Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem  

Gereja ini dibangun 1500 tahun silam dan dikelola bersama oleh 3 gereja: Katolik, Orthodox Yunani, dan Armenia. Gereja ini dikunjungi lebih 2 juta pengunjung per-tahun dari seantero dunia. Atap bangunan itu pertama kali dibangun bersama bagian sisanya dari gereja itu oleh Kaisar Justinianus dari Romawi Timur (Bizantium) pada abad VI Masehi, menyusul penghancuran gereja asli yang dibangun di situs grotto dimana Yesus dipercaya telah dilahirkan. Sebagian tiang kayu besar masa Justinianus masih dipakai. Tahun 1480 dengan Bethlehem di bawah kekuasaan muslim dan atap itu mulai hancur, izin diberikan untuk memperbaikinya. Philip, Duke dari Burgundy mengirim perajin serta kayu dan besi; Raja Edward IV dari Inggris mengirim timah, dan penguasa Venezia menyediakan kapal. Renovasi besar kembali dilakukan dua abad kemudian.


Bethlehem in 1910, seen the Church of the Nativity on the left (big building)

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is a major Christian holy site, as it marks the traditional place of Christ's birth. It is also one of the oldest surviving Christian churches.

The birth of Jesus is narrated in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew gives the impression that Mary and Joseph were from Bethlehem and later moved to Nazareth because of Herod's decree, while Luke indicates that Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth, and Jesus was born in Bethlehem while they were in town for a special census. Scholars tend to see these two stories as irreconcilable and believe Matthew to be more reliable because of historical problems with Luke's version.

Exterior of the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, from Manger Square

But both accounts agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. According to Luke 2:7 (in the traditional translation), Mary "laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn." But the Greek can also be rendered, "she laid him in a manger because they had no space in the room" we should perhaps imagine Jesus being born in a quiet back room of an overflowing one-room house.
The gospel accounts don't mention a cave, but less than a century later, both Justin Martyr and the Protoevangelium of James say Jesus was born in a cave. This is reasonable, as many houses in the area are still built in front of a cave. The cave part would have been used for stabling and storage - thus the manger.

The Door of Humility guarded Jeng Verina

The first evidence of a cave in Bethlehem being venerated as Christ's birthplace is in the writings of Justin Martyr around 160 AD. The tradition is also attested by Origen and Eusebius in the 3rd century.
In 326, Constantine and his mother St. Helena commisioned a church to be built over the cave. This first church, dedicated on May 31, 339, had an octagonal floor plan and was placed directly above the cave. In the center, a 4-meter-wide hole surrounded by a railing provided a view of the cave. Portions of the floor mosaic survive from this period. St. Jerome lived and worked in Bethlehem from 384 AD, and he was buried in a cave beneath the Church of the Nativity.
The Constantinian church was destroyed by Justinian in 530 AD, who built the much larger church that remains today. The Persians spared it during their invasion in 614 AD because, according to legend, they were impressed by a representation of the Magi fellow Persians that decorated the building. This was quoted at a 9th-century synod in Jerusalem to show the utility of religious images.

The historic interior of the Church of the Nativity

Muslims prevented the application of Hakim's decree (1009) ordering the destruction of Christian monuments because, since the time of Omar (639), they had been permitted to use the south transept for worship.
The Crusaders took Jerusalem on 6 June 1009. Baldwin I and II were crowned there, and in an impressive display of tolerance the Franks and Byzantines cooperated in fully redecorating the interior (1165-69). A Greek inscription in the north transept records this event.


Interior of the Church of the Nativity, lady with jilbab is looking east towards the altar and the entrance to the Grotto

The Church of the Nativity was much neglected in the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, but not destroyed. Much of the church's marble was looted by the Ottomans and now adorns the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. An earthquake in 1834 and a fire in 1869 destroyed the furnishings of the cave, but the church again survived.

 In 1847, the theft of the silver star marking the exact site of the Nativity was an ostensible factor in the international crisis over the Holy Places that ultimately led to the Crimean War (18541856).
In 1852, shared custody of the church was granted to the Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches. The Greeks care for the Grotto of the Nativity.

Entrance to the Grotto of the Nativity, St. Jerome tomb under the Church of Nativity

The Door of Humility, a small rectangular entrance to the church, was created in Ottoman times to prevent carts being driven in by looters, and to force even the most important visitor to dismount from his horse as he entered the holy place. The doorway was reduced from an earlier Crusader doorway, the pointed arch of which can still be seen above the current door. The outline of the Justinian square entrance can also be seen above the door.

Inside the Grotto of the Nativity, looking back towards the entrance

 The wide nave survives intact from Justinian's time, although the roof is 15th-century with 19th-century restorations. Thirty of the nave's 44 columns carry Crusader paintings of saints and the Virgin and Child, although age and lighting conditions make them hard to see. The columns are of pink, polished limestone, most of them reused from the original 4th-century Constantinian basilica.


The Grotto, with the birthplace on the left and the Chapel of the Manger on the right

Fragments of high-quality wall mosaics dating from the 1160s decorate both sides of the nave. Each side once had three registers, of which we know the details because of a description made in 1628. The lowest depicted the ancestors of Jesus; the middle contained the decrees of provincial and ecumenical councils; and the top has a series of angels between the windows. The name of the artist, Basilius Pictor, appears at the foot of the third angel from the right on the north wall.


Contemplation at the birthplace of Christ

Trap doors in the present floor reveal sections of floor mosaics surviving from the original basilica. The mosaics feature complex geometric designs with birds, flowers and vine patterns, making a rich and elaborate carpet for Constantine's church. Similar doors in the north transept protect another 4th-century mosaic that shows the Constantinian apse was octagonal; these are sometimes opened on request.

The birthplace of Christ, which is kissed by many pilgrims

An octagonal baptismal font in the south aisle dates from the 6th-century church of Justinian; it originally stood near the high altar. The inscription reads, "For remembrance, rest and remission of sins of those whose names the Lord knows." Archaeologists have discovered an octagonal bed of exactly the same dimensions over a cistern near the altar which provided the required water. After the font was moved in the Crusader renovation, it became the focus of various colorful legends: it was the well into which the star of the Magi fell; the well where the Magi watered their horses; or the well to which David's three heroes came.

A star marks the exact birthplace of Christ

The main altar at the east end and the one on the south (Altar of the Circumcision) are the property of the Greek Orthodox Church. The main altar includes an Orthodox iconostasis, which is crowned with gilded angels, icons, gilded chandeliers and lamps. On the north side of the high altar is the Armenian Altar of the Three Kings, dedicated to the Magi who tied up their horses nearby, and in the north apse is an Armenian altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The Grotto of the Nativity, a rectangular cavern beneath the church, is the Church of the Nativity's focal point. Entered by a flight of steps by the church altar, this is the cave that has been honored as the site of Christ's birth since at least the 2nd century.


Goa Kelahiran Yesus ada di bagian bawah basilika. Tempat Yesus dilahirkan ditandai dengan sebuah bintang perak dan tulisan Latin 'Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est' (Di sini dari Perawan Maria lahirlah Yesus Kristus). Bagian ini adalah milik Gereja Orthodox-Yunani. Di dalamnya terdapat 48 lampu indah. Di sebelah kanan goa terdapat palungan, dimana Yesus diletakkan setelah dilahirkan.

Prayer at the believed site of the manger

A silver star in the floor marks the very spot where Christ is believed to have been born. The star's Latin inscription reads, "Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born 1717." The floor is paved in marble, and 15 lamps hang above the star (six belong to the Greeks, five to the Armenians and four to the Latins).
All other furnishings date from after the fire of 1869, except for the bronze gates at the north and south entrances to the Grotto, which are from Justinian's 6th-century church.

Steps away from the birthplace shrine is the Chapel of the Manger, owned by the Roman Catholics. Fragments of 12th-century wall mosaics and capitals around the manger survive. Back in the upper church, a door in the north apse leads to the Catholic Church of St. Catherine.

Icon virgin Mary and child Jesus inside the Grotto

At the general church council at Nicaea (modern Iznik, Turkey) in 325 AD, Macarius, the Bishop of Jerusalem, acquainted the emperor Constantine (ruled 312-337 AD) with the neglected condition of the holy places in his diocese. Constantine ordered the construction of monumental churches to commemorate the principal events of Jesus' life. The story is told that Constantine's aged mother Helena came to the Holy Land in 326 AD on a pilgrimage to locate the sites of Jesus' birth, death and Ascension. At Bethlehem, she inquired about his birthplace and was shown Hadrian's Adonis temple at the end of the village among a grove of trees. Architects, working under Helena's supervision, ordered the trees removed and the superfluous rock quarried away. On the site, the original Church of the Nativity, with an octagonal apse (the preferred form for a memorial structure at the time), was built restoring its status in Christian tradition. This church was badly damaged during a Samaritan uprising in 529 AD in which Jerusalem also suffered greatly. While there is no written record of the destruction, ashes and debris discover in 1934 indicated the church had been destroyed by fire. Sabas, a monk from a nearby monastery, went to Constantinople and appealed to the emperor Justinian (527-565 AD) who, around 536 AD, erected a larger church on the site, extensively altering the original plan (now cruciform instead of octagonal). This building, with later modifications, has remained in use to the present day.


View Bethlehem in 1862 from Bell Tower of the Church of the Nativity at Manger Square

When the Persians invaded Palestine in 614 AD, all churches in the Holy Land were destroyed, except the Church of the Nativity. The story is told that the Persians saw a mosaic on the church facade depicting the visit of the Magi dressed in Persian attire and were misled into believing Christians venerated their prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathusthra). Muslims themselves prevented another destruction ordered by the mad caliph Hakim in 1009 AD because, since the time of Omar (639 AD), they had been permitted to pray in the south transept, where a prayer niche (mihrab) was installed. At the time of the Crusades, Baldwin I was crowned there as the first king of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, on Christmas Day of 1101 AD, and the Emperor Manuel had the church extensively restored (1161-69 AD), replacing the marble floor, lining the wooden roof with lead and adding mosaics above the nave (parts of which remain). The Crusaders remained in control of the town and church until 1291 AD, when the Mamelukes assumed power. Thereafter the church suffered centuries of neglect, although its importance to Christians never faded.


Inside the Church of the Nativity during the Ottoman period (1620)

In 1347 AD the Franciscans were given custody of the basilica, but in the 17th and 18th centuries AD there was fighting between the Greek Orthodox and Catholics. In 1757 the Ottomans gave the basilica to the Greeks; the Armenians won the north transept by 1829. The question of ownership inflamed passions throughout Europe. Napoleon's arbitrary decision to declare it French property in 1852 angered the Russians and led indirectly to the Crimean War of 1853, pitting Russia and Ottoman Turkey against France and Britain. In 1852 shared custody of the church was granted to the Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches, with the Greeks caring for the Grotto of the Nativity. Today, a truce between the three denominations backed by an elaborate schedule of services prevents potential conflicts. This also means there are three successive Christmas celebrations: the Catholics and Western Christians on December 25, the Eastern Orthodox on January 6 and the Armenians on January 19.

Names: Church of the Nativity
Type of site: Eastern Orthodox church; Footsteps of Jesus; Catholic shrine
Dates: 339 AD
Location: Manger Square, Bethlehem, Israel 
Hours: Summer: 6:30am-noon, 2-7:30pm daily; winter: 5:30am-noon, 2-5pm daily. Grottoes closed to tourists Sunday mornings.










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