Susan C. Anthony

Door to the Church of the NativityBethlehem

Bethlehem is about six miles south of Jerusalem, on the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. The photo was taken in Manger Square at the entrance to the Church of the Nativity. Like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Nativity was originally built under the supervision of Emperor Constantine's mother in 330 A.D. It is the traditional site of Jesus' birth, and the oldest continually operating church in Christendom.

You can see in the photo that the door has been partially blocked. This was done by the Crusaders, for defense and to prevent infidels from galloping proudly into the church on horseback. It is called the Gate of Humility. Everyone must bow and assume a humble pose in order to enter.

Inside, down several steps and under the altar, is a stone cave known as the Grotto of the Nativity where Jesus is thought to have been born. Near it is the Chapel of the Manger, traditionally the site where Jesus was laid by his mother. As at most holy sites, there were hundreds of jostling pilgrims. A major source of income in this land has always been visiting pilgrims.

As a result of the historic Oslo Accord between Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli security forces withdrew from Bethlehem. After a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 30 Israelis and injured 160 more at a 2002 Passover seder, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield. More than 200 Palestinian gunmen took refuge in the Church of the Nativity on April 2, forbidding 46 clergymen and 200 civilians in the church to leave. Priests later said the militants stole valuable icons and used pages from prayer books as toilet paper. Palestinian leaders dismissed the report as "inaccurate."

The Israeli military beseiged the church. Yasser Arafat ordered his fighters to remain in the church until the crisis was resolved. Eventually, under massive international pressure, an agreement was reached to release the hostages. In exchange, the militants were deported.

The church was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Centre in 2012. Millions of dollars then became available for repairs, which have since been completed.

Go on to read about the Dome of the Rock
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