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Past Watch Site
CHURCH OF THE HOLY NATIVITY
Bethlehem, Palestinian Territory
- WMF Program:2008 Watch
Located on the spot said to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the Church of the Nativity is one of the most sacred Christian sites in the world. Emperor Constantine founded a church on the site in A.D. 330, and Christians have actively worshiped there ever since. Following a revolt and the destruction of the original church by the Samaritans in A.D. 529, Emperor Justinian ordered a larger church to be built atop the Constantinian site, which is the basis of the structure we see today.
The roof timbers of the church are rotting, and have not been replaced since the nineteenth century. Rainwater seeps into the building and damages not only its structural elements but also its twelfth-century wall mosaics and paintings. Due to this influx of water, there is also an ever-present chance of an electrical short-circuit and fire. In 1834, the church suffered extensive earthquake damage, and, given the present condition of the sanctuary, another earthquake would be catastrophic. For the site to be preserved, its three custodians—the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, and the Franciscan order—would have to coordinate their efforts, but such a collaboration has not occurred in nearly a thousand years. Political factors also affect the church, as the Israeli Government and the Palestinian National Authority would also have to cooperate to protect it. It is hoped that Watch listing will call attention to the importance of this building and the threats it faces.
In September 2010 an agreement was reached for the restoration of the roof of the church funded by the Palestinian Authority. In 2011 Palestine was admitted as a UNESCO member state, and the site was inscribed on the World Heritage List and on the List of World Heritage in Danger. In October 2012, France announced an additional €200,000 in support to the Palestinian Authority for restoration. December 2012