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Church of the Nativity

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ja:生誕教会 de:Geburtskirche

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View of The Church of the Nativity from Manger Square
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The original structure was built by Bishop Makarios of Jerusalem at the direction of Constantine I of the Roman Empire following the First Council of Nicaea in 325. That structure was burnt down in the Samaritan revolt of 529.

It is administered by a coalition of Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clerics. Tradition has it that the church was built over Jesus' birthplace, and it is held as sacred by followers of Christianity and Islam.


Contents

Layout

It is actually a combination of two churches, with a basement where Jesus is said to have been born:

  • The main section (the basilica) now being controlled by the Greek Orthodox. It is designed like a generic Roman basilica, with three aisles and an apse. Although presently in a state of decay, it once featured golden mosaics covering the side walls, and a Roman style floor (since covered over). It also features a large iconstasis (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Iconstasis), and a complex array of lamps throughout the entire church.
  • The adjoining Roman Catholic church, which is done in a more modern Gothic revival style, and has since been further modernized according to the liturgical trends after Vatican II.
  • The underground cave, which features the altar over the place Jesus is said to have been born. The exact spot is marked by a hole in the middle of a silver star, surrounded by silver lamps. This altar is neutral although it features primarily Armenian Orthodox design.

2002 Siege

In 2002 200 Palestinians, including 50 armed fighters entered and occupied the Church of the Nativity for 39 days. They were seeking refuge from an Israeli Defense Force action against suicide bombing activity occurring in the West Bank. Israeli army snipers killed seven and wounded more than forty people during the siege. Following extensive negotiations, 13 of the most militant occupiers were deported to Cyprus and another 26 transferred to the Gaza Strip.

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