“Thy nativity, O Christ our God,
has shown to the world the light of wisdom;
for by it, those who worshipped the stars
were taught by a star to adore Thee
the Sun of Righteousness,
and to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, glory to Thee.”
The Church of the Nativity and the oldest Church of the Holy Land is situated approximately 8 km from Jerusalem to the east of Bethlehem. Its surrounding covering some 12,000 square meters, include an Orthodox Monastery, a Catholic and an Armenian quarter.
Its foundation begins in the second century, when St. Justin the Martyr identified for the first time the grotto or the cave of the Nativity as been the sacred birthplace of Jesus Christ. The original church was erected quite early – in the year 326 – by Saint Helena the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great .
In 531, the Emperor Justinian the Great gave it a new shape which has been preserved until today. Some of the historical facts about the church are quite interesting. For example, during the invasion of the Persians (in 614), the place was left untouched by the invaders, which were impressed to see the Nativity scene with the Magi from the east dressed in Persian’ costumes.
The entrance into the church is through a carved door, very low into the ground and suggestively called ‘the door of humility”. The tradition testifies that the height of the door was intentionally carved this way by Christians, to prevent non-believers to enter and as a defense to the Muslim’ attacks.
The basilica of the Nativity is divided into four separate longitudinal areas divided by four rows of columns that were built in the Corinthian style. Each row includes 11 columns depicting the apostles of Christ’s with their names written in Greek and Latin. Recent archaeological excavations had revealed part of the old Byzantine mosaics that were covering the original ground-floor of the church.
The Shrine of the Nativity has three altars: a central altar and two others on the side apses. From here, one can descend into a small cave – the Nativity Cave – located just below the central altar.
A silver star fixed in marble represents the place of the manger and is surrounded by fifteen candles that burn continuously. A Latin inscription testifies that: “”Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est” („Here the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ”).
The basilica of the Nativity is administered by different Christian denominations. The Cave of the Nativity is under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church.
“From heavenly skies, I hear a song divine,
Thy three Magi, with gifts they come,
From far above, a star that shines
Enlightens the Magi.
That mighty gifts they may bring forth
In white rucksacks, while signing
To One new baby born.
The humble baby lays in peace
And joyful in a manger,
While Holy Virgin sways.
And seeing this,
We all rejoice.
Thy heavenly sky and the whole earth
Are sanctified by Him
Christ our King,
Came to redeem
All those who may believe.
We worship Thee,
Christ long-awaited Savior,
Eternally being glorified;
From far above, a song divine….”
A Blessed Nativity to all my readers!