Friday, January 22, 2010

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

The taxi dropped us off in front of the Church of the Nativity at around 11:30 AM, and, of course, tried to argue for more money than we had originally agreed upon. We gave him a 20% tip for waiting a bit longer than expected at the monastery and then walked away, despite his muttering.

Above, my friend Lia was waiting for us at the entrance to the church, which again is a small door that you have to crouch to get through. This was to prevent attackers from being able to stream through in large numbers and overwhelm the defenders.

There was a huge line along the right aisle of the church waiting to go down in a crypt underneath the altar area and venerate the cave in which Christ was born. Most surprising to me, there were actually quite a few Muslim women with head scarves also waiting in line. Lia told us that this was not unusual.

Fortunately, since I'm an Orthodox priest, we were allowed to by-pass the line and go immediately to venerate the cave, which you can see me doing above. There is only one small spot of the cave exposed which pilgrims kneel down to venerate.

Next to it is a small Nativity scene that Lia explained was traditional.

Here you see the iconostasis of the main part of the church, which belongs to the Orthodox. This church dates from 565 AD. The first church, constructed by St Helena around 330, was destroyed in the Samaritan Revolt in 529. Almost inexplicably, the Persians did not destroy the second church when they invaded in 614; tradition says this was because the Persian leader was moved by the images of the three magi wearing traditional Persian clothing.

Here you see the line along the right aisle waiting to go down into the crypt to venerate the place where Christ was born.

Here is the Roman Catholic church which lies adjacent.

A view of the Orthodox church from the back. In the foreground, you can see people standing around what a hole in the floor. These are trap doors which open to reveal part of the original mosaic floor from the first church, built in 330.

The above two photos show some of the mosaics along the sides.

Here is a tiny space in the front left corner that has been taken over by the Armenians. It was this spot, I believe, that caused the melee which broke out just days before we arrived (see this post).

Here we are in the courtyard in front of the entrance to the church. Opposite, you can see the mosque, which was then blasting prayers. Lia said it was quite typical for the Muslims to have a mosque directly across from churches of major significance.

Lia's uncle worked in a hotel and cafe located right in the courtyard of the church, so we sat down to have a coffee and catch up before heading out to see more of the area.

To see all the photos from our fifth and last day, click here.

[Note: I just added a short 3-minute video from the Liturgy at the Holy Sepulchre to this previous post.]

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