THE birthplace of Christ is synonymous with Bethlehem. A great Basilica stands over the spot where He was borna building hardly perceptible from the street because of the surrounding monasteries.
From earliest times this site, one of many caves cut into the rock, has been venerated as the place of the Nativity. A temple to the God Adonis was built there by a hostile Emperor but with the passing of time worship of Adonis disappeared as worship of the Infant Jesus spread.
When St. Helena arrived the scene was one of devotion. She transformed the cave into a great sanctuary and her son, Constantine, decorated the interior. The Basilica has a rectangular nave broken with four rows of tall pillars, 40 in all, of dark red marble, with 'white Corinthian capitals set in place at a later date. At the time of the Crusaders the wails were covered with gold Beneath the Sanctuary of the Greek Orthodox, at the far end of the nave, arc two staircases into the rectangular crypt. -1 he only light in this grotto of the Nativity comes from 53 decorated lamps (shown in our picture). Where the stairs meet there is a semi-circular niche, partly hidden behind a gilded iron screen. This is the place of Christ's birth. The grille-work is only open in the early hours of the morning and is always heavily guarded. On the marble floor which is cleaned several times a week by Armenian and Greek clergy there is a silver star around which is the inscription: "Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary." This is where Christmas started . .