Church of the Nativity

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The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

  is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The structure is built over the cave that tradition
Sacred Tradition
Sacred Tradition or Holy Tradition is a theological term used in some Christian traditions, primarily in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox traditions, to refer to the fundamental basis of church authority....

 marks as the birthplace
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

 of Jesus of Nazareth, and thus it is considered sacred by Christians. The site is also revered by followers of Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 (see Jesus in Islam).

History


The antiquity of this tradition is attested by the Christian apologist Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin , was an early Christian apologist. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church....

 (c. 100 - 165), who noted in his Dialogue with Trypho that the Holy Family
Holy Family
The Holy Family consists of the Child Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Joseph.The Feast of the Holy Family is a liturgical celebration in the Roman Catholic Church in honor of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his foster father, Saint Joseph, as a family...

 had taken refuge in a cave outside of town:

Joseph took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.(chapter LXXVIII).


Origen
Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

 of Alexandria (185 AD–ca. 254) wrote:

In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians. (Contra Celsum, book I, chapter LI).

The first basilica
Basilica
The Latin word basilica , was originally used to describe a Roman public building, usually located in the forum of a Roman town. Public basilicas began to appear in Hellenistic cities in the 2nd century BC.The term was also applied to buildings used for religious purposes...

 on this site was begun by Saint Helena
Helena of Constantinople
Saint Helena also known as Saint Helen, Helena Augusta or Helena of Constantinople was the consort of Emperor Constantius, and the mother of Emperor Constantine I...

, the mother of the Emperor Constantine I
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

. Under the supervision of Bishop Makarios of Jerusalem, the construction started in 327 and was completed in 333. That structure was burnt down in the Samaritan Revolt
Julianus ben Sabar
Julianus ben Sabar was a messianic leader of the Samaritans, who led a failed revolt against Byzantium during the early 6th century....

 of 529.

The current basilica was rebuilt in its present form in 565 by the Emperor Justinian I
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

. When the Persians
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

 under Chosroes II
Khosrau II
250px|thumb|Khosrau II 250px|thumb|Khosrau II 250px|thumb|Khosrau II (Khosrow II, Chosroes II, or Xosrov II in classical sources, sometimes called Parvez, "the Ever Victorious" – (in Persian: خسرو پرویز), was the twenty-second Sassanid King of Persia, reigning from 590 to 628...

 invaded in 614, they unexpectedly did not destroy the structure. According to legend, their commander Shahrbaraz
Shahrbaraz
Shahrbaraz or Shahrwaraz was a general, with the rank of Eran Spahbod under Khosrau II . His name was Farrokhan, and Shahrbaraz was his title...

 was moved by the depiction inside the church of the Three Magi wearing Persian clothing, and commanded that the building be spared. The Crusaders
Crusaders
The Crusaders are a New Zealand professional rugby union team based in Christchurch that competes in the Super Rugby competition. They are the most successful team in Super Rugby history with seven titles...

 made further repairs and additions to the building during the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem
Kingdom of Jerusalem
The Kingdom of Jerusalem was a Catholic kingdom established in the Levant in 1099 after the First Crusade. The kingdom lasted nearly two hundred years, from 1099 until 1291 when the last remaining possession, Acre, was destroyed by the Mamluks, but its history is divided into two distinct periods....

 with permission and help given by the Byzantine Emperor, and the first King of Jerusalem
Baldwin I of Jerusalem
Baldwin I of Jerusalem, formerly Baldwin I of Edessa, born Baldwin of Boulogne , 1058? – 2 April 1118, was one of the leaders of the First Crusade, who became the first Count of Edessa and then the second ruler and first titled King of Jerusalem...

 was crowned in the church. Over the years, the compound has been expanded, and today it covers approximately 12,000 square meters. The church was one of the direct causes for French involvement in the Crimean War
Crimean War
The Crimean War was a conflict fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. The war was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining...

 against Russia
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

.

The church is administered jointly by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic authorities. All three traditions maintain monastic communities on the site.

Compound


The structure is actually a combination of two churches, with a crypt beneath—the Grotto
Grotto
A grotto is any type of natural or artificial cave that is associated with modern, historic or prehistoric use by humans. When it is not an artificial garden feature, a grotto is often a small cave near water and often flooded or liable to flood at high tide...

 of the Nativity—where Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 was born:

  • The main Basilica of the Nativity is maintained by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem
    Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem
    The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem is the head bishop of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, ranking fourth of nine Patriarchs in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Since 2005, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem has been Theophilos III...

    . It is designed like a typical Roman basilica, with five aisles (formed by Corinthian columns) and an apse
    Apse
    In architecture, the apse is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome...

     in the eastern end, where the sanctuary
    Sanctuary
    A sanctuary is any place of safety. They may be categorized into human and non-human .- Religious sanctuary :A religious sanctuary can be a sacred place , or a consecrated area of a church or temple around its tabernacle or altar.- Sanctuary as a sacred place :#Sanctuary as a sacred place:#:In...

     is. The church features golden mosaic
    Mosaic
    Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral...

    s covering the side walls, which are now largely decayed. The basilica is entered through a very low door, called the "Door of Humility." The original Roman style floor has since been covered over, but there is a trap door in the modern floor which opens up to reveal a portion of the original mosaic floor. The church also features a large gilded iconostasis
    Iconostasis
    In Eastern Christianity an iconostasis is a wall of icons and religious paintings, separating the nave from the sanctuary in a church. Iconostasis also refers to a portable icon stand that can be placed anywhere within a church...

    , and a complex array of lamps
    Sanctuary lamp
    A sanctuary lamp, altar lamp, everlasting light or eternal flame is a light that shines before the altar of sanctuaries in many denominations of Jewish and Christian places of worship. Prescribed in ] 27:20-21] of the Hebrew Bible, this icon has taken on different meanings in each of the religions...

     throughout the entire building. The wooden rafters were donated by King Edward IV of England
    Edward IV of England
    Edward IV was King of England from 4 March 1461 until 3 October 1470, and again from 11 April 1471 until his death. He was the first Yorkist King of England...

    . The same king also donated lead to cover the roof; however, this lead was later taken by the Ottoman Turks
    Ottoman Turks
    The Ottoman Turks were the Turkish-speaking population of the Ottoman Empire who formed the base of the state's military and ruling classes. Reliable information about the early history of Ottoman Turks is scarce, but they take their Turkish name, Osmanlı , from the house of Osman I The Ottoman...

    , who melted it down for ammunition to use in war against Venice
    Venice
    Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

    . Stairways on either side of the Sanctuary lead down by winding stairs to the Grotto.

  • The adjoining Church of St. Catherine, the Roman Catholic Church, was built in a more modern Gothic revival
    Gothic Revival architecture
    The Gothic Revival is an architectural movement that began in the 1740s in England...

     style, and has since been further modernized according to the liturgical trends which followed Vatican II
    Second Vatican Council
    The Second Vatican Council addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. It was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and the second to be held at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and closed...

    . This is the church where the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
    Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
    The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is the title possessed by the Latin Rite Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem. The Archdiocese of Jerusalem has jurisdiction for all Latin Rite Catholics in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Cyprus...

     celebrates Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve
    Christmas Eve
    Christmas Eve refers to the evening or entire day preceding Christmas Day, a widely celebrated festival commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth that takes place on December 25...

    . Certain customs still observed in this Midnight Mass predate Vatican II, but must be maintained because the "status quo
    Status quo
    Statu quo, a commonly used form of the original Latin "statu quo" – literally "the state in which" – is a Latin term meaning the current or existing state of affairs. To maintain the status quo is to keep the things the way they presently are...

    " (the customs, rights and duties of the various church authorities that have custody of the Holy Places) was legally fixed by a firman in 1852, under the Ottoman Empire
    Ottoman Empire
    The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

    , that is still in force to this day.



  • The Bas-relief of the Tree of Jesse
    Tree of Jesse
    The Tree of Jesse is a depiction in art of the Ancestors of Christ, shown in a tree which rises from Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David; the original use of the family tree as a schematic representation of a genealogy...

    is a large work by well-known religious sculptor Czesław Dźwigaj which was recently incorporated into the Church of St. Catherine as a gift of Pope Benedict XVI
    Pope Benedict XVI
    Benedict XVI is the 265th and current Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of the Vatican City State and the leader of the Catholic Church as well as the other 22 sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See...

     during his trip to the Holy Land in 2009. Measuring in at 3.75 by, its corpus represents an olive tree
    Olive Tree
    The Olive Tree was a denomination used for several successive centre-left Italian political coalitions from 1995 to 2007.The historical leader and ideologue of these coalitions was Romano Prodi, Professor of Economics and former leftist Christian Democrat, who invented the name and the symbol of...

     figuring as the Tree of Jesse
    Tree of Jesse
    The Tree of Jesse is a depiction in art of the Ancestors of Christ, shown in a tree which rises from Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David; the original use of the family tree as a schematic representation of a genealogy...

     displaying Christ's lineage
    Genealogy of Jesus
    The genealogy of Jesus is described in two passages of the Gospels: Luke 3:23–38 and Matthew 1:1–17.* Matthew's genealogy commences with Abraham and then from King David's son Solomon follows the legal line of the kings through Jeconiah, the king whose descendants were cursed, to Joseph, legal...

     from Abraham
    Abraham
    Abraham , whose birth name was Abram, is the eponym of the Abrahamic religions, among which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam...

     through St. Joseph along with other biblical motifs. Situated along the passage used by pilgrims making their way to the Grotto of the Nativity, the bas relief also incorporates symbolism from the Old Testament
    Old Testament
    The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

    . The upper portion is dominated by a crowned figure of Christ the King
    Christ the King
    Christ the King is a title of Jesus based on several passages of Scripture. It is used by most Christians. The Roman Catholic Church, together with many Protestant denominations, including the Anglican Churches, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Methodists, celebrate the Feast of Christ the King on the...

     in an open armed pose blessing the Earth.

  • The Grotto of the Nativity, an underground cave located beneath the basilica, enshrines the site where Jesus is said to have been born. The exact spot is marked beneath an altar by a 14-pointed silver star set into the marble floor and surrounded by silver lamps. This altar is denominationally neutral, although it features primarily Armenian Apostolic influences. Another altar in the Grotto, which is maintained by the Roman Catholics, marks the site where traditionally Mary laid the newborn Baby in the manger.

  • Numerous Chapels are found in the compound as well, including the Chapel of Saint Joseph
    Saint Joseph
    Saint Joseph is a figure in the Gospels, the husband of the Virgin Mary and the earthly father of Jesus Christ ....

    , commemorating the angel's appearance to Joseph, commanding him to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13); the Chapel of the Innocents
    Massacre of the Innocents
    The Massacre of the Innocents is an episode of infanticide by the King of Judea, Herod the Great. According to the Gospel of Matthew Herod orders the execution of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn King of the Jews whose birth...

    , commemorating the children killed by Herod
    Herod the Great
    Herod , also known as Herod the Great , was a Roman client king of Judea. His epithet of "the Great" is widely disputed as he is described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis." He is also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including his...

     (Matthew 2:16-18); and the Chapel of Saint Jerome
    Saint Jerome
    Saint Jerome is a Christian church father, best known for translating the Bible into Latin.Saint Jerome may also refer to:*Jerome of Pavia , Bishop of Pavia...

    , where traditionally he translated the Bible
    Bible
    The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

     into Latin
    Latin
    Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

     (the Vulgate
    Vulgate
    The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

    ).

  • Manger Square
    Manger Square
    Manger Square is an important city square in the center of Bethlehem. It takes its name from the manger where Jesus was born which, according to Christian dogma, is in the Church of the Nativity, possibly the oldest existing church in the world, which surrounds the square. Also around Manger...

    , a large paved courtyard in front of the Church, is the site where crowds gather on Christmas Eve to sing Christmas carols in anticipation of the midnight services.

Christmas celebrations



The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Armenian Apostolic Church follow the Julian Calendar
Julian calendar
The Julian calendar began in 45 BC as a reform of the Roman calendar by Julius Caesar. It was chosen after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria and was probably designed to approximate the tropical year .The Julian calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months...

 liturgically, whereas the Roman Catholic Church follows the modern Gregorian Calendar
Gregorian calendar
The Gregorian calendar, also known as the Western calendar, or Christian calendar, is the internationally accepted civil calendar. It was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom the calendar was named, by a decree signed on 24 February 1582, a papal bull known by its opening words Inter...

. Thus Christmas Eve services for the Eastern and Western confessions will be held on different days. The Roman Catholic Church will celebrate the Nativity on December 25; the Orthodox Church will celebrate the Nativity on January 7.

Preservation concerns



The basilica was placed on the 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund is a private, international, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of historic architecture and cultural heritage sites around the world through fieldwork, advocacy, grantmaking, education, and training....

:

The present state of the church is worrying. Many roof timbers are rotting, and have not been replaced since the 19th century. The rainwater that seeps into the building not only accelerates the rotting of the wood and damages the structural integrity of the building, but also damages the 12th-century wall mosaics and paintings. The influx of water also means that there is an ever-present chance of an electrical fire. If another earthquake were to occur on the scale of the one of 1834, the result would most likely be catastrophic. ... It is hoped that the listing will encourage its preservation, including getting the three custodians of the church - the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, and the Franciscan order - to work together, which has not happened for hundreds of years. The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority would also have to work together to protect it.


In 2010, the Palestinian Authority announced that a multi-million dollar restoration program was imminent.

Shrine of Adonis-Tammuz


According to some scholars, the church is built over a cave that was originally a shrine to Adonis-Tammuz.

The Church Father Jerome, who died in Bethlehem in 420, reports in addition that the holy cave was at one point consecrated by the heathen to the worship of Adonis, and a pleasant sacred grove planted before it, to wipe out the memory of Jesus. Modern mythologists, however, reverse the supposition, insisting that the cult of Adonis-Tammuz originated the shrine and that it was the Christians who took it over, substituting the worship of their own God.

See also


  • Nativity of Jesus
    Nativity of Jesus
    The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

  • Early Christian art and architecture
    Early Christian art and architecture
    Early Christian art and architecture is the art produced by Christians or under Christian patronage from about the year 100 to about the year 500. Prior to 100 there is no surviving art that can be called Christian with absolute certainty...

  • Mosque of Omar in Bethlehem
    Mosque of Omar (Bethlehem)
    The Mosque of Omar is the oldest and only mosque in the old city of Bethlehem, located in Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity.-History:The mosque is named after Omar ibn al-Khattab , the second Rashidun Muslim Caliph...

    , located nearby
  • Oldest churches in the world
    Oldest churches in the world
    This article lists the oldest church buildings.The oldest extant buildings identified as early sites of Christian worship date to the 3rd century....

  • Palestinian Christians
    Palestinian Christians
    Palestinian Christians are Arabic-speaking Christians descended from the people of the geographical area of Palestine. Within Palestine, there are churches and believers from many Christian denominations, including Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholic , Protestant, and others...

  • Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
    Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
    The Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem lasted from April 2 to May 10, 2002 in Bethlehem in the West Bank. As part of Operation Defensive Shield, the Israel Defense Forces occupied Bethlehem and tried to capture wanted Palestinian militants. Dozens of them fled into the Church of the...


External links