Who was St. Catherine of Alexandria?
One belief states that St. Catherine was born in the 4th century to a noble family in Alexandria, Egypt. She became Christian as a teenager and was martyred by a pagan emperor Maxentius. At first, he ordered her to be tortured on a wheel, however the wheel immediately broke when she touched it. She was beheaded instead.
According to another belief, St. Catherine’s body was carried by angels to Mount Sinai, and a church and monastery were constructed in her memory in the 6th century.
The Church dedicated to St. Catherine in Bethlehem
A church dedicated to St. Catherine was also built in Bethlehem. It is a Catholic church and Franciscan monastery located in the complex of the Nativity Church, over the area of the grottowhere Jesus Christ was born.
According to local tradition, the church stands on the spot of Christ’s appearance to St. Catherine of Alexandria around 310 AD.
Crusaders also built a cloister and a monastery which they gave to the Canons of St. Augustine and which in 1347 became a Franciscan convent.
The present building consists of a nave and two aisles. It incorporates remains of the 5th-century sanctuary related to the St. Jerome and the parts of 12th-century Crusader church, which are clearly visible particularly in the courtyard.
In 1882, the monastery was rebuilt with financial help of the Emperor of Austria. In 1948, the Church of St. Catherine was restored again by the famous architect Antonio Barluzzi, who also designed many other churches of the Holy Land including the Church of the visitation in Ein Karem. His magnificent reconstructive work can be mainly seen in the 12th-century Cloister of St. Jerome surrounding the entrance to the Latin church. Its design is in keeping with the original medieval architecture.
A beautiful stained glass window featuring a Nativity scene was installed above the main altar in 2000. And just recently, in the summer of 2013, the main altar of the church was shifted backward to create more space for believers. This change gives a chance for more pilgrims to be present on the Christmas Eve Mass on the night of 24th of December, which is broadcasted annually around the world.
What’s Under the Church?
There are stairs on the right side of the main nave that lead down to the grotto which is divided on a number of chapels. Those include the Chapel of St. Jerome, who devoted his life to translating the Bible into Latin language – Vulgate; Chapel of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates the children killed by Herod the Great and the Chapel of St. Joseph that reminds us of his dream in which an angel warned him to escape to Egypt.
There is also a passage leading to the Nativity Grotto, tho it is usually closed. But the grotto can be viewed by a keyhole in the door.
Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandra in Bethlehem
Every year around 25th of November there are planned special liturgical events for the Feast of the St. Catherine which will take place in Bethlehem, in the church dedicated to her. For more information contact contact the Latin Parish in Bethlehem: (02) 274 24 40.
When to visit?
Summer (April – September): 6:30 am – 7:30 pm / Sun. morning: grotto is closed
Winter (October – March): 5 am – 5 pm / Sun. morning: grotto is closed
The Sunday masses at 7:30 am, 9 am, and 11 am in the St. Catherine Church are usually held in Arabic.
The Latin Parish in Bethlehem can be contacted by calling (02) 274 24 40 or via email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Beata Andonia blogs regularly for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.
*For more information about booking an individual or group pilgrimage or tour to the Holy Land please contact us.