The current-day Church of the Nativity is a squat, buff-colored, fortress-like edifice built on the site of the fourth-century church mentioned by Jerome. Its byzantine history is summed up by the physical appearance of the church’s main entrance, which clearly shows three stages of development—that is, the doorway was made progressively smaller and more difficult to enter, and the outlines of the larger, more ancient doors can easily be seen. Visitors can discern first, a large sixth-century opening (a wooden lintel is still embedded in the church wall); second, a smaller archway fashioned by the Crusaders; and finally, an even smaller entrance, from the Turkish and Ottoman periods, which was designed to prevent looters from entering the church with ease. The entrance to the great church, then, is now a three-foot-high doorway.
Thus, to enter the Church of the Nativity, one must bow or kneel. As a result, the paving stone has been worn smooth, with a marked indentation made by millions of pilgrims. Strangely, I found this entrance, called the Door of Humility, more moving than the church’s interior. As I entered the building on my knees, I thought not only of how God had lowered himself to enter into our humanity, but also, more specifically, how Jesus had lowered himself so much that he assented to be crucified.
Excerpts from “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” by James Martin, S.J.