Around Bethlehem

Although there is no evidence that Jesus visited any specific places south of Bethlehem, there are two places important to visit as well as Jesus’ “birthplace”.  They are Beit Sahour and Hebron(Use a map or ask local people for the best way to find these places.)

Signs in Bethlehem

Beit Sahour is located to the east and contains three possible sites for the shepherd’s view of the angels, managed by the Franciscans, the Greek Orthodox Church and the East Jerusalem YMCA. Each has a cave or an archeological site and there are probably more places that could be termed Shepherds Fields as well. Shepherds often gathered several flocks together at night and cooperated in watching them inside or outside caves. A multitude of the heavenly host could easily be heard by everyone.

The Franciscan (Latin Catholic) site is mentioned in the diary of Egeria, a fourth century pilgrim, and archeologists have found evidence of first century shepherds at that same place. The Greek Orthodox site is also known as the field of Ruth and Boaz and the church there is quite modern. The East Jerusalem YMCA site has no claims to authenticity but it contains a Rehabilitation Center built by the East Jerusalem YMCA for those wounded during the Intifadas. Beit Sahour is also the location of the House of Hope for the Blind and Mentally Handicapped as well as the Rapproachement Center where Christians, Muslims and Jews meet for dialogue. You are welcome to visit the service institutions as well as the sites.

Ibrahim Mosque
Ibrahim Mosque

Hebron is south of Bethlehem on the Hebron Road and it is known for the colored glass ware produced there. The city of Hebron is known as El Khalil, the friend (of God), as a reference to Abraham who moved from being a wanderer to a land owner on the spot.  He and Sarah, along with his son, Isaac, and his wife and his grandson, Jacob, and his wife are all buried there in the Cave of the Patriarchs. The building is also known as Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi (The mosque of Abraham).   

Hebron is occupied and its Palestinian stores are closed
Hebron is occupied and its Palestinian stores are closed

The Cave of the Patriarchs is shared by Muslims and Jews and is the site of a shooting of Muslims as they were at prayer in 1994. Hebron has been the site of many other clashes between Palestinians and Israelis and a group called the Christian Peacemaker Team lives and works there.  On occasion the Israeli military presence in the Old City of Hebron includes barricades, arrests and other disturbances but it is usually calm. It is suggested that you check on the situation in Hebron before visiting, since it may not be safe.


Other sites close to Bethlehem that travelers sometimes visit:

The Remains of King Herod
The Remains of King Herod

The Herodion - Ten miles south of Bethlehem is the Herodian — King Herod’s mountain fortress (a conical hill) which Herod the Great built as an elaborate centrally-heated place of refuge from his enemies.   He is reputed to have been buried there but no trace has been found. It is worth visiting to get an idea of the nature of Herod’s life style.

The Tent of Nations is a 100-acre hilltop farm that serves as an educational and cultural center for local Palestinians, Israelis, and international visitors, near the village of Nahalin. Although the Israeli government has tried to close it down, the Nassar family, who owns the property, continues to use it to work on peacebuilding. Again, check before visiting but international visitors are welcome.

Cremison WinesThe Cremisan Winery was built during a Muslim period.  Since Muslims do not drink alcohol, its founding was a special concession to the Catholic Church to provide wine for the Mass.

Mar Saba Monastery, is Greek Orthodox and is one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world. Women are not allowed to enter but can view the beautiful buildings from the Women’s Tower nearby.

The town of Al Khader is named after St. George who was imprisoned there with chains that were said to hold healing powers. St. George is important to the Christians in the area and they display pictures of St. George killing a dragon on the top of their doorways. This is comparable to the Muslim tradition of placing the word “hajji” above the doorway of Muslim homes.  "Hajji" indicates that someone living in the house has been on the Haj.

When you are finished in the Bethlehem area, there are more places to visit on the way back to Jerusalem.

Tantur Ecumenical Institute is located on the left side of the Hebron Road at the corner of Rosemarin Rd. The property is owned by the Vatican and it provides a study and conference center for Christians and inter-religious groups. Begun after Vatican II as a way to continue inter- Christian relationships, it offers courses for laypeople and clergy as well as a place for theologians to work on new projects. The property was used as a hospital during the crusades and has evidence of an earlier monastery on the grounds.  It is also reputed to be the place where Mary felt her first labor pains.  

Settlement Har Homa Being Built

To the east of Tantur, and on the right side of the Hebron Road, is Har Homa, (Mount Wall, but now called Har el Schumel) This large settlement is built on a former heavily forested h elill containing the uins of early Christian monasteries. It was the site of a contentious fight between Christians and the Israeli government in 1991. North of Tantur is Gilo settlement - one of the first built in the West Bank.

Ruins of Kathisma
Ruins of Kathisma

When the road to Har Homa was being built off the Hebron Road, the extensive ruins of an eight-sided church called the Kathisma were found just beyond Tantur. It was built as three concentric octagons in the 5th century and is reputed to be the place where Mary rested on a rock by a spring on the way to Bethlehem. Archeologists believe it to have been one of the largest churches built in the early days of Christianity, but it was destroyed around the beginning of the 12th century. Folk tales also mark it as the place where the Wise Men relocated the star leading them to Jesus’ birth. There is evidence of a Muslim mosque next to the church and it is believed by some that this was a place of Christian/Muslim dialogue. The ruins were often left unguarded in recent years and the elaborate mosaics were disturbed or removed by tourists.  Some signs of it may still be there on the east side of the road. Continuing on, you will arrive in Jerusalem near the Old City.