Church of Nativity, Bethlehem
The place where the nativity occurred is called the Church of Nativity, and it’s the most significant landmark in Bethlehem. At that very place, Mary gave birth to Jesus more than 2,000 years before. This holy place is now located in the Palestinian Authority West Bank, just around 10 km south of Jerusalem. Many people come to see this place, and the Church of Nativity has become one of Bethlehem’s most visited sites today.
The Church of the Nativity and its History
The story of the birth of Jesus is told in the Bible, and today it is known by many. The story began when Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth. The journey began because the Romans executed a census and all of the people had to register but in their birthplaces. Bethlehem’s city was David’s city; both he and Mary had to go on a hard and long voyage while Mary was pregnant. After the long journey, Joseph and Mary reached Bethlehem only to find no rooms available in the city. At that time, there was a practice of building caves around the house so that the animals could have a shelter. And the only option that night was for Joseph and Mary to stay and spend their night at a cave-like that. The place of the birth of Jesus had a veil of mystery around it. But Christians managed to find the cave in Bethlehem just around a hundred years after the death of Jesus. For the place to not be forgotten, the first Christina Roman Emperor Constantine ordered the construction of a church around this holy site of the nativity in the 4th century, in 339 AD. The history of this church was very stormy, and it succumbed to many changes. In the 6th century, the church caught fire and underwent a lot of damage, but Emperor Justinian built another church that was much larger and more beautiful. The Holy Land was attacked by the Persians in 614, and unfortunately, they demolished the vast majority of churches. But the Nativity Church had something that saved it from destruction. There was a mural inside the church portraying the Three Wise Men, and they were dressed in Persian clothes of Zoroastrian priests. The church had some changes during the time of the Crusaders during the 12th century. They’ve added murals, from which only traces survived, and they’ve added twin towers that don’t exist anymore. And it is known that even two kings of the Crusaders were crowned in the church. King Edward IV of England was responsible for the addition of a new roof in 1482. Unfortunately, the upcoming times were peaceful. Turks invaded the Holy Land in the 1600s, and they’ve damaged many churches, including this one. Later in the 1800s, the church was severely damaged from earthquakes, but that was not all. Ottomans robbed what was left of the church and took the marble and lead, which they needed for making bullets. The site of the nativity had its specific mark, the Silver Star. It was stolen in 1847, and the whole event caused a global conflict over the issue of who is going to governor the Christian sites in the Holy Land. Rome, the French, and even the Turks competed for authority. As a result of the conflict, they’ve agreed with shared custody between the Catholics, the Armenian Church, and Greek Orthodox. The Grotto of the Nativity was given to the Greeks, and they’ve become the protectors of it. Finally, in 2012 the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem was rightfully added to the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
What Can You See in the Church of Nativity?
As you pass the Manger Square, you will see that a specific entrance protects the church, called the Door of Humility. The doors are designed in a particular way so that they are small and low enough that burglars can’t enter with their carts inside the church. But, there is also another reason that explains this design. Everyone that wants to enter the church needs to bow down as they walk in. The interior of the church is majestic, and it leaves everyone speechless. The walls are covered in unbelievably beautiful gold mosaics, and the whole space is separated into five corridors by 44 decorated columns. The atmosphere that you can feel in this church you can’t feel anywhere else in the world. The sanctuary lamps and the open ceiling showing off the exposed timber beams add to this peaceful and delighted atmosphere. One of the most outstanding church sites is undoubtedly the remnant of the original mosaic floor from the 4th century. You can encounter another exceptional site in the south corridor, the octagonal baptismal font that stands there from the 6th century, and the renovation that was made by Justinian. In the past, the font was placed near the high altar. Today inside the Church of Nativity, you can see numerous altars, like the main altar presenting the traditional Orthodox iconostasis, the Altar of the Circumcision, and the Three Kings’ Armenian Altar. You can also see the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Manger that still has some parts and mosaics from the 12th century. But the most noteworthy part of the Church of the Nativity is the Grotto of the Nativity. To reach the cave, you need to go downward a few steps, after which you will be delighted by the place where Jesus was born. The Silver Star placed on the marble floor marks the exact place where he was born, while 15 stunning sanctuary lamps are hovering above the site decorating it.