Pinch Me Places: Grotto of the Nativity
It is one of the most indisputably authentic sites in the Holy Land: the birthplace of Jesus, in a cave beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This spot--marked for 165 years now by this star--has been venerated by Christians since the first century as the place of Jesus' birth. It has attracted pilgrims from the earliest days of the Christian era. The star is made of silver and has fourteen rays that represent the fourteen generations from Abraham to David, the fourteen generations from David to the exile of Babylon and the fourteen generations from the exile of Babylon to Jesus’ birth mentioned in the Gospels. The inscription on the star bears the words “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est” (Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary). The opening in the center of the star has a view of the natural rock of the cave. The original star disappeared in 1847; the present star was given to the church by the Greeks in 1852.
The Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The first basilica on this site was begun by Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine I. Construction started in 327 and was completed in 333. That structure was burnt down in the Samaritan Revolt of 529 and the current basilica was rebuilt in its present form in 565 by the Emperor Justinian I. Today, the church is administered jointly by the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and the Armenian Apostolic church.
Though I've visited the Grotto of the Nativity four times (and the cave of St. Jerome, the Shepherds' Field, and other sites in the area), it still boggles my mind to very likely have stood--and knelt, and sung--at the place of Jesus' birth...a "pinch me place" if there ever was one.