The façade

The façade

The façade, whose style as a result of the continuous modifications does not seem very clear, belongs to the structure from the Justinian period. A close examination will reveal three entry doors, which were later walled shut.

The Byzantine façade would have presented a majestic and imposing appearance, with its three large entrances to the nave and two of the aisles. Compared to the earlier Constantinian structure, the Byzantine façade, preceded by a narthex, was extended by the width of an intercolumniation.

The small entrance door is the result of several reductions in size that took place over time: one can easily recognize the large central door from the Byzantine era with its horizontal architrave and diagonally-placed stones.

With the arrival of the Crusaders, the door was reduced to conform to the style preferred by Western knights, in order to better protect the Holy Place. Visible evidence of this is provided by the remains of the pointed arch that can be identified in the walls.

During the Ottoman period the dimensions of the doorway were further reduced, hence the size of the current door, in order to impede access by those seeking to desecrate the place of worship. Thus the door reflects to a certain extent the alternating phases of Christianity in Bethlehem: periods in which freedom of worship guaranteed the recognition of the Christian faith, and others in which persecutions and intolerance rendered difficult the life of the local communities.

The other two Byzantine doors, now covered by the perimeter walls of the church and by buttresses installed during the Crusader period, allow one to imagine the sense of majesty and beauty the Byzantine church must have inspired among those who arrived there on pilgrimage (as is indeed attested by various witnesses).

The façade

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