The oldest continuously operating church in the world, the Church of the Nativity was commissioned in the year 327 by Emperor Constantine I and his mother, Saint Helena, built over the site considered by most Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus. Destroyed by fire and then rebuilt in the 6th century, the church was used until 1131 as the coronation site for European Crusades-era kings, and has since been widely expanded.
The 4,000-foot complex now includes the main basilica, run by the Greek Orthodox Church; the Roman Catholic, Gothic Revival-style Church of St. Catherine; the Grotto, an underground shrine to the birth of Jesus; and a bas-relief sculpture of the Tree of Jesse, a symbol of Jesus’ genealogy, bequeathed to the church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.
Listed as a Heritage Site in 2012, this is first UNESCO site to be set in Palestine; its nomination sparked fierce opposition from both the United States and Israel. Presently in a state of worrisome disrepair due to ongoing water damage, the church has been placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger and approved by the Palestinian Authority for a multi-million dollar restoration.
In the meantime, the church is open to the public, and visitor information can be found here: http://www.bethlehem.custodia.org/