The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the most religiously and historically significant sites for Christians from all around the world. It is believed to be standing on the birthplace of Christ. The church was built in the 4th Century, and it is one of the oldest Christian churches. The Church is an important site to Christians and Muslims.
5. Description and History -
Construction of the Church of the Nativity commenced in 326 AD after being commissioned by Constantine the Great and his mother, Saint Helena. It was built directly over a cave in the area where Jesus Christ was thought to have been born. The church had an octagonal floor plan and a 4 meter hole at the center that allowed for a view of the cave. Unfortunately, the church was burnt down during a Samaritan revolt in 529 AD. Emperor Justinian rebuilt a larger church in 565 AD that has survived to date. Persian invaders in 614 spared the church from destruction because of the images in the church that showed the Magi wearing Persian clothes. The church has since survived fires, earthquakes, vandalism and war. A prominent feature of the Church is the Door of Humility which is a small rectangular door at the entrance. The doorway was reduced from its original size to prevent carts from being driven inside. Famous guests were also forced to dismount from their horses before accessing the holy site. The columns in the church have paintings of the Virgin, the Child, and Saints. Wall mosaic from the 12th Century forms part of the Church decoration. Floor mosaics showing birds, flowers, and geometric patterns make a beautiful carpet.
4. Tourism -
The Church of the Nativity is a popular tourist destination for both Christians and Muslims. It is one of the most visited sites in Palestine. Millions of Christian pilgrims visit the site annually. In 2012, the Church was listed as a World Heritage Site by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO due to its historical significance to humanity.
3. Uniqueness -
The Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest Christian churches still in use. Its architectural features showcase the designs of an early church. It is unique in that it is associated with the birthplace of Christ who is the founder of the world’s largest religion. The church signifies the beginning of Christianity. Its magnificent architectural designs have survived the ages. The church has three convents that form part of the structure. The church is controlled by three Christian denominations and they are the Armenian Church, the Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox Church.
2. Pilgrimage Route-
Bethlehem, where the Church is found, is an important pilgrimage destination for Christians. The pilgrims follow the Pilgrimage route. It is said to be the path followed by Mary and Joseph during their trip to Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth. The course starts in Jerusalem and passes near King David’s Wells through Star Street towards the historical gate, the Damascus gate. The road continues into the Church of the Nativity. This course is followed ceremonially by Christian faithful during Christmas.
1. Threats and Conservation Efforts-
The church structures have braved harsh conditions throughout the years, including wars, earthquakes, and fires. The increase in population in the town of Bethlehem has negatively affected the Church structures due to environmental pollution. Rainwater soaking into the roof of the church over the years has weakened the building’s roof. The Basilica was put on the watch list for 100 most endangered sites in 2008. The church is administered by four Christian denominations. Namely, these are the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Syrian Orthodox churches. Additionally, an advisory committee selected by Palestinian officials is involved in the management of the church. The Palestinian government has invested millions of dollars in restoring the church. Major renovations are being done to the church to preserve its authenticity.