Bethlehem of Judea. A city which marked indelibly the course of Humanity. Its name, Bethlehem in Hebrew, means home of the bread, the Bread of life. As it is mentioned in the gospel of Matthew (2:1) and of Luke (2:1-15) it is the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem is also named Efratha, as well as Bethlehem town of David to distinguish it from another town of Bethlehem, to the south of Galilee. It was completely changed in 4th century when St. Helen, in 327-333, built a majestic Basilica over the cave of the Birth of Christ, contributing to the transformation of this small and insignificant place to an important centre of pilgrimage. The interior of the Basilica has been preserved in its original state. The Basilica has five aisles which are separated with forty monolithic pillars of Corinthian style. On the pillars are depicted icons of different Saints of the Eastern Church. The largest part of the cave of the Birthplace is carved into a natural rock while the rest is constructed.
According to these findings, the Cave where Christ was born, was enclosed within an octagonal roofed building and the pilgrims could see it through an opening, located in the center. The floors of the Basilica and of the octagon were laid with colorful mosaic. The octagonal was received a three tiered Holy Vima (Step) under which is the Cave. In the western wall of the narthex which faced the yard, there was a mosaic depicting the Birth of Christ and the worship of the Magi.
According to tradition, when the Persians under Hosroy invaded Palestine in 614, they showed respect to the Church of Nativity, recognizing in the mosaic of the Narthex, the three Persian Magi offering their gifts to the divine baby. After the occupation of the town by the Arabs in 638 and the treaty of Omar, the Christians and the Muslims lived peacefully in Bethlehem, as the latter honoured Christ as a Prophet and respected the Theotokos. In 1250 the dynasty of the Agiouvids in Egypt was succeeded by the Mamaluks. Great persecutions and hardship of the Christians of the city ensued, while during the Ottoman occupation, a strong struggle between the Latin and the Orthodox began, over the ownership of the Church of the Nativity and of the Holy Cave. In 1757 under a decree (Firman) of Sultan Osman III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem obtains full ownership of the Church and the Cave of the Nativity and tries to maintain its jurisdiction under adverse conditions.