FACTBOX: Five facts about the Church of the Nativity

Thu Jan 10, 2008 7:56am EST

(Reuters) - President George W. Bush visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem's Manger Square in the occupied West Bank on Thursday after talks with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah.

Here are five facts about the church, built over the grotto where Christians believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ.

* The fortress-like stone church is one of the oldest in the world still in continuous use.

* The church has been fought over by a succession of armies over the centuries. Its compound includes a basilica and Franciscan, Greek Orthodox and Armenian convents.

* The Roman emperor, Constantine, completed the basilica in 333. The church was destroyed in a Samaritan revolt in 529 and rebuilt in 565.

* A small Door of Humility stands at the entrance to the basilica, forcing pilgrims to bend over while passing through.

* Dozens of Palestinian gunmen took shelter in the church during a month-long siege in 2002 by Israeli troops. Thirteen of the militants were exiled to European countries and another 26 were sent to the Gaza Strip as part of a deal to end the standoff.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Sami Aboudi)

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