Today’s local Bethlehem economy is largely sustained by tourism, and in particular holy land pilgrims visiting the Church of Nativity. The entrance to this famous church is surprisingly non-impressive. The large courtyard is perfect for groups of pilgrims and tourist however some vendors are noticeably allowed in this area.
The church building is the oldest standing church in the Holy Land. Built by Constantine’s mother Helena in the 4th century, and later badly damaged by the Samaritans revolt in 529, but was rebuilt only a century later by the emperor Justinian I, and stands today very much the same in its present form, being spared destruction by Persians due to local Muslim-Christian friendships.
From early tradition the birthplace of baby Jesus has been in a cave. While there is no mention of a cave in the Scriptures, it is true that many houses in Nazareth at the time were built in front or nearby caves. The cave would serve as a household storage or shelter for domestic animals.
Bethlehem is an important holy land pilgrimage destination which peaks during the Christmas season when Christians make pilgrimage to the Church of Nativity, as they have done for nearly two millennia. But Bethlehem is not only a Holy Land destination for Christians, Jewish pilgrims travel to Rachel’s Tomb, an important Jewish holy site destination, located at the northern entrance of Bethlehem.