Shepherds' Field, Bethlehem
Approximately 2 km to the east of Bethlehem lies the village of Beit Sahour, where one of the most sacred places to Christians; the Shepherds' Field; is found, identified as the scene where the Angel of the Lord visited the shepherds and informed them of Jesus' birth (pbuh); "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And the Angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (Luke 2:8-10).
The Roman Catholics and the Greek Orthodox each have their own Shepherds' Field. The Roman Catholic site features a Franciscan Chapel designed to resemble the shepherds' tent while the Greek Orthodox site features a 5th century church built over a cave.
In the Orthodox Shepherd's Field, a site in a small valley with olive trees some of them dating back 2000 years, an underground Church is dedicated to Synaxis of the Mother of God (celebrated December 26th). On the night of Christ's Nativity, this underground church was the cave of the shepherds, who heard the angelic proclamation "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good will to men" (Luke 2-14). This cave was one of the many churches built by Saint Helena in the year 325 AD. The cave functioned first as a shelter, then as a tomb of the shepherds, and has been treated as such by Christians since the 4th century.
On the basis of archaeological evidence, it has been proved that the church dated to early Byzantine period, and that it is the earliest Christian structure build on this site.
Up to 1972, only the underground church was visible and in regular use, but almost none of the mosaics were visible. In that year the spiritual father of the Monastery of Saint Savva, Archimadrite Seraphim, had taken control of this holy shrine, in order to build a new full-size church above the basement church. Excavating the foundations for the new church, there were remains of three different churches of the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries found respectively.
Now, the holy site consists of five churches:
- The Natural Cave Church which dates to the 2nd half of the 4th century
- The Cave Church, dating to the 5th century
- The Roof Chapel, which also dated to the 5th century
- The Basilica, which dates to the 6th century
- The Monastery Church, which dates to the 7th century
The nearby field of Ruth is traditionally associated with the events of the Old Testament (recounted in the Book of Ruth 1:16).