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General History

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Showing 21 - 38 from 38 entries

> Freemasonry in Ottoman Palestine
> The Time the Peasants Entered Jerusalem
> Re-examining Egyptian Rule: Who laid the...
> Palestinian Education
> The Players - Some of the people who had a part in...
> The Crusades are part of Palestinian history, but...
> Interesting highlights on Jerusalem after 1291
> The colorful history of Bethlehem
> The Expulsions of 1948
> Pre 1948 Palestine. What really happened ?
> The Jewish connection with Palestine
> Church of the Nativity
> History of Palestine
> A brief history of Bethlehem
> Lepers, Lunatics and Saints
> Palestinian Identity
> An overview of the 20th century history of Palestine
> Debate about history, 16-2-2006, between...
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Church of the Nativity
   
submitted by Alex Kattan
29.04.2007

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world.

The structure is built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Christ, and it is considered sacred by followers of both Christianity and Islam


The antiquity of this tradition is attested by the Christian apologist Justin Martyr (c. 100 - 165), who noted in his Dialogue with Trypho that the Holy Family had taken refuge in a cave outside of town. Origen 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. Contra Celsum, I, li.


The first basilica on this site was begun by Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine I. Under the supervision of Bishop Makarios of Jerusalem the construction was completed in 333. That structure was burnt down in the Samaritan Revolt of 529.


The current basilica was rebuilt in its present form in 565 by the Emperor Justinian I. When the Persians under Chosroes II invaded in 614, they unexpectedly did not destroy the structure. According to legend, their commander Shahrbaraz was moved by the depiction inside the church of the Three Magi wearing Persian clothing, and commanded that the building be spared. The Crusaders made further repairs and additions to the building during the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem with permission and help given by the Byzantine Emperor. Over the years, the compound has been expanded, and today it covers approximately 12,000 square meters.


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


The structure is actually a combination of two churches, with a crypt beneath—the Grotto of the Nativity—where Jesus is said to have been born:

The main Basilica of the Nativity is maintained by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It is designed like a typical Roman basilica, with five aisles (formed by Corinthian columns) and an apse in the eastern end, where the sanctuary is. The church features golden mosaics 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, and a complex array of lamps throughout the entire building. The wooden rafters were donated by King Edward IV of England. The same king also donated lead to cover the roof; however, this lead was later taken by the Turks, who melted it down for ammunition to use in war against Venice. 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 style, and has since been further modernized according to the liturgical trends which followed Vatican II. This is the church where the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrates Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Certain customs still observed in this Midnight Mass predate Vatican II, but must be maintained because the "status quo" (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, that is still in force to this day.

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 babe in the manger.

Numerous Chapels are found in the compound as well, including the Chapel of Saint Joseph, commemorating the angel's appearance to Joseph, commanding him to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13); the Chapel of the Innocents, commemorating the children killed by Herod (Matthew 2:16-18); and the Chapel of Saint Jerome, where traditionally he translated the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate).

Manger Square, a large paved courtyard in front of the Church, is the site where large crowds will 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 liturgically, whereas the Roman Catholic Church follows the modern Gregorian Calendar. Thus Christmas Eve services for the Eastern and Western confessions will be held on different days. The Roman Catholic Patriarch will celebrate the Nativity on December 25th; the Eastern Christian churches will celebrate the Nativity on January 7.

2002 Siege


On April 1, 2002, Israeli tanks surrounded Bethlehem. The next day, Israeli military planes, tanks and troops attacked the city. Approximately 200 Palestinians sought refuge in the Church of the Nativity.

During the siege, the Church bellringer, an Armenian monk, and other Palestinians inside the Church were killed in cold blood by Israeli snipers and many more wounded.

Bethlehem residents, now live under very difficult conditions imposed by Israel.

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