Grotto of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Inside the Basilica of the Nativity in Manger Square in Bethlehem, the Grotto of the Nativity marks the place of Jesus's birth. It is a rectangular cave, 35 ft. x 10 ft., lit by 48 lamps. Under the main altar is a silver star, marking the spot where Jesus was born. The inscription on the star reads 'Hic de Maria Virgine Jesus Christus Natus Est' (Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary).

The Holy Manger is close by to the right, with votive candles burning beside it. The original rock of the cave can be seen above the manger, though now blackened by centuries of the smoke from candles and oil lamps. The cave roof was replaced by masonry in the fourth century, and the walls of the cave are covered with fireproof material, so this one small area is the only piece of original rock visible.

The grotto is below the level of the Basilica, and two entrances lead down to it. The Basilica itself has the shape of a cross, 170ft. long and 80ft. wide. It is divided into 5 aisles by four rows of columns, and above the Grotto of the Nativity is a Greek Orthodox choir, hand carved from cedar of Lebanon.

Fragments of mosaics from Queen Helena's fourth century Church have been discovered in the Basilica in this century, testifying to the centuries of worship at this most holy of places.



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