The church of nativity, Jerusalem, is one of the oldest churches in the world. It is a basilica located in Bethlehem in the west bank of Palestine. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site with the official name “Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem”. The site, also known as the nativity grotto, is believed to be the cave where our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born.
The first attempt at building a church at the site was made by Helena of Constantinople who began construction on the site around 327. It was completed a few years later. Unfortunately, however, the holy church was burned and destroyed by the Samaritan revolts of 529 (although some texts maintain that it was in the year 556). It is important to note that some Jews were involved in these riots too.
This Church was however rebuilt by emperor Justinian I of the Byzantine empire. In the early 12th century, the church was used as a primary coronation center for crusader kings. The crusader monarchs took extensive care of the Holy place, until the Turks desecrated the church in April 1244, destroying the roof almost completely.
The monarch of Burgundy attempted to repair the church in 1480 and other European monarch supported this. England, Burgundy, and Venice came together to restore the church to its former glory during this time. In the 19th century the church was afflicted by several earthquakes and other political tension in Europe, especially over who was the sovereign authority over religious places in Jerusalem, left the church in a state of severe deterioration.
In 2010, however, the Palestinian authorities ordered a multimillion-dollar restoration programme for the church. The first phase of the project was completed in 2016. The project is funded by Palestinians and is carried out by a team of Palestinian and foreign experts. Structural repairs on the roof have been done, the installation of new windows has been completed, and artworks and mosaics have been cleaned.
Although a majority of Palestinians are Muslim, they consider the church to be a source of national pride. It is one of the most visited sites in Palestine
IMPORTANCE OF THE CHURCH OF NATIVITY
- It is the birthplace of Jesus. The birth of Jesus is the most important occurrence in the history of the world (although some theologians would argue that his death is more significant). The place holds huge significance for members of the Christian community as it is physical evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ.
- More than being religiously important, the Church of Nativity is also of cultural antiquity. Having stood for more than a thousand years, its a memoir of the past that exists in the present.
- Yet another importance of the church of the nativity is its Architecture. Romanesque in design, is one of the most solid exams of Roman architecture still standing. Little wonder it was named a world heritage site.
INSIDE THE CHURCH
- The most important thing in the church is the grotto of the nativity. This is the cave where Jesus Christ was born. It is the single most important part of the church of the nativity. In fact, without the grotto of the nativity, the church would not exist. In fact, the grotto is the centerpiece of the complex and a very important tourist attraction.
- The outer courtyard is located in front of the church of nativity and is part of the sprawling complex. During Christmas, crowds gather here to sing Christmas carols before the midnight services.
- The main church, or the basilica, is designed with five aisles built with Corinthian columns. The church is entered through a very low door called the ” door of humility”.
- An extensive lay of deeply calming lamps is placed throughout the complex.
- In the east end of the church, there is a chancel used by the clergy. It is closed off by apse with the main altar and they are separated by a big iconostasis.
GROTTO OF THE NATIVITY
This is the main attraction of the church. The grotto of the nativity is the cave where Jesus was born. It is a dimly lit cave. There is a 14 point silver star on the floor of the cave that bears the words “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est” (Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary). The cave is rectangular and measures 12 by 3 meters. The cave itself is under the authority of the Greek Orthodox Church. However, the church isn’t the sole authority over the grotto. The entire complex is governed by a complicated web of laws called the Status quo. This ensures that no changes can be made to any structure within the church without the unanimous agreement of all the Christian communities that lay claim to the area. This status quo is symbolized by the “immovable ladder”, a ladder on the edge of the church that hasn’t been moved since the 19th century.
THE STATUS QUO
The status quo, a network of documents and laws that governs the administration of the church of the nativity, is an excellent piece of legislation. Simply put, the status quo is a law that was propounded when Jerusalem was under the control of the Ottomans. This law was brokered to bring peace to the site as many warring sects (Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, the Armenian church and others) were at odds at who was to preside over the church. Basically, the status quo ensures that before any renovation or decision can be made over the administration of the church, all Christian sects that lay a claim to the site must agree unanimously. Unsurprisingly, this has led to neglect and stagnation of the development of the church as it is sometimes extremely difficult for all sects to agree over a particular course of action.
Until recently the status quo was not codified into one document. Historically, it is an understanding between the different Christian communities about the authority governing nine shared religious places in Bethlehem and Jerusalem (the church of the nativity is one of those places). Other holy place the Palestine and Israel were not accepted to be under the understanding of the status quo as one of the religious communities always had recognized authority over them. That is to say, the status quo only applies to religious sites with a shared claim by other religious sects.
WORLD HERITAGE SITE
The church complex, in 2012, became the first Palestine site to be named as a world heritage site. The qualifications of the site were put to a secret ballot of 13-6 at the 36th session of the world heritage committee. Despite opposition from the United States of America and the state of Isreal, the site was approved under criteria four and six. The decision to make the site a world heritage site has remained a controversial one because of the political tension between Isreal and Palestine.
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