David’s Royal City
A few miles south of Jerusalem, near the edge of the Judean Desert, Bethlehem built on a rocky prominence about 2500 feet (777m) above sea level. The town is surrounded by terraced hills covered with vineyards, olives, almonds and fig trees. Its name means “House of Bread” Hebrew, and below the town are fields where the Old Testament book of Ruth recounts the unfolding story of her love with Boaz. Their son Obed became the grandfather of
King David who was born and first anointed in Bethlehem three thousand years ago (1 Samuel 16:13).
In the centre of the town stands the Church of the Nativity, built over the traditional site of the manger where Jesus Christ was born. Matthew’s gospel says that the birth took place here in order to fulfil the Old Testament prophecy, “But thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).
Erected over the Grotto Bethlehem’s Basilica has had a stormy history. In the year 135, following an abortive Jewish rebellion against Roman rule, the Emperor Hadrian attempted to wipe out all traces of the country’s Messianic movement. He consecrated a shrine to the pagan god, Adonis, over the grotto. Ironically, this very act enabled locals to accurately guide visiting pilgrims directly to the spot almost two thousand years later.
Inspired by Queen Helena’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land the Emperor Constantine ordered the building of the Church of the Nativity in 326, over the cave of the manger.
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