Easter Sunday for Catholics in 1985, was Palm Sunday for the Greek Orthodox Church. Children in Bethlehem are getting ready to join the Palm Sunday procession of the Palms.
Buses and vans bring a constant flow of visitors to the sacred shrine.
The church is divided into five naves by four rows of Corinthian pillars with pictures of the apostles on them. The names are written in Greek and Latin and many visitors have carved their own signatures over the centuries. The floor of the nave has a hole that allows you to see 60 cm below what remains of the Byzantine mosaics erected by Constantine in 325, that covered the original church floor.
Bethlehem (Beit Lahm in Arabic) is famous in the Bible as the town of David and of Jesus. Its religious center is the Church of the Nativity, a 6th century basilica which has survived to the present day. On Christmas day 1100, Baldwin I, brother of Godefroi de Bouillon founder of the kingdom with the title of advocate of the Holy Sepulchre, was crowned first king of Jerusalem here.
The Church of the Nativity was built in the 4th century by Helena, the mother of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine. She also was the person responsible for the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The present building, the oldest church in Israel/Palestine was reconstructed in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian (527-565) and further repaired by the Crusaders.The church has a colorful history. When the Persians invaded in 614, they left the church intact, legend has it, because they were moved by a painting inside of the Nativity story depicting the Wise Men of the East in Persian clothes. King Edward IV of England donated wood from English oak trees for the ceiling. He also contributed lead to cover the roof, but that was taken by the Turks, who melted it down to use as ammunition in their war against the Venetians.
The Grotto of the Nativity is entered through a pair of Crusader Gothic doorways on either side of the raised sanctuary, two flights of steps lead down to the Altar of the Nativity. The cave is an irregular chamber more or less rectangular in shape, 12.3m long and 3.15m wide. The walls are partly of rock, partly of masonry, and largely covered with amianthus hangings.
Altars mark the traditional places of the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi and the Manger. The altar of the Nativity is located right on the spot where Jesus is said to have been born. The exact location is marked by a hole in the marble flow below the altar, surrounded by a silver star and silver lamps. At the end of the Grotto of the Nativity a door leads to a few chapels, the key of which belongs to the Franciscans. They dug a passage in 1470 in order to have access to the Grotto from the Church of St. Catherine.
The actual place where Jesus is traditionaly thought to have been born, is marked by a silver star with a Latin inscription: "Hic de virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est" (Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary).
Bethlehem (Beit Lahm in Arabic) is famous in the Bible as the town of David and of Jesus. Its religious center is the Church of the Nativity, a 6th century basilica which has survived to the present day. On Christmas day 1100, Baldwin I was crowned first king of Jerusalem here.
The Gate of Humility into the Church of the Nativity is just over four feet high and was added in 1272 A.D. to help repel raiders. Visitors must stoop or bow in submission. Once inside, most tourists - about 1.25 million a year, in peaceful times - quickly queue on the right side of the 5th century Orthodox basilica and wait to enter the Grotto of the Nativity beneath the high altar.
The entrance to the church is a low doorway that has its own legends. One story is that the door was installed by the Muslims during their rule to remind Christians that they were guests in the country and must bow to their hosts. An alternative explanation is that the height of the door was designed to prevent unbelievers from entering the church on horseback. Yet another version holds that it was to protect the Christians from their hostile neighbors.
In the center of a raised strip of ground surrounded by pine trees, a modern chapel commemorates the event of Christ’s birth. Drawn by the Italian architect Barluzzi, the building of white and pink stone, calls to mind the shape of ancient huts used as shelters by the shepherds. Inside, the altar is held up by four kneeling bronze shepherds. In the cupola two angels sing “Glory to God and peace to men”
The (Roman Catholic) Franciscan Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria was built in 1882 on the ruins of the Crusader church and monastery belonging to the Augustinians. The colonnade of the present atrium (designed in 1948 by Antonio Barluzzi) incorporates surviving elements of the medieval cloister. Beneath the paving of the cloister are the foundations of an earlier Byzantine monastery, possibly that of St. Jerome. A door in the southwest corner of the cloister leads into a Crusader chapel. The room was created in the 12th century when the Crusaders walled off the north end of the Justinian narthex to construct a bell tower (no longer existant). The chapel walls are decorated with remnants of Crusader wall paintings, which were partially restored in 1950. A narrow stairway in the south aisle leads down into a complex of caves and rock-cut chambers, which contain a number of chapels. One of these is popularly identified as the room in which St. Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the Latin Vulgate, starting in the year 384. A short passage from one of the adjoining chambers leads into the Grotto of the Nativity, but the door giving access is usually locked.
Beneath St Catherine church is yet another cave. In 384 Saint Jerome moved to Bethlehem to learn Hebrew in order to complete his new Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate. On the left is the traditional cave where Jerome did his work and to the right is the nearby tomb where Jerome is believed to be buried.
Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus and therefore a holy site to Christians around the world. The city also is significant to Jews because it is the burial place of the matriarch Rachel and the birthplace of King David. Samuel anointed David king in Bethlehem (I Sam. 16:1-13) and David was a descendant of Ruth and Boaz, who were married in Bethlehem.