Church of the Nativity

Every day is Christmas in Bethlehem


Bethlehem has been so crowded of late that it has been difficult to get groups into the grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity. Yesterday we got in without a hitch. Yay!

The grotto has been the focus of Christian worship for almost two thousand years. Here, a humble stable-cave became a birthing place.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no space in the room above for them” (Luke 2:6-7).

The cave pictured above is swathed in tapestries and covers. The focal point at the far end is marked by lights and a star. It represents the place where Jesus was born. To the right is a niche associated with the manger.


It’s time for you to experience Christmas in a new way. Will you consider joining us on a future trip to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth and other sites connected with the ministry of Jesus? Find a trip by clicking the link here or contact me directly at We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.



Spent a few hours in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem yesterday. The restoration (which is not quite yet complete) is simply stunning. Those who can remember the dark dingy nave of yesteryear will be astounded to see the place today. The new roof is rustic but beautiful. You can see the open rafters of cedar that were hewn and hoisted into positioned in the 14th century. The 44 columns that support that roof were cut from local limestone and polished to a high degree. Now that they’ve been cleaned, you can distinguish them from their white marble crowns decorated in acanthus leaves. Note the scrollwork in the architrave that spans the gaps between the columns.

Keep in mind that this structure has been continually used as a place of Christian worship since the time of Constantine (mid 4th century). That makes it unique in all of Israel-Palestine.

The outline of the present structure was established by Justinian I in the mid-6th century.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was erected over a cave where Jesus was born.

It was the first place in Palestine to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

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The Church of the Nativity is hopping right now as the tourist season is in full bloom.

We have openings right now for a trips scheduled to depart this summer. Write me at for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Getting ready for Christmas


Holy space is strictly arranged in Eastern Orthodox churches. The center part of the building, where the faithful sit or stand, is distinct from the sanctuary, the place of the priests and the altar. Between the nave and the sanctuary is a wall-like structure or iconostasis. Lurking in the word iconostasis is the word icon, a term used of images or depictions. These are often attached to the wall and add to its ornate appearance.

Physically the iconostasis stands between these special spaces although theologically, the iconostasis is considered to be a point of connection. Icons depict saints, apostles, and Christ himself, personalities who unite believers to their God. Doors in the iconostasis allow passage for the priests. A gap left between the top of the iconostasis and the ceiling allows for the communication of words and song.

I’m thinking about such things today as I stand in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (Palestine). Pictured here is the iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox portion of the building. Just below the sanctuary is a cave. Reliable traditions suggests that Jesus was born in this cave.

It is a good place to be with Christmas around the corner!


I’m in Israel-Palestine right now with a group from Chantilly, Virginia. Today we visited Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, sites associated with the story of the birth of Jesus.

Consider this your invitation to participate in a trip of adventure and renewal. For a complete list of travel opportunities, see our 2019 schedule here. Contact me at if interested.

Vanitas motif

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This statue of Saint Jerome (Hieronymus in Latin) stands on a pedestal near the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine. In life (AD 347-420) Jerome spent many years here, dwelling in the cave where Jesus was born. In that cave he prayed, mentored others, wrote letters, and translated Scripture.

Jerome is often pictured with a human skull nearby. Is this because translation work will kill you? No. It is a vanitas motif: an artistic element suggesting that the things of this world are temporary at best. Death is a inevitable reality that the living must take to heart. It is a common motif in classical presentations of Jerome.

Behind his statue is the façade of the Church of Saint Catherine. This building serves the Catholic parish in Bethlehem.

This photograph was taken by Bible Land Explorer YongLan Ye.

Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. Onboard lectures will focus on Paul's fourth missionary journey. See the link here for details.