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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem





West Bank


Church bell at Bethlehem (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The West Bank city of Bethlehem, about 9km south of Jerusalem, is celebrated by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Here Mary gave birth in a cave used for animals. Here the local shepherds came to worship the baby, and here the Three Wise Men from the east came to pay homage and present their gifts.

Here too, 1000 years before Christ, Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, Israel’s second king. Here David was anointed as king by the prophet Samuel after being brought in from tending his father’s sheep.

The city of Bethlehem (in Hebrew its name means “house of bread”) perches on a hill at the edge of the Judaean desert. Bedouin from the desert rub shoulders with pilgrims and tourists among a mix of cultures in its town market and its narrow, ancient streets.


Cave can be visited

The Gospel references to Christ’s birth are sparse. The physician Luke gives most information: “And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to David’s town of Bethlehem — because he was of the house and lineage of David — to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child . . . . She gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the place where travellers lodged.” (Luke 2:4,7)


Star marking Jesus’ birthplace, in the Grotto of the Nativity (Seetheholyland.net)

The cave where the birth took place and the manger stood can now be visited underneath the huge Basilica of the Nativity. This is the oldest complete church in the Christian world.

During the 20th century, Bethlehem was controlled in turn by Turkey, Britain, Jordan and Israel. Hostilities led to thousands of displaced Palestinians living in official refugee camps nearby.

In 1995 Bethlehem came under the administration of the Palestinian Authority, though Israel retained control of entrances and exits. During times of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the city has seen many confrontations.

Israel’s construction of the separation wall has severely affected Bethlehem’s economy and the movements of its residents. The barrier runs along the city’s northern side, within metres of houses.


Most residents are Muslims

Because of Christian emigration, Bethlehem now has a Muslim majority. The Mosque of Omar is a prominent landmark.


Olive wood products in a Bethlehem souvenir shop (Seetheholyland.net)

The remaining Christians include Latin, Syrian, Melchite, Armenian and Maronite Catholics; Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox; and a variety of Protestant denominations. Many religious institutions are present, including Bethlehem University, founded under the direction of the Vatican.

Maintaining the Christmas spirit, Franciscan friars daily celebrate the Eucharist in the Grotto of the Manger and at noon perform a procession around the holy places.

Bethlehem’s residents, who depend largely on pilgrims and tourists for their livelihood, are known for their olive wood carvings, mother-of-pearl jewellery (a craft introduced by the Franciscans) and distinctive embroidery.

In the words of one pilgrim, Della Shenton, “Bethlehemites are cheerful, peaceful, gentle people, who have welcomed pilgrims for centuries: They now stand waiting for visitors. Jesus Christ was born here, their expressions appear to say; so where are all the Christians?”

Sites in the Bethlehem area:

Church of the Nativity

Grotto of the Nativity

St Jerome’s Cave

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria

Milk Grotto

Shepherds’ Field

Tomb of Rachel

Field of Boaz


In Scripture:

Birth of Messiah prophesied: Micah 5:2-5

The birth of Jesus: Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 1:18-25

The visit of the Wise Men: Matthew 2:1-12

Massacre of the Holy Innocents: Matthew 2:16-18





Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007).
Joseph, Frederick: “Bethlehem”, Holy Land, winter 2002.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Petrozzi, Maria Teresa: “The Nativity Grotto”, Holy Land, winter 1997.
Shenton, Della: “Go now to Bethlehem”, The Tablet, London, December 16, 2006.
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links

Bethlehem (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Bethlehem (Obethlehem.com)
Bethlehem (BiblePlaces)
Bethlehem Municipality
Bethlehem University
Open Bethlehem civil society project

Dome of the Rock


Dome of the Rock

Temple Mount visitors at Dome of the Rock (Seetheholyland.net)

Jerusalem’s iconic symbol is the gleaming Dome of the Rock, whose golden roof has dominated the Temple Mount for centuries. This Islamic holy place stands on a site that is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

• To Jews, this is where Abraham, in a supreme act of faith, prepared to offer his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. It is also the place where the Temple once stood.

• To Christians it is where the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple; where he was found among the teachers as a 12-year-old; where he later prayed and taught — and drove the money-changers out of the Temple precincts. For most of the 12th century, when the Crusaders controlled Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock was actually a Christian church.

• To Muslims the Dome covers the sacred rock where Muhammad prayed and went to paradise during his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back to Mecca on the winged steed called Al-Burak.

The Dome of the Rock was the first major sanctuary built by Islam. Although it is sometimes erroneously called the Mosque of Omar (a companion of Muhammad) it is actually not a mosque but an adjunct to the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque.


Ornamentation by Christian artists

A building of extraordinarily harmonious proportions, the Dome of the Rock is 20 metres across and more than 35 metres high. It was commissioned by Caliph Abd al-Malik and completed in AD 691. Its rich ornamentation was the work of Syrian Christian artists.

Dome of the Rock

Close-up of Dome of the Rock (Seetheholyland.net)

The roof is covered with gold-plated anodised aluminium. Inside, the sacred rock is protected by a 12th-century cedar wood screen. Crosses on some of the columns show that they were taken from churches. A high reliquary beside the rock is believed to contain a hair of Muhammad’s beard.

On the southern side of the rock, steps lead down to an ancient cave, known as the Well of Souls, to which many Jewish and Islamic legends are attached. The Crusaders used the cave as a confessional.

Current Arab tradition suggests that Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome to commemorate Muhammad’s Night Journey and ascension to paradise.

Older sources indicate that the caliph’s purpose was two-fold: 1) to emphasise the superior truth of Islam over both Judaism and Christianity; 2) to outshine the splendour of Christian churches.

A 10th-century account says he was concerned that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre might “dazzle the minds of Muslims”. The dimensions of the iconic golden dome match those of the Holy Sepulchre’s dome.


Challenge to Christians

The Dome’s “founding inscription” runs for 240 metres in a single line of Kufic script (the oldest Arabic writing in existence) along the top of both sides of the inner octagonal arcade.

The sacred rock inside the dome (© Marie-Armelle Beaulieu)

The sacred rock inside the dome (© Marie-Armelle Beaulieu)

In a clear challenge to the Christian belief in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, it says:

“O you People of the Book, overstep not bounds in your religion, and of God speak only the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God . . . . Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not ‘Three’. It will be better for you. God is only one God. Far be it from his glory that he should have a son.”

By building the Dome of the Rock, Caliph Abd al-Malik symbolised the transformation of Jerusalem — once a Jewish city, then a Christian city — into a Muslim city. Today, of course, the city is both culturally and religiously diverse.


Related site:

Al-Aqsa Mosque


Administered by: Islamic Waqf Foundation

Tel.: 972-2-6226250

Open: Non-Muslims are permitted to enter the Temple Mount through the Bab Al-Maghariba (Moors’ Gate), reached through a covered walkway from the Western Wall plaza, during restricted hours. These are usually 7.30-11am and 1.30-2.30pm (closed Fridays and on religious holidays), but can change. Modest dress is required. Non-Muslims are not normally allowed into the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount is not permitted.




Hope, Leslie: “The Dome of the Rock”, Holy Land, summer 1999
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External link

Noble Sanctuary
Dome of the Rock
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