Church of the Holy Nativity

World Monuments Watch
Bethlehem, Palestinian Territory

2008 World Monuments Watch

Located on the spot said to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the Church of the Nativity is one of the most sacred places in Christianity. 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 sanctuary 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.

In 1834 the church suffered extensive earthquake damage and, given the condition of the sanctuary over a century and a half later, another earthquake would be catastrophic. The building’s roof timbers were rotting by the time it was included on the 2008 World Monuments Watch, as they had not been replaced since the nineteenth century. Rainwater seeped into the church and damaged not only its structural elements but also its twelfth-century wall mosaics and paintings. Due to this influx of water, there was an ever-present chance of an electrical short-circuit and fire. For the site to be preserved, its three custodians—the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, and the Franciscan order—needed to coordinate their efforts, but such a collaboration had not occurred in nearly a thousand years. Political factors also affected the church, as the Israeli Government and the Palestinian National Authority also needed to cooperate to protect it. The objective of the site’s inclusion on the Watch was to call attention to its importance and the threats it faced.

Since the Watch

In September 2010 a landmark agreement was reached for the restoration of the church’s roof, under the aegis of 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. Repairs to the roof, roof beams, windows, mosaics and art objects started in the fall of 2013, designed to halt the progressive deterioration of the historic interior. Conservation of the wall plastering and external masonry is underway. It is estimated that the restoration will not be completed until 2019 at the earliest. Funding has been provided by various European governments and Palestinian donors, but $11 million more will be required for completion of the project. In 2019, the Church of the Nativity was removed from the World Heritage in Danger List.

Last updated: September 2019.

Join us in safeguarding significant places.