The Church of the Nativity is the church in Bethlehem built where Jesus was born. It faces to the front of the Manger Square.
There are always full of pilgrims and tourists a whole year through, especially during the Christmas period. Sometimes you might force to wait in a queue for hours in order to enter the Grotto of the Nativity under the altar.
History of the Church of the Nativity
Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who conquered Palestine, constructed the Church of the Nativity at the birthplace of Jesus according to an advice of his mother Helena.
The church was destroyed by a revolt of the Samaritans.
However, the church was big beautifully reconstructed according to an order by Byzantine (East Roman) emperor Justinian I.
Palestine was taken by Islamic Sasanian Empire.
Despite Christian church, the Church of the Nativity was saved because there was a beautiful mosaic of “Adoration of the Magi” on its floor.
around the 12th century
At the end of 11th century, the Crusades re-established Christian control.
In the 12th century, the Church of the Nativity served important roles; Kings of the Franks used the church for their coronations.
During these periods, the church was hugely renovated to a citadel-like appearance with a surrounding wall, according to the king of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul).
The first sultan Saladin of Egypt and Syria took Palestine again to Islam.
The Church of the Nativity became under control of Greek Orthodox. Because of some power struggle at the top, the renovation was stopped and the church became old and ruined.
after the 16th century
The renovation finally re-started under the Ottoman Empire.
The entrance changed into a smaller one like the present. The 120cm entrance is called The Door of the Humility.
That is said that it’s because the people didn’t rein up horses into the church anymore.
The Grotto of the Nativity
The Grotto of the Nativity, the birthplace of Christ, is located under the altar of the church.
There are the stairs from both sides of the altar, but there seems an unspoken rule; going down from the right, then going up to the left of the altar.
On the exact spot of the birthplace of Jesus, a 14-pointed silver star is buried with the words:
“HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST”
which means “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary” in Latin.
It is also said that fourteen points of the star show Abraham, Adam, David, Babylon captivity and the generations until Jesus was born.
There are fifteen lanterns lighted up around the spot.
And also, please don’t miss the tapestries; these show the scenes of Jesus’ birth.
Church of Saint Catherine
The Church of Saint Catherine is a Franciscan monastery. It’s located just north next to the Church of the Nativity.
The church was renovated in 1947.
The thing which makes this church more famous is its Midnight mess held on December 24 every year.
People say that it’s extremely difficult for foreigners to get the ticket. Even the locals might be able to have one or two tickets for a family.
At the entrance yard, you can see the statue of Saint Jerome known for his achievement of translating the Bible into Latin.
This statue has a human skull on his feet, which is one of Saint Jerome’s symbols.
Also, at the inside of the gate, there is another statue: the statue of Saint George.
Note: There is also the Church of Saint George in the suburbs of Bethlehem. On the 5th May of every year, Orthodox Christians celebrate the day of Saint George.
Before getting out from the church after the mess, pass under the Saint George’s chains – it’s believed it brings you happiness.
If you’re a woman and you’d have a chance to visit Saint Jerome’s day mess, just be careful with “dress code” … according to an Orthodox Christian woman, many Muslim men come to the church to see Christian women’s skin.
Confrontation between three Christian churches
The Church of the Nativity is managed by three Christian churches: Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian. Each church takes care of each different part of the Church.
At the housecleaning the church on December 31 of each year, clergymen sometimes fight each other because one claims the other ones invades its territory.
It became news on the Telegraph when it was too big that the polices came to intercede.
It looks like a children’s fight…
Besides, though the Church of the Nativity still needs a huge restoration, the confrontation makes more difficult to start it.
Because of this quarrel, it is said the Muslims keep the keys of the church.
The Church of the Nativity
- Manger sq.
- 5:00 – 20:00 (winter till 18:00)
- Admission Free
Church of Saint Cathrine
- Manger sq.
- Mon-Sat 5:00-12:00/14:00-20:00, Sun 14:00-20:00
- Admission Free