Category Archives: Churches

2 Christmases in Bethlehem

Christmas Number 1 — On December 25 Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrated Christmas.  The festivities in Manger Square in Bethlehem was broadcast worldwide—and some Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrated in “Shepherds’ Field” east of Bethlehem (now filled with homes and shops of the village Beit Sahur).

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Grotto/Cave at the Roman Catholic Site of Shepherds’ Field
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Christmas Number 2 — On January 7, the Greek, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Churches will celebrate Christmas.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
Said to be the very spot where Jesus was born
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A Greek Orthodox Priest Celebrating the Eucharist
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On January 7 the Armenian Orthodox Church will celebrate Christmas.

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An Armenian Service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Armenians Celebrate Christmas on 7 January
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For additional images of Bethlehem Click Here.

Our friends a “Israel’s History – a Picture a Day” have posted 6 photographic images of Bethlehem at Christmas around 1900 under Turkish Rule: grotto, processions, etc.  They are very interesting!

–   –    –    Personal Story Follows    –    –   –

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Grotto of the Manger — Only 15 feet from the “star”
Said to be the place where the “manger” was
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

In the early 1970’s, when we were living in Israel, Mary and I and John (our two-year old barely–able–to–walk son) were visiting the grotto of the Nativity, Mary and I were looking at a variety of things.  When we turned around, looking for our son John, there he was, blowing out the candles that the faithful had placed by this site—sorry about that!

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Bethlehem: Church of the Nativity — The Unveiling!

During Christmas and Advent, Bethlehem—and the Church of the Nativity—are featured on many news broadcasts.

When visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, visitors (rightfully) focus on the “grotto” that is the “traditional” place of the birthplace of Jesus.  Prior to 2013 the Upper Church was a bit dingy and the mosaics on the upper walls and the paintings on the columns/pillars where not too visible.  Since 2013 visitors have been greeted with all kinds of scaffolding and curtains so that not much of the church—that was built by the Emperor Justinian (ruled 527–565)—was visible.

View of the interior of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in April 2016—during the process of restoration.

The Italians and Palestinians were/are involved in the still ongoing restoration project of the Church of the Nativity—that began ca. 2013.

However, in 2018, much of the restoration project is in the process of being unveiled—with stunning results!

View of the restored mosaics along the north wall of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  The register depicts the Council of Antioch—AD 277. Click on image to enlarge and/or Download.

The large register, below the windows, depicts the key decisions of six provincial councils.

The one in the center, inscribed in Greek within a church, is from the Council of Antioch (AD 277). The name “Antioch” is spelled out above the church—6 letters to the left of the dome and three to the right. The text reads: “the Holy Synod of Antioch in Syria of 33 bishops took place before the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea against Paul of Samosata who held that Christ was a mere man. The Holy Synod expelled him as a heretic.”

Note the angels between the windows. At the foot of the one third from the right, is the name of the artist—”Basilius Pictor.”

“The mosaic decorations on the walls of the nave date to the restoration of 1165–9.  Each side had three registers: the detailed description made by the Franciscan Qaresmius in 1628 enables us to complete the missing sections.” (Murphy–O’Connor, pp. 235-36).

Restored mosaic on the south wall of the Church of the Nativity. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

View of one of the restored mosaics on the south wall of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  The mosaics on the south wall commemorate the decisions of the six ecumenical councils.  I believe that the broken part on the left depicts the Council of Nicea (325) while the complete one in the center the Council of Constantinople (381).

In the upper portion note the image of a saint with a Greek inscription and below it Crusader graffiti. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

View of one of a restored column in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In the upper portion note the image of a saint and below it Crusader graffiti.

Most of the red limestone pillars, quarried near Bethlehem, served in the fourth century church. From 1130, the Crusaders decorated the upper part of the pillars with painting of saints whose names appear in Latin and Greek.

For additional views of the restored mosaics and columns Click Here.


Commentary from Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide From Earliest Times to 1700. Revised and expanded Fifth ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 236.

Herod or Jesus: Which “King” Has Had the Most Lasting Influence?

A site located about 7.5 miles south of Jerusalem called the Herodium is a site that looks like a volcano—but it is not!   The Herodium was built by Herod the Great (Matthew 2).  According to Josephus, a Jewish historian, the Herodium served as a palace/fortress for Herod the Great.  Herod was buried here in 4 B.C.  Later the Herodium served as a base for Jewish rebels during the first (A.D. 66-70) and second (A.D. 132-135) revolts against the Romans.

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View looking southwest at the volcanic-shaped Herodium
The Palace, Fortress, and Burial Site of Herod the Great
Click to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost/obligation

In addition, the Herodium is located only 3.5 miles southeast of Bethlehem—where Jesus (called the Christ) was born.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
The “Traditional” Site Where it is said that Jesus was born
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost or obligation

Herod was the king when Jesus was born—the same one who killed not only three of his sons, his favorite wife (Mariamne), the High Priest, his mother-in-law, but also the babies of Bethlehem (Matt 2:16).

Visitors to Israel are keenly aware of all the places built by Herod the Great and will probably visit Caesarea Maritima, the Temple Mount, and Masada.  And there are many others.  If fact, the land is littered with archaeological remains of places and buildings built by Herod.  But really, one must consider the lasting (cosmic?) significance of Herod versus that of the child that was born in the insignificant hamlet of Bethlehem—namely Jesus.

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The Ascended  Jesus Surrounded by Mary and John the Baptist
From the Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost or obligation

In spite of all the “oohing and aahing” at Herodian remains, today no one actually “worships” Herod—as they do Jesus.

Istanbul — An Informative 55 minute video

Here in the USA, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting air a 55 minute presentation of Istanbul.  This progam is NOW (13 September 2018) available on the internet, but I am not certain how long it will remain available.

The only well–known structure in the video is the Hagia Sophia.

Included is the well–known Hagia Sophia, and lesser–known places such as the Bucoleon Palace, the Hippodrome Cistern, the Ayazam Church, the Valen’s Aqueduct, etc.

I assume that this VIDEO is available worldwide at THIS LINK.

NB there are three items available.

  1. Hagia Sophia in 3D (3 min)— this did not impress me at all and seems to be poorly done.
  2. THE VIDEO — 54 minutes
  3. Nine pictures — not impressive

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb.

This tomb was discovered in 1867, at which time it was proposed that this was the burial place of Jesus, mainly because of its nearness to what would become known as “Gordon’s Calvary“.  Since that time, some Protestant piety has encouraged this identification, although the wardens of the property (The Garden Tomb Association) stress that it is the resurrection of Jesus, not the issue of finding the exact spot of his burial, that is important.

Inside of the tomb are the partial remains of a burial bench.  Looking at “burial place” #5 (below) The date of the tomb is not certain.

A plan of the interior of the tomb.

The Modern Door into the Tomb.

The Guides at  Garden Tomb stress that it is the resurrection of Jesus, not the issue of finding the exact spot of his burial, that is important.

To visit the official site of the Garden Tomb Association Click Here.

To view, what in my opinion is the best “rolling stone tomb” in Israel Click Here.

Another Gethsemane?

Christian travelers to the Holy Land will often visit the Church of All Nations and its associated garden and/or the Grotto of Gethsemane that is located to the north of it.  Both are associated with Jesus’ experience in the Garden on the night that he was betrayed.

The White Russian Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.

However, there is a third grotto that is located on the grounds of The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene where it is said that Jesus prayed on the night that he was betrayed.  Unfortunately the church compound is only open for visits for 4 hours each week, but its glistening golden domes are a familiar landmark on the western slope of the Mount of Olives.  It is a (white) Russian Orthodox Church built by the Czar Alexander III in 1888.  The church was dedicated to Alexander’s mother, Maria, but is named after Saint Mary Magdalene who was a follower of Jesus and is associated with anointing his body.  She was at the foot of the cross (John 19:25), and Jesus first appeared to her after his resurrection (John 20:1).

Entrance to the Gethsemane Cave on the grounds of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

Although not frequently visited by Christian Pilgrims it is believed by some that Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed in this cave on the night that he was betrayed.

View of the altar in the cave/chapel on the grounds of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

In addition to the icons, note the ossuary on the right side of the image.

To view additional, free, high–resolution images of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene Click Here

Near Megiddo — A House Church from AD 230!

Virtually all tour groups will visit Tel Megiddo on the south side of the Jezreel Valley.  From the mound, I have often pointed out the Israeli prison located to the southeast of Megiddo.  Why?  See below!

View from Megiddo looking southeast toward the prison—located beyond the trees in the upper right part of the image.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The above view is from the top of Megiddo, looking over the dump of the archaeologists toward the junction where the Wadi Ara enters the Jezreel Valley.  The prison is located beyond the trees in the upper right of the image.

Why is this prison important?  Well, in 2005 the remnants of a village were found there including wonderfully preserved mosaics from a Christian “house church” that dates to AD 230!  OK.  There might be some earlier house churches in Israel, but none, to my knowledge, that have mosaics like these.

This discovery is clearly reported, with multiple clear images,  in Haaretz “A Jew, an Early Christian and a Roman Meet in Archaeological  Park to Be built on Evacuated Prison.”  Note the following image, from the article, that mentions “to God Jesus Christ!”

Inscription found in Roman-era prayer house in Othnay, inside Megiddo Prison compound: “The god-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial” Dr. Yotam Tepper . — from Haaretz article

There are many many implications of this discovery, please see the article (6 minute read).