James E. Lancaster, Ph.D.

These views of the Church of the Nativity were taken from the plaza in front of the church, just off Manger Square in the town of Bethlehem.

The original church was built by order of the Emperor Constantine and completed in 339 AD. The location was identified by Constantine's mother, Queen Helena, during her trip to Palestine in 326 AD to identify Christian holy sites. The original church was destroyed in 529 during a Samaritan uprising against the orthodox church. It was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian and completed in 532. The church as seen today is essentially the Justinian church making it the oldest extant Christian church in the Holy Land.


Very little has changed between the 1952 photo on the left and the 1995 photo on the right. The buildings on the right in each photo are part of an Armenian Orthodox monastery. The Church of the Nativity, itself, is at the rear of the plaza. The entrance is through the small door. The photo below is a closeup of the door taken from the 1952 photo.

One of the three original entrances to the Justinian church is visible in the closeup photo. It extended up to the cornice at the top of the photo. It was partially walled in during medieval times leaving the smaller arched entrance. That entrance was further reduced to its current size in more recent times.

View larger versions of the 1952 and 1995 photos:

The 1952 photo was taken by Dr. Marshall Welles. The 1995 photos are by the author.
Photos may be reproduced only with the consent of the author.