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The Three Belfries of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem

9 August, 20119 August, 2011 0 comments Bethlehem Bethlehem

The Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the most important destinations for pilgrims visiting the Holy Land; it is the cradle of Christianity and one of the earliest Christian structures in the world. This site is so important for the followers of Christianity because of the fact that the church was built exactly over the cave where the baby Jesus was born in 1 A.D.

"4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son." (Luke 2:4-7)

For me, as a Christian, every visit to the Nativity Church and the Grotto has a great spiritual meaning and is always an amazing experience. I like its peaceful, perfect for a prayer, quiet atmosphere and the feeling of the eternity of this place. But of course, the monastery possesses great importance for non-Christian visitors who are interested in its historical and architectural values.

The building has a long and rich history. The construction of the basilica was started in 327 A.D. by Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I - the first emperor converted to Christianity. The construction was supervised by Bishop Makarios of Jerusalem and was completed in 333. Unfortunately, the whole structure was burned down in the Samaritan Revolt of 529, but then the building was replaced by a larger Basilica in 565 by the Emperor Justinian I. Later, during the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Crusaders made further repairs and additions to the building. With time, the complex has been enlarged, and today it covers approximately 12,000 square meters.

Probably some of us looking at the Nativity Church from outside could ask the question - Why the Basilica is so huge and why does it have as much as thee belfries? I guess the people who ask this question are just unaware of the fact that the basilica is actually a complex of three churches. In 1852, shared custody of the church was given to the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian churches, so all the fractions began to maintain their monastic communities on the site of the basilica. Today the monastery is surrounded by the Franciscan convent in the north, the Greek Orthodox convent in the southeast and the Armenian convent in the southwest and every of the convents have their own belfry.


The building of the Nativity Church is from the Justinian times and is now used by the Greek Orthodox Church as the parish church for the Arab orthodox community of Bethlehem, however the Armenian Church oversees a smaller chapel next to the primary altar. In the 15th century the basilica was expanded and the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria was added, and it was later enlarged in 1881. Nowadays, the Roman Catholic community, through the custodianship of the Franciscan Brotherhood, is responsible for the St. Catherine's Church and the subterranean chapels believed to be used by Saint Jerome in the late Roman era.

Accordingly, since 1852, the three separate denominations have created a common place of prayer and they join in caring for the Nativity Church and the Nativity Grotto despite the fact that the grotto is under the Greek Orthodox part of the church. In keeping with their respective beliefs and rituals, each convent celebrates their specific mass according to a fixed schedule.


The Three Belfries of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem


Beata M. Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourism bureau and blogs for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.



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Bethlehem is my new home since September 2010. This charming town in the Holy Land is definitely worth a visit! Discover Bethlehem with my blog :-) Other places are coming soon...


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