Merry Christmas! The photo that you see above is the birthplace of Jesus in the city of Bethlehem, Israel in the Church of the Nativity. The city is now Palestinian-controlled, and isn’t really the “little town of Bethlehem” from the Christmas song anymore.
According to Wikipedia:
The Grotto of the Nativity, an underground cave located beneath the basilica, enshrines the site where Jesus is said to have been born. The exact spot is marked beneath an altar by a 14-pointed silver star set into the marble floor and surrounded by silver lamps. This altar is denominationally neutral, although it features primarily Armenian Apostolic influences. Another altar in the Grotto, which is maintained by the Roman Catholics, marks the site where traditionally Mary laid the newborn Baby in the manger.
The other grotto (the manger) is just a few feet from the 14-pointed star marking Jesus’ birth spot. I have to say it was like waiting for a Disneyland ride; hundreds of people inching slowly towards the door, only to find out it leads to another waiting room. After that room, we go downstairs where we immediately happen upon the birthplace of Jesus.
You can see me touching the star below. Would have been a better photo if I took my name tag off:
Unfortunately, we had to wait two times to see the star because halfway through the first wait, we had to make our reserved mass time in the Church of St. Catherine. It was a beautiful church (the monk was not from our tour group):
Here are some notes about the church from Wikipedia:
The adjoining Church of St. Catherine, the Roman Catholic church, was built in a more modern Gothic revival style, and has since been further modernized according to the liturgical trends which followed Vatican II. This is the church where the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrates Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Certain customs still observed in this Midnight Mass predate Vatican II, but must be maintained because the “status quo” (the customs, rights and duties of the various church authorities that have custody of the Holy Places) was legally fixed by a firman in 1852, under the Ottoman Empire, that is still in force to this day.
If you ever have a chance to visit Israel, I highly recommend seeing Bethlehem, even if it is a bit of a pain to enter and leave. On that note, I’ll leave you with a shot of Bethlehem at night, which I took from the bus window: