In the 4th century, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the first Byzantine Church was built over the grotto of the nativity and the manger. The Church one visits today is basically that which was built during the reign of Justinian in the 6th century. The earlier mosaic floors can be seen under the present floor.
From the paved courtyard one enters the church through a small low door and an unlit narthex. On the walls are fragments of mosaics and medieval decorations can be seen on the columns. The iconostasis separating the altar from the church is lavishly decorated. Steps on either side lead down to the grotto where the fourteen pointed star indicates the place of the nativity. Also in the grotto are the Manger and a chapel dedicated to the Wise Men. Beyond a heavy curtain is a sealed passage which leads to the St. Catherine Church.
Baldwin, first king of the Crusader Kingdom was crowned in this church in 1100 but over the centuries control of the church frequently changed hands between the various denominations. The Status Quo adopted by the Ottoman Empire after the Crimean War full control was bestowed on the Greek Orthodox Church.
Access to the cloister of the Church of St. Catherine is via an Armenian Chapel.
Text content copyrights: Bein Harim Ltd., Beryl Ratzer (www.ratzer.com)
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