Holy Land Pilgrimage Day 7

Today we started early in the morning heading over to Bethlehem. We had to go through a checkpoint to get into the Palestinian part, which was smooth. I did see a lot of workers standing around at the Israeli side of the checkpoint waiting to be picked up for work (Palestinians cannot take their cars through the checkpoint).

We were at the Church of the Nativity for the whole morning and as the morning went on, the crowds got bigger. The Franciscan House gave us a wonderful lunch and then it was off to shop at a Christian owned store in Bethlehem.

Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity, or Basilica of the Nativity, is a basilica located in Bethlehem in the State of Palestine, in the West Bank. The grotto holds a prominent religious significance to Christians of various denominations as the birthplace of Jesus. The grotto is the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity, and the basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land.

The church was originally commissioned by Constantine the Great a short time after his mother Helena’s visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 325–326, on the site that was traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. That original basilica was likely built between 330 and 333, being already mentioned in 333, and was dedicated on 31 May 339. It was probably destroyed by fire during the Samaritan revolts of the sixth century, possibly in 529, and a new basilica was built a number of years later by Byzantine Emperor Justinian (r. 527–565), who added a porch or narthex, and replaced the octagonal sanctuary with a cruciform transept complete with three apses, but largely preserved the original character of the building, with an atrium and a basilica consisting of a nave with four side aisles.

The Church of the Nativity, while remaining basically unchanged since the Justinianic reconstruction, has seen numerous repairs and additions, especially from the Crusader period, such as two bell towers (now gone), wall mosaics and paintings (partially preserved). Over the centuries, the surrounding compound has been expanded, and today it covers approximately 12,000 square meters, comprising three different monasteries: one Roman Catholic, one Armenian Apostolic, and one Greek Orthodox, of which the first two contain bell towers built during the modern era.

The silver star marking the spot where Christ was born, inscribed in Latin, was stolen in October 1847 by Greek monks who wished to remove this Catholic item. Some assert that this was a contributing factor in the Crimean War against the Russian Empire. Others assert that the war grew out of the wider European situation.

Since 2012, the Church of the Nativity is a World Heritage Siteand was the first to be listed by UNESCO under ‘Palestine’.

Since 1852 the rights of the three religious communities are ruled by Status Quo.

Shepherds’ Field Chapel

The Shepherds’ Field Chapel or the Sanctuary of the Gloria in excelsis Deo, dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima and St. Theresa of Lisieux, is a Roman Catholic religious building in the area of Beit Sahour, southeast of Bethlehem in the West Bank in Palestine. The chapel marks the place where, according to Catholic tradition, angels first announced the birth of Christ.

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