While I’m stuck at home, I’m making a photo book on Shutterfly of our trip to Israel last year. Going through the photos, I noticed some interesting doors I don’t think I’ve posted before, like these in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity. So I will tell the story of our visit forNorm’s Thursday Doors.
Bethlehem is located in the West Bank and we took a bus there from Jerusalem. When we arrived, I was gob smacked at how large the church was! It couldn’t all fit in one picture.
More remarkable is that this church was built in 530 CE by Justinian, on the site of a 4th century church over the cave in which Jesus is said to have been born.
The first church was commissioned in 326 CE by Constantine and his mother, St. Helena, directly over the cave. In the center was a large hole, surrounded by a railing, which provided a view of the cave. Portions of the floor mosaics from this earliest church are visible in the main sanctuary today.
Door named for St. Helena
The Door of Humility, a small rectangular entrance to the church, was put in by the Ottomans to prevent the carts of looters from being able to enter. It is called this because one has to duck to enter the church. I was unable to get a photo of the outside of the door because a lot of people were lined up to get in, which took some people more
But back to Justinian…who was responsible for the much larger church that still stands today. Remarkably, it was never destroyed by the Persians when they invaded in 614CE nor by the Muslims who followed them. In 1009 CE, the Crusaders took over, while the Franks and Byzantines, in the 12th century, fully redecorated the interior of the church. In the centuries that followed, the church was neglected but not destroyed, and the building also survived an earthquake (1834) and a fire (1869) which destroyed the furnishings of the cave.
In 1852, the Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox secured joint custody of Church of the Nativity. The Greeks maintain the grotto (where the cave is).
I am not sure if the above photo is the inside of the Door of Humility or it is the one below, with beautiful woodworked panels above it.
In the cavernous nave, there are 44 pillars, 30 of which are painted with images of saints or the Virgin & Child. The columns are made of pink, polished limestone and most of them date – incredibly – from the first, 4th century Constantinian church!
On the walls on both sides of the nave are fragments of beautiful mosaics, from the 1160s, created by the Franks and ‘Byzantines.
Visitors were lined up on two sides of the wide nave, waiting to get into the grotto to see the site where Jesus was born.
Our guide inquired and found out it would be at least 45 minutes, probably more, to get in. The consensus among us was to do the alternative: go to the church next door (St. Catherine) where we could peer through a peephole into the Chapel of the Manger.
We then went next door to St. Catherine Church. In front of the main entrance is a statue of St. Jerome (Hieronymus in Greek), who lived and worked in Bethlehem from 386 CE and is buried in a cave under Church of the Nativity. He is depicted with one foot on a skull.
St. Jerome always had a skull within his sight when he was working, to remind him that time was limited, so he should not waste time but instead use his precious time wisely.
Behind the statue is this lovely front door to St. Catherine, with a stunning stained glass window depicting the holy family.
Close-up of the panels on the door
The sanctuary of St. Catherine Catholic Church
We proceeded downstairs to the Chapel of the Grotto.
To see into the Chapel of the Manger, where there is a star on the spot where Jesus allegedly was born, we had to look through this peephole! (The people we could see through there were most likely looking down at the star.)
Church of the Nativity was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2012.
Information taken from my notes and from the website Sacred Destinations,
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.
5 thoughts on “Thursday Doors: Church of the Nativity”
Jesus was born in a cave?
When I travel to ancient cities, my mind staggers at the age of these structures and the history they have ‘lived’ through. As a North American, I get excited by a structure from the 1800s, but then to go to the ancient world and be confronted with structures built BC makes my head hurt. This is truly amazing.
Joanne, this is exactly what my husband says – he was a U.S. History teacher, and when we first went to England, he was impressed with medieval cathedrals, but then we went to Hadrian’s Wall built by the Romans, and then Stonehenge! And yes, Jesus was probably born in a cave – in those days, people stabled their animals in caves.
It’s hard not to be impressed – and overwhelmed – by history. There is just SO MUCH to learn!!
The history we learned as kids was all dates and names … terribly boring for a child. But history that is full of people stories and how they lived is an entirely different thing!
Thanks for a wonderful tour! Most definitely on my bucket list for some future time.
Well done! We visited this church too, back a few years ago.