The Armenian Chapel of the Kings is situated within the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church encompasses the Holy Grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born and is a UNESCO-listed site. According to an agreement known as the “Status Quo” the Church of the Nativity is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Apostolic Armenian and Roman Catholic churches. Each of the custodian denomination cares for a specific area of the structure and they all holds services in the church. The Armenians have their own chapel in the church - Chapel of the Kings.
The Three Kings
Originally constructed in 326AD the church was destroyed and almost entirely rebuilt in the 6th century. In 614AD the Persians sacked the churches of Palestine but spared the Church of the Nativity ostensible because they saw a wall mosaic of the Three Wise Men (the Magi) dressed in Persian clothing. The Armenian Chapel of the Kings is dedicated to the Three Wise Men also called the Magi who are believed to have been Persian Zoroastrian priests. They were considered extremely wise and even thought to possess magic powers. They came to the site of the nativity bearing gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.
The Armenian Chapel of the Kings
The Chapel of the Kings is in the church’s northern transept on the spot where the Three Wise Men arrived to witness the nativity on the first Christmas Eve. The Armenian Chapel occupies a narrow room open to the nave of the church. The two side walls are lined with dark wood cabinets and paintings of Biblical scenes. The Altar of the Kings stands at the far end of the chapel. Gold and blue colored spiraling columns rise up from the altar table supporting a solid canopy adorned with gold and blue patterns. In the Armenian Chapel you can see part of the remains of the original octagonal structure built in 326AD to encase the Holy Grotto.
In the Church of the Nativity Christmas is celebrated on 25th December for the Roman Catholics; 13 days later the Greek Orthodox celebrate and an additional 12 days later the Armenians have their Christmas celebrations. The Armenians celebrate the in the Holy Grotto and the arrival of the wise men on the 6th of January.