THE CHURCH OF ST. CATHERINE

THE CHURCH OF ST. CATHERINE

Saint Catherine Church works both as a parish and a Franciscan monastery. Beneath the Church, there is also a cave complex. In 2012 UNESCO World Heritage listed it as the birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem.

In 1347, the Chapel was dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria and constructed in a modern Gothic theme. However, it has been modernized over time. This Church is most famous for celebrating Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Here the celebration of Mass is televised to millions of viewers worldwide. The Church is also frequented and visited by groups of Christian pilgrims traveling to Bethlehem.

Little is known of St. Catherine of Alexandria with few reliable facts about her life, though she has been respected in Eastern and Western Christian Churches. According to tradition, in the 4th-century, the well-educated Egyptian noble became a martyr. At 18 years of age, she challenged the emperor Maximian for persecuting Christians. This angered the emperor, who sentenced her to death on the spiked wheel, hence the term “Catherine wheel.” However, when St. Catherine touched the wheel, it broke. She was then executed by beheading, and tradition says angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where a monastery and Church were built later in the 6th century in her honor.

Like so many chapels in the Holy Land, St. Catherine was built over the ruins of a previous church. In this case, a Crusader-era church and Monastery belonging to the Augustinians were there. Underneath the paving of the cloister is the foundation of the earlier Church, and the door to the Crusader chapel is on the southwest corner. Here you’ll find remnants of Crusader-era wall paintings restored in the 1950s.

A stairway on the right side of the nave goes down to the complex caves and chambers cut out from the rock. These include the Cave of St. Jerome and the Chapel of Holy Innocents.

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