disappoints all those who hope in you, accept our supplications which we offer through Mary, the Mother of Jesus, your Son who is, who was, and who comes, and lives and reigns with you forever and ever.
Convento di Terra Santa
Visiting Hours of the Basilica
Summertime: 6.30 am - 7.30 pm
Wintertime: 5.30 am - 5.00 pm