A brief history of the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem.
One hundred and thirty years after the birth of Christ, the Holy Cave became the place of pilgrimage of the Christians. The idolatric emperor Adrian, wishing to send the place to oblivion, built a temple dedicated to Adonis as he also did at Golgotha with the construction of the temple dedicated to Aphrodite. His attempt did not end successfully. The testimony of Origen who visited Palestine in 213AD shows that the place was wonderful and the Christian pilgrimage famous, even between the ethnics. At the beginning of the 4th century Saint Helen built a Christian Church and donated valuable heirlooms. Great Constantine completed the building and decorated the offerings with gold, silver and precious stones, according to the testimony of Eusabius of Caesaria. This testimony is confirmed by the author of the travel guide of Bourdigal, writing on the church of Bethlehem: "two miles further from the tomb of Rahel is Bethlehem, where our Lord Jesus Christ was born: there a church was built under the orders of Great Constantine".
The Church lasted for two centuries. In the 5th century, Justinian built a larger and more magnificent Church. He wanted this building to be the most brilliant of all in Palestine. The architect however out of respect for the ancient way, preserved in part the original plan of the Church. The confirmation of the information that the church of Bethlehem was his work, we obtained from an anonymous Arabic chronicle. After Justinian the information on this Church becomes sparse. The Persian invasion of 614 as expected brought great destruction also to Bethlehem, however the solid construction of the church did not allow extensive damage. The damage was fixed easily and was returned to its earlier brilliant state. Arcuflus and Bilivardus describe with amazement the Church of the 7th and 8th century, while Bernardus in the 9th century writes: "In Bethlehem there is a large church, in the middle of which there is an underground cave, whose entrance is in the South, while the exit is in the East, (or perhaps in the North). Inside the Cave towards the west is the Holy Manger.
When on the 11th century, all the churches of the Holy Land were razed to the ground by Hakim Imin Amr-Ililah, only the church Of Bethlehem was saved. The French chronicler Ademar wrote that when the Saracens tried to destroy the church, a light like lightning fell on them killing many. In 1099 the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem. They found the church of Bethlehem intact. Godefreid sent Tagrado with 100 knights and captured Bethlehem within a day. In 1103 it is written that the whole area was deserted and only the church stood. During the following half century the deterioration reached such a level, that the Roman emperor Emmanuel Comninus with a great donation restored it. John Fokas in his treatise on the Holy Land says that the Latin Bishop placed the picture of the emperor Emmanuel on the altar of the Holy Cave. After the liquidation of the Crusader kingdoms, the emperors of Constantinople maintained the Orthodox clerics in Bethlehem by appeasing with rich gifts the vengeful mania of the muslims. Thus in 1348, Cantakousinus sent a delegation to the Sultan of the Mameluks of Egypt, Nasrendin Hasan , under the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Lazarus, who mediated for the Church of the Resurrection and for the other shrines.
In 1435 the king Alex Comninus, the financier, restored the lead covered roof of the church. In 1561 the Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem built the four chambers that are at both sides of the Holy Cave. The roof of the church already needed repairs during the period of the Patriarch Paisius but could not manage to complete the work due to lack of money. His successor Nektarius convinced a distinguished gentleman, Manolaki Kastorianos, to contribute to the works and started the process of the issuing of the necessary permit from the Portal (the Palace). The work finally started under Patriarch Dositheos. The previously mentioned Manolaki Kastorianos gathered the necessary lumber at Joppi. From there it was directed to Jerusalem. However, at the valley of the torrent Salam, north of Emmaus, the road was difficult to negotiate and the carts could not proceed. The Orthodox faithful from the cities of Rembli, Rammalah and Lydda as well as Jerusalem, all came over and through their individual efforts they managed to open the road to Jerusalem. The transportation thus lasted from August to December. In September 1672 the restoration started, which included the opening of the doors and windows that were closed and the corresponding installations, laying of marble tiles and whitewashing. For the covering of the roof with lead, the existing lead was reworked and augmented with fresh quantities where needed. The inauguration took place in July of the same (ecclesiastic) year, by the Synod that had earlier absolved Kyrill Loukari from the accusations of the Jesuits.
Other smaller repairs were done in 1689 under the permit of Sultan Suleiman 2nd and in 1775 under Patriarch Abramius. In 1842 another larger renovation was done on the building during the time of Athanasius 3rd. The roof was replaced and covered with lead. The floor of the Catholicon (nave) was laid with marble tiles, while outside the columns was covered with local stone. All the walls that lost their mosaic due to aging, were covered with marble dust. This was the last great restoration of the church.