Bethlehem, central nave of the Orthodox basilica
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, brother of Godefroi de Bouillon founder of the kingdom with the title of advocate of the Holy Sepulchre, was crowned first king of Jerusalem here.
The Church of the Nativity was built in the 4th century by Helena, the mother of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine. She also was the person responsible for the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The present building, the oldest church in Israel/Palestine was reconstructed in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian (527-565) and further repaired by the Crusaders.The church has a colorful history. When the Persians invaded in 614, they left the church intact, legend has it, because they were moved by a painting inside of the Nativity story depicting the Wise Men of the East in Persian clothes. King Edward IV of England donated wood from English oak trees for the ceiling. He also contributed lead to cover the roof, but that was taken by the Turks, who melted it down to use as ammunition in their war against the Venetians.