Cross Rhythms e/The_Church_Of_The_Nativity_Bethlehem/37927/p1/
D ec 24 2009

Paul Calvert looks at it's history and current use

The Nativity ChurchBethlehem is the town the Prophets talked about;
it's the place where Jesus the Messiah was born. Many believe Jesus'
birth place was on the site of the Church of the Nativity. With
Christmas approaching Paul Calvert decided to find out more of the
history of this famous church, so caught up with Jerius Contolini,
a local tour guide.

Jerius: Bethlehem is a very important town; I'm happy to be living
in Bethlehem as one of the Christian families. It's very important
to us because it's the most important place in the Holy Land because
it's the place where Jesus was born. To me its a special place, it
carries a very special meaning and most of the people from all over
the world every day they come here and we are happy here and most of
the people are friendly here.

Paul: Is there a special feeling Christmas time when tourists come
from around the world? What's it like at Christmas time here?

Jerius: When people come here at Christmas we feel like we share
together the birth of Jesus. It's a very nice occasion. You can see
people from all over the world and they come to the Church of the
Nativity. They come looking for forgiveness, they ask for peace for
all over the world because in the whole world we miss peace.

Nativity MangerThis for me as a Christian is the exact place where
Jesus was born. The church was built in 326 ad by Helena the mother of
Constantine. She built it because she found the place where Jesus was
born and because of that she decided to build a church over the holy
place. After that there was a Samaritan revolt in 529ad, unfortunately
the church was burned with fire and after that it was rebuilt again
between 531 and 539 ad by Justinian; Justinian was the grandson of
Helena. The church is around 1500 years old; it's the most important
place because it's where the Lord Jesus Christ was born and at the same
time the oldest church in the Holy Land. Now in the year 614 ad there
was a Persian invasion. The Persians at that time destroyed all the
churches in the Holy Land; they burned monastery and the only church
that was not destroyed was Nativity Church, for that reason we tell
people that this is the oldest church in the Holy Land. The reason
why this church was not destroyed is because there was a piece of
mosaic at the front of the church; on the mosaic was a picture of
the three wise men - the Kings that came from the East. So one of
them was from Persia, one from India and one from Arabia. There were
Persian people and when they saw the Persian guy and they saw he was
in the traditional clothes of the Persians, then this was something
holy for them and they said don't touch it just leave it. So that
piece of Mosaic saved the church from destruction.

Today the church has three churches in one. The main part belongs
to the Greek Orthodox, another belongs to the Armenian and then we
have the Roman Catholic Church and this is the only church where we
celebrate Christmas three times because of a different calendar. The
24th of December we have Christmas for the Catholics, the 7th of
January for the Greek Orthodox and 18th of January for the Armenian.

We have many things inside the church; you can see the original floors,
its mosaic made by Queen Helena in 326 ad and then you find the pillars
inside the church. The pillars are red limestone from Bethlehem, six
metres and one piece of stone. Then you will find lots of mosaics
on the wall. These mosaics were made by the Crusaders in the 12th
Century when they came to the Holy Land.

Now the most important thing inside the church is the birth place
which is the Holy Cave, the Grotto. That is where you will see a star;
the star marks the exact place where Jesus was born. The star has
14 points on it. These represent the 14 generations of Jesus Christ
from Abraham to David, then from David to the Babylonian captivity
and after that from the Babylonian captivity to Jesus Christ.

Stone PillarsAnother thing about the 14 points, we believe that
they represent the 14 stations of the cross; Jesus carrying the
cross in the Old City of Jerusalem, we call it the Via Delarosa,
it has writing written on it which translated says "here Jesus was
born to the Virgin Mary". Opposite the star we can see the manger;
the Holy Manger is where the Virgin Mary laid the baby Jesus. After
she gave birth she wrapped him in swadling clothes and laid him in the
manger. Opposite the manger we see the Holy Alter; this belonged to
the three wise men where the three Kings put their presents, the Gold,
Frankincense and Myrrh.

Paul: In one area of the church there are a lot of human bones,
where are they from?

Jerius: These bones and skulls belong to the holy innocent children
and families. We consider them Christian Martyrs who were killed by
Herod the Great about 2000 years ago. When Jesus was born here, we
remember the story; the holy family came from Nazareth to Bethlehem
for the census registration. They knocked on many doors and they found
no help open for them because there was no room. After that they found
the holy cave, this place used to be a stable for animals. When they
came to Bethlehem they found no place, the Virgin Mary was pregnant
and when the hour came she went down into the cave and she gave birth
to Jesus. After that Helena came and decided to build a Church over
the holy cave. Now at that time Herod the Great wanted to kill the
baby Jesus, but he didn't know which one was Jesus, so he gave an
order to kill all baby boys two years and under and also the mothers
and pregnant women. About 1400 baby boys with mothers and pregnant
women were killed by Herod and his soldiers. Those bodies were buried
in the whole surrounding area. When Helena the Mother of Constantine
decided to build the Church over the site where Jesus was born, at
that moment she ordered to bring all these bones and collect them,
to bring them beside the birth place. For that reason you will find
them in the church and we call the place the Holy Innocent Cave.

Paul: I understand that Jerome came here and translated the Bible here,
is that true?

14 Pointed StarJerius: Jerome lived in Italy. He started his work in
Italy to translate the Bible. After that he was sent to Bethlehem
in the year 384 ad. He came to continue his work; his work was to
translate the Bible. He chose a cave and lived inside the monastery
under ground. He lived here for 30 years and translated the Old
Testament from Hebrew into Latin and the New Testament from Greek
into Latin. This is a very special place for the Catholics and also
for all Christians. Why? Because we believe from that spot the Bible
was spread to the whole world. People started to read and learn more
about the life of Jesus and understand more about Christianity and
that has helped many people to believe in Jesus and become Christians
because they translated the Bible into a different language.

You can also see the cave of St Joseph. We call it St Joseph's Chapel.

It is also a very important place. It goes back to the first Century.

It's very important to us as Christians because according to the
Bible and according to Christian tradition we believe that that
spot is where St Joseph used to sleep. At the same time we believe
this is the place where the angel appeared to St Joseph and told him
he should take the baby and the Virgin Mary and go to Egypt because
Herod wanted to kill the baby Jesus. So from that spot the holy family
started their flight into Egypt, so it is a very important place.

Over the holy caves was built the Church of St Catherine which belongs
to the Catholics. It was built in the year 1881 and St Catherine's
Church is very important because we consider that Church the most
famous Church here, because this Church is where people from all over
the world come and celebrate Christmas mass on the 24th of December.

>From that spot they televise the whole mass. It is also the place
where the Pope took mass in the year 2000, President Clinton and
Chairman Arafat had mass in St Catherine's church too.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held
by Cross Rhythms.