In Patient Defiance,The Church Of the Nativity Outlasts It’s Ancient Foes
The Church That Stood For 14 Centuries Will Now Survive, UN Says
By Timothy Nerozzi
July 4, 2019
UNITED NATIONS — The Church of the Nativity, built on the site where millions of Christians believe the baby Jesus was born, is now officially off of the United Nation’s list of endangered World Heritage sites.
It is a rare success story. Most “endangered” World Heritage Sites never recover. The ancient church benefitted from volunteers and money from across Asia, Europe, Australia, North and South America.
The church has been on the endangered list since 2008. The current church has stood for some 14 centuries — outlasting the Roman Empire, the Crusades and centuries of rain, wind, and neglect.
Its quiet victory in coming off the endangered list appeared in a stream of international bureaucratese. “The World Heritage Committee, meeting in Baku since 30 June, today decided to remove the Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine) from the List of World Heritage in danger,” saidCheck” class=”regex-error”>said United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in an official statement.
Time had taken its toll on the ancient church. Decorative paintings, wall mosaics, and stained-glass windows were cracking in the desert heat and winter chill. The roof, which had not been improved in almost two-hundred years, developed holes which let in streams of rainwater. Some historians feared that the church’s deterioration would result in irreversible structural damage.
The church was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. It was listed as “endangered” that same year.
Repairs came in stages, as money or volunteers appeared. Work to restore the church began in September 2013. New smoke detectors and a new lighting system were installed in December 2017. New doors were hung and the roof patched. The church’s exterior facades were painstakingly cleaned and mended.
Wall mosaics were also refurbished. One religious image, after being cleaned, surprised the restoration team. The figure of an angel appeared where there had previously been a smudge of dirt and wall decay.
The Church of the Nativity is managed by the combined efforts of the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church. Each contributes to the church’s upkeep and budget while holding its daily liturgies in its aging structure.
The United Nations has formally recognized the importance of the church to world history and culture. “The outstanding universal value of the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem, lies, in its association with the birthplace of the founder of a great religion, which for Believers saw the Son of God made man in Bethlehem,” UNESCO saidCheck” class=”regex-error”>said.
The current Church of the Nativity is the second structure to stand on the same spot. The original was built in the Fourth century A.D. by Constantine the Great after his mother, Helena, visited Bethlehem and toured the Holy Land. Both Constantine, the Roman emperor who famously converted after a pivotal battle, and his mother Helen, a tireless promoter of the faith, are considered saints by the Roman Catholics and most Orthodox believers.
The recent fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris highlighted the fragility of sacred structures around the world.
Indeed the first Church of the Nativity was devoured by flames in the early medieval period before being replaced with the current structure in the Sixth century.