For any Christian pilgrim coming to Bethlehem the Church of the Nativity is a highlight of the trip, within this iconic church are several areas of interest one of them being the Armenian Chapel of the Kings. Like many of the Christian religious sites in Israel and Palestine the Church of the Nativity is shared by several Christian denominations. This sharing means that each of the denominations has control over their section of the structure and a vested interest in keeping the whole site functioning and in good condition. The Church of Nativity on Manger Square is shared by the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Church (Apostolic). This does not meant that each denomination stays in its corner, the three groups use the space of the church jointly and the Armenians hold their Divine Liturgy in the Holy Grotto which is denominationally neutral. However scuffles between young monks of the different denominations have been reported in the news in recent years, so it is a delicate balance between the three controlling denominations. The Armenians have their own chapel or altar – The Armenian Chapel of the Kings.

The Armenian Chapel of the Kings or Armenian Altar of the Kings marks the location where the three Magi or three wise men are thought to have arrived at the manger, dismounted and tied up their horses (perhaps camels). The chapel consists of a narrow room in the church open on one side. Two sides of the space are lined with dark wooden cabinets and on the walls above are framed paintings of scenes from the Bible. At the far end of the space (facing the open end) is the Altar of the Kings. The altar is an ornate table draped in a gold cloth with candles and a cross arranged on it. From the four corners of this altar table rise up columns with a gold and blue Patten spiraling up the columns. The columns support a solid canopy with extremely detailed and ornate patterns in gold and blue.

The Kings, wise men or Magi were Persian Zoroastrian priests of a particular caste considered not only wise but they were also thought to have magic powers (hence Magi). They are believed to have come to visit the new born Christ with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Armenian Church celebrates their visit on the 6th January with the Feast of Epiphany.

The Church of the Nativity has several other chapels the Chapel of Saint Joseph where an angel appeared to Joseph, the Chapel of Innocents commemorating the children killed by Herod and the Chapel of Saint Jerome where he translated the Bible.

Text content copyrights: Bein Harim Ltd., Beryl Ratzer (www.ratzer.com)

Other sites in this area

The Milk Grotto

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Manger Square in Bethlehem

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Armenian Chapel of the Kings

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