The St. Catherine’s Church, situated at the heart of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is essentially a Parish church and is a descendant of the Franciscan Monastery. For years now, the church has been considered as one of the top attractions of the city and justifiably so. It is built around the site where Jesus first appeared before St. Catherine of Alexandria in the 4th Century AD and prophesized her martyrdom. The unadulterated bond between Christianity and martyrdom can be traced back to the times of Christ; the world has always looked up to them, as the redeemers who “…do the right deed for the wrong reason” (‘Murder in the Cathedral’, T.S. Eliot) and thus, the religious significance of the place is unprecedented.
About St. Catherine
St. Catherine was known to have converted a lot of people to Christianity since an early age of 14 and was martyred only at the age of 18. She was led to her martyrdom by the Roman Emperor Maxentius during the time when the Romans were mercilessly persecuting the Christians. St. Catherine was first hung on a spiked wheel and then beheaded and it was from then that the phrase “Catherine Wheel” came into being. St. Catherine is mostly revered by the Eastern Orthodox Church and is remembered on her feast day which falls between 24th and 25th December.
Its evolution over the years
The Catholic church along with the Franciscan monastery showcase intriguing and significant structures that belong to different periods of history and owing to this implication, it is now a part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. The Church hosts a Christmas Eve Midnight Mass on the 24th of December every year and the entire event is recorded live only to be aired across the entire world. This site was fundamentally the home to a shrine built in 1347 and was dedicated to St. Catherine. However, the structure was worked on later and extended as a result of the funding issued by the Emperor of Austria only to be installed with the dominant constituents of the 12th Century Crusader Church and Charter House along with the bygone sanctuary of St. Jerome built of the 5th century. The church underwent remodeling once in 1948 and then later in 2013 to stretch its peripheries and accommodate a larger group of worshippers.
The principal spots
Right at the entrance of the Church, you will come across awe-inspiring arches that were introduced to it and are known as Jerome’s Cloister; this cloister accommodates the column and their capitals right from the 12th-century monastery. Apart from this, there a few other routes of entering the church such as the north transept, the Nativity Church, the cloisters and even the underground caves. Every detail of the Nativity scene has been sincerely delineated on the stained glass window of the church in about 2000 and forms its primary milieu. It has on its right, the Chapel of St. Eusebius containing the tombs of her daughter Eustochium and St. Jerome and to its left, there’s the Chapel of the Holy Innocents honoring the children of Bethlehem in Herod’s massacre.
Right at the roof of the church, the statue of St, Catherine stands tall overlooking its entire setting and is termed as one of the most brilliant pieces of impersonation. However, the chief attraction of the church is its underground caves- once you step in the caves, you will locate numerous ancient shrines and tombs and a narrow passage that would take you to the Church of Nativity. Let us also bring it to your notice that it was in one of these grottoes that St. Jerome was perceived to have translated the Bible from Latin to English thus, initiating its universality.