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Palestinian Territories: Church of the Nativity

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Church of the Nativity | Palestinian Territories | Asia

[Visited: May 2008]

Crossing Manger Square, the main square of Bethlehem, you see a collection of buildings and towers right ahead: the Church of the Nativity. It was built in the early 4th century by Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine I, the first Christian Roman emperor. The church replaced a pagan site worshipping Adonis; its construction was the first of many steps in the spreading of Christianity around the world. The original building was burnt down in the Samaritan revolt of the 6th century, and was rebuilt soon afterwards. When the Persians sacked Bethlehem in the 7th century, they spared the Church of the Nativity after seeing the Three Magi, wearing Persian clothes, depicted inside the church.

Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Church of the Nativity seen from the entrance

Over time, the Church of the Nativity expanded by the Crusaders and others; for instance, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine was added in the 19th century. It is here that Midnight Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve. Three different authorities are in charge in the Church of the Nativity: the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic. What makes the Church of the Nativity unique is that it was built right over the cave in which Jesus was born according to legend. Obviously, this is the most sacred spot in the church. A 14-pointed silver star in an Armenian setting marks the spot where Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Door of Humility and Armenian priest

When you approach the Church of the Nativity, you note the low entrance. Actually, this Door of Humility was built so low because this door of Ottoman times prevented a swift entrance of soldiers on horses. The modern visitor would be wise to bow and pay attention upon entering anyway. Once inside, a simple church opens itself: four lines of Corinthian columns at the sides and a paved floor, seemingly bare walls and absence of the overkill of ostentatious showing-off leave their impression. This is a church to explore: the wooden doors in the floor allow the visitor to see the original mosaic floor, the walls still contain some of the original golden mosaics; you can walk down to see various caves or walk out into the open in the medieval cloisters just outside the Church of St. Catherine. We first visited on Sunday, and found the church overflowing with mostly devoutly religious visitors; the line for visiting the grotto of the nativity was very long. We saw the believers light candles, pay respect in the grotto of the nativity, while some of them were just immersed in concentrated prayer. When we came back on a different day, we found the church deserted and in a completely different atmosphere. We marveled at the seemingly simple entourage of the grotto of the nativity, saw a small ceremony in the Armenian Chapel of the Church of the Nativity, and just sat down to absorb the atmosphere.

Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Paying respect at the spot where Jesus was born
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Church of the Nativity seen from the outside
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Corinthian columns in the Church of the Nativity
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Reflection of the Church of the Nativity in a purple ball
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Mosaic on the wall of the Church of the Nativity
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Stained glass window in the Church of St Catherine
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Devout Christian lighting a candle in the Church of the Nativity
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Looking at the mosaics of the Church of the Nativity
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Recording the religious scenes of the Church of the Nativity
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): One of the hanging lamps in the Church of the Nativity
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Armenian ceremony in the Church of the Nativity
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Detail of a door in the Church of St. Catherine
Picture of Church of the Nativity (Palestinian Territories): Corinthian columns in the Church of the Nativity

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