Bethlehem, birthplace of the Infant Jesus
Bethlehem (Beit Lahm in Arabic) is famous in the Bible as the town of David and of Jesus. Its religious center is the Church of the Nativity, a 6th century basilica which has survived to the present day. On Christmas day 1100, Baldwin I was crowned first king of Jerusalem here.
The Gate of Humility into the Church of the Nativity is just over four feet high and was added in 1272 A.D. to help repel raiders. Visitors must stoop or bow in submission. Once inside, most tourists - about 1.25 million a year, in peaceful times - quickly queue on the right side of the 5th century Orthodox basilica and wait to enter the Grotto of the Nativity beneath the high altar.
The entrance to the church is a low doorway that has its own legends. One story is that the door was installed by the Muslims during their rule to remind Christians that they were guests in the country and must bow to their hosts. An alternative explanation is that the height of the door was designed to prevent unbelievers from entering the church on horseback. Yet another version holds that it was to protect the Christians from their hostile neighbors.
In the center of a raised strip of ground surrounded by pine trees, a modern chapel commemorates the event of Christ’s birth. Drawn by the Italian architect Barluzzi, the building of white and pink stone, calls to mind the shape of ancient huts used as shelters by the shepherds. Inside, the altar is held up by four kneeling bronze shepherds. In the cupola two angels sing “Glory to God and peace to men”