The most significant landmark in Bethlehem is the Church of the Nativity, which marks the location of the nativity. Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem a little more than 2,000 years ago. Located 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem in the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank, Bethlehem is a vibrant city today. The Nativity Church is the city’s main draw. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 2012.
History of the Church of the Nativity
According to the Bible, Mary and Joseph journeyed from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem. People had to travel to their ancestral family home to register for the census that the Romans had chosen to conduct. The couple was forced to undertake the arduous trek even though Mary was pregnant since Joseph was a member of the House of David and Bethlehem was David’s city.
It was usual practice to construct dwellings next to animal-friendly caves during Jesus’ period. Mary and Joseph were given the option to spend the night in the nearby cave with the animals when they arrived in Bethlehem and discovered there was no space available in the inn.
Mary was ready to give birth, and they had no choice but to take a seat in the manger. Christians discovered that Jesus was born in a cave in Bethlehem less than a century after his death.
The first Christian Roman emperor Constantine and his mother Helena gave the order for a church to be erected around the holy cave of the birth in the fourth century. 339 AD saw the dedication of the church. The church was destroyed by fire in the sixth century, and Emperor Justinian reconstructed it with a bigger, more elaborate structure. Most of the churches were destroyed when the Persians conquered the Holy Land in 614.
Fortunately, the Nativity Church was saved due of a painting within the building showing the Three Wise Men (Three Magi), who were clothed as Zoroastrian priests in Persian garb.
When the Crusaders arrived in the Holy Land in the 12th century, they added paintings and twin towers, both of which have since been lost. In the church, two Crusader kings were crowned. The church was devastated and robbed by the Turkish invaders in the 1600s. King Edward IV of England paid for a new roof in 1482. The church was damaged by earthquakes in the 1800s and later pillaged by the Ottomans for its marble and lead, which was used to produce bullets.
The Nativity site’s Silver Star was stolen in 1847, igniting a global battle between France, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and Rome over possession of the Christian sites in the Holy Land. In the end, they decided to divide up possession of the Nativity Church between the Greek Orthodox, Catholics, and Armenian Church. The Nativity Grotto was given to the Greeks as keepers. They all have services in the church, and each of the custodian denominations looks after a certain sector of the building.
What to See in the Church of Nativity
You will pass past Manger Square and enter via the Door of Humility as you approach the church entrance. The purpose of this narrow and low doorway was to prevent thieves from bringing their carts inside the church. It also implies that everyone who enters must kneel as they pass through the door. Gold mosaic lines the walls of the magnificent decor. 44 painted columns divide the area into five aisles.
Through a gap in the flagstones, a portion of the ancient church’s mosaic floor from the fourth century may still be visible. The church i
An octagonal baptismal font from the Justinian church, built in the sixth century, is located in the south aisle. Once, the font would have been close to the main altar.
Some of the capitals and mosaics from the 12th century are still present in the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Manger. The Grotto of the Nativity is the primary attraction inside the church. The birthplace of Jesus is revered in the cave, which may be reached by going down a short flight of stairs. A stunning silver star on the marble floor denotes the precise location of his birth. There are 15 sanctuary lamps suspended over this sacred place. The Altar of the Circumcision is one of many altars in the cathedral.
The Three Kings
The Three Wise Men are honored at the Armenian Chapel of the Kings. Wise men who traveled from the East in pursuit of the newborn king are described in Matthew 2:1–12. When they discovered Mary and her newborn child at the destination, they kneeled in adoration and presented Mary with presents of frankincense, myrrh, and gold. The Three Wise Men are now a part of the conventional nativity tale, even though the Bible doesn’t explicitly mention their existence or even if they were kings.
The wise men, according to Armenian Christian legend, were Persian Zoroastrian priests from the “Magi” sect of Persian priests. It was spared during the Persian invasion of Palestine in 614 AD, reportedly due to a mosaic on a wall depicting the Three Wise Men (the Magi) clothed in Persian garb.
Armenian Christians and the Three Wise Men
Christians from a country in the rugged Caucasus are known as Armenians. Armenia became the first country to formally recognize Christianity as its official religion in 301 AD. To explore biblical places, many Armenian pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem and resided there. A population of Armenian Christians still resides in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is one of several sacred places shared by the Armenians with guardianship.
The decision to devote a chapel to the Magi in one of the most significant cathedrals in the world is explained by the Armenian Christians’ historical connection to the Magi.
The Armenian Chapel of the Kings
On the location where the Three Wise Men arrived to see the nativity on the first Christmas Eve, the Chapel of the Kings is located in the church’s northern transept. The Armenian Chapel is located in a small space that is accessible from the church’s nave. Bible-themed murals and dark wood cabinets flank the two side walls. At the far end of the chapel is the Altar of the Kings. From the altar table, swirling columns in gold and blue ascend up, holding up a sturdy canopy covered in gold and blue designs.
Part of the original octagonal construction erected in 326 AD to surround the Holy Grotto is still visible in the Armenian Chapel. Christmas is observed by Roman Catholics on December 25. Greek Orthodox Christians observe the holiday 13 days later, while Armenians observe it 12 days later. On January 6th, Armenians commemorate the coming of the wise men.