Church of the Nativity

Located in Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity reflects much of the conflict that is going on in the world around it.  The conflicts are not between Israelis and Palestinians however, they are among the clergy.  Three different denominations claim custody to the church: Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church.  The church is rotting from the roof down and holes in the roof allow water to drip upon the precious paintings and mosaics below; yet the clergy are so busy bickering over whose responsibility it is to repair it that nothing gets done.  Several “holy men” landed in the hospital two Christmases ago after a fight broke out over the dusting of church chandeliers – a yearly feud apparently.

Because Christians fought so bitterly over ownership of the church, the Ottoman sultans initiated an unwritten system that is now known as the “Status Quo” which mandates that things be done as they have always been done.  If someone had cleaned something or taken care of something before, then they had ownership of it.  But if someone else came along and cleaned it, then ownership transferred to that person.  So if an Armenian priest cleans a chandelier that the Greek Orthodox owns, then they have invaded their territory.  That was basically how the fight broke out, but it also indicates why the roof has not been repaired.  If one denomination pays to repair the roof, then they can claim ownership.

The basilica is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world.  It has survived invasions, regime changes, fires, earthquakes and, in 2002, the siege of Bethlehem, when armed Palestinians hid in the church from Israeli forces for weeks.  Now though, people wonder if the church has been spared only to be destroyed by the people who cherish it the most.  The Church was built somewhere around 330 by Constantine and was mostly destroyed 529, although parts of the original mosaic floor remain. Soon after, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian rebuilt the church and it is this structure that remains today. In 614, the Persians, who razed many other churches during wars with Byzantium, spared the Church of the Nativity, out of respect for a mosaic of the Magi shown wearing Persian attire.  When the Crusaders conquered the Holy Land in 1099, they sent a force of 100 knights to guard the church, and it was artists from this era who embellished the building with their own mosaics and column paintings of saints.  The entrance to the church is a four-foot-high door which was built to make looting difficult after the Crusades.

I wanted to capture pictures of the outside of the church, but it was pouring down rain on that day and we rushed inside from the bus.  The church was crowded!  I was surprised to see so many people there considering the challenge it is just to get in to Bethlehem.  People want to touch the holy relics though and they want to touch the spot where it is thought that Jesus was born.  Picture taking was difficult under these circumstances so I concentrated instead on the details.  The church is loaded with ornate fixtures and lighting.

To see the photos click on the album cover:

Church of the Nativity

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