One of the staples of television news over the Christmas holiday is coverage of celebrations in the Holy Land, providing a familiar and comforting nod to the ancient roots of Western civilization.

Even in our increasingly secular society, images of Christians worshipping in Nazareth and Bethlehem provide welcome confirmation that we have a long and substantial history – even if we’re fuzzy on the details. It all looks so traditional and Christmassy.

Unfortunately this comforting image depends to a large extent on a dwindling number of embattled Christian communities. We are, in fact, witnessing the twilight of Christianity across much of the Middle East.

Not so long ago Bethlehem was a majority Christian town – about 80 per cent – and now is down to less than a third. Nazareth, too, has seen its Christian population almost halved in recent decades, and in Jerusalem itself the Christian community has fallen from a slight majority 80 years ago to below two per cent today.

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