Birthplace of Jesus

Church of the Nativity and Pilgrimage

Route, Bethlehem




Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem: entrance to birthplace grotto.

Located in Bethlehem, Palestine, this UNESCO site primarily includes the Church of the Nativity, known as the location of Jesus Christ’s birth. The birthplace and focal point was first documented as far back as 160 A.D and is located in a cave beneath the church (UNESCO 2012). In fact, Sacred Destinations (2016) notes how many houses in the area were built in front of a cave used for stabling and storage, explaining why the manger Jesus was believed to be in would be present. 

The church was first completed in 339 A.D, and despite a fire in the sixth century still contains the original pink limestone columns and intricate mosaic tile floor. Throughout years of changing political and spiritual environments, the oldest Christian church in daily use has endured many additions, restorations, and trials. Previously these trials included looting during the Ottoman empire, an earthquake in 1834 and an additional fire in 1869 (Sacred Destinations 2016). Existing trials today include primarily tourism, structural issues, and the increasing urban development in the area.

Additionally, the rest of the site includes the pilgrimage route through town that Mary and Joseph came from and historical buildings along the way. Today, this route and church are vastly celebrated during the Christmas season, and ceremonially by Patriarchs during official visits (UNESCO 2012). These sites are significant not only to Believers who saw the Son of God made man, but also in their historical capturing of their environment throughout the years. 

World Heritage Classification

This site classifies as a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on criteria iv and vi (UNESCO 2012).

  • (iv)- Illustrates a significant stage in human history: The Church represents the earliest church and includes significant historical architecture. Specifically during 4th-6th A.D centuries when the Roman Empire converted to Christianity and established the church, and during the Crusades when the church was restored.
  • (vi)- Associated with events of outstanding universal significance: The Church and route being related to the birth of Christ represent vast significance to the world’s largest religion. The location, as well as on-site fourth-century buildings and their sixth-century restorations, remain significant to modern Christians and Muslims.
Exterior of the Church of Nativity, Bethlehem,

Exterior of the Church of Nativity, Bethlehem.


Endangering Factors

According to the most recent state of conservation report (2016), the full list of factors affecting this site in 2016 includes housing, impacts of tourism, poor management activities/planning, rain, and the degradation of the church’s architecture. Primarily, this site is encountering issues related to the rising urban development and tourism in the area, and a leaky roof causing damage to the 4th-century mosaic tiles.

Mosaic tile water damage, floor of nav.

Rising tourism is directly linked to the recognized significance of this site in Bethlehem to multiple groups, and other general historians. The Archaeological Institute of America (2016) recognizes how tourism is occurring now more than ever, and how with the increased traffic comes increased damage. Tourism provides revenue for the country, yet this is often not matched to protect the site for future use. Therefore, over the years archaeologists have seen the negative effects of tourism to result in deterioration or destruction of the site.

In addition, to keep up with the rising unregulated tourist levels, urban construction has risen and is considered a threat to the historical urban fabric of the church, its views, and the sense of spiritualness and place it emulates (UNESCO 2012). Locals especially are concerned over the consequences for this modern issue.

For the church, fixing the leaky roof and protecting the features from the 4th, 6th, and 12th century took priority action in the site restoration since making the UNESCO endangered list. As of 2015 however, the extensive roof restoration has been completed. In fact, in recent CNS News, it was announced that the remaining 1,400 ft of mosaics that had not been destroyed were restored after removing centuries world of soot and dirt. Materials included were stone, pearl, glass and gold leafs. Also, during the restoration of the church structure, a golden angel mosaic in the wall was revealed with arms pointing towards the grotto and site of birth (CNS 2016).

Insight into Global Factors

The Church of the Nativity and attached pilgrimage route present a long-term understanding for archaeologists on the rise of a city throughout time, and effects of its related development.

Rising urban developments have proven to result in great consequences for cultural heritage locations across the globe. The Organization for World Heritage Cities (2016) was a non-profit created to assist cities to adapt and manage their methods in relation to the issues placing it on the UNESCO world heritage list. Their mission specifically attempts to sensitize the population and visiting tourist to the value of the site, ensure there is proper communication between research taking place and local management needs, and finally exchanging information among historic sites around the world pursuing similar goals of protecting sites despite their growing environment.





Archaeological Institute of America

2016   A Guide to Best Practices for Archaeological Tourism. Electronic Document,, accessed December 3, 2016.

Catholic News Service (CNS)

2016   Italians finish restoring mosaics in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Electronic Document,, accessed December 3, 2016.

Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC)

2016   The OWHC’s Mission. Electronic Document,, accessed December 3, 2016.

Sacred Destinations

2016   Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. Electronic Document,, accessed November 27, 2016.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

2012    Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem. Electronic Document,, accessed November 14, 2016.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

2016   State of Conservation. Electronic Document,, accessed December 1, 2016.


4 thoughts on Birthplace of Jesus

  1. I really enjoyed reading your site! Despite it being endangered now, it’s incredible that for the most part, the original structure has survived construction and potential destruction all these years. I also think we have an interesting link between our sites because they are so close by, and because your site is where Jesus was born, and mine (the Old City of Jerusalem) is where he was buried.

  2. Cool site! I am amazed that such a large amount of the site survive. I really hope that proper care will be taken on this site so that there is no more damage to it. Our sites are very near each other, which shows that the middle east had beautiful architecture, as well as creative means of agriculture! Also, both of our sites are being affected by development, which really shows how threatened the cultural heritage in this area is. For example, I know that the people of Battir have been using agricultural terraces as a means for farming for many years, and the development in the area could cause this sustainable way of agriculture to cease. Good job with the site! 🙂

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