Church Of The Nativity In Bethlehem May Become Palestine’s First World Heritage Site

Bethlehem
The government of Palestine is applying to put the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It would be the first such site for the emerging nation.

The government of Palestine is eager to increase its recognition among the community of nations. While 130 countries recognize it as a country, a few don’t, most notably the United States and Israel. When Palestine was accepted into the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization with a vote of 107-14, the U.S. and Israel protested being outvoted by not paying their UNESCO dues.

The church in Bethlehem is built on the supposed site of the birth of Jesus Christ. There has been a church here since the reign of Constantine, the emperor who made Christianity the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine completed a basilica there in the year 333. That building burnt down and was rebuilt in 565.

Despite changes and expansions over the centuries, the interior has many original elements, including early Byzantine mosaics. Beneath the basilica lies a cave that is the purported birthplace of Jesus, with a fourteen-pointed star marking the exact spot.

The World Monuments Fund put the church on its list of a 100 Most Endangered Sites, citing decay of the structure. The Palestinian Authority responded by announcing a multimillion-dollar restoration campaign. Placement of the building on the UNESCO World Heritage List would help bring attention to its fragile state.

UNESCO will decide whether to put the church on the list later this month.

[Photo courtesy Lewis Larsson]

Early Christian art on display at the Onassis Cultural Center, NYC

early Christian art, David plate
It’s often called the Dark Ages, a time when barbarian hordes overran Rome and that great civilization’s art, culture, and learning disappeared. A time when there were no great achievements.

It’s a misnomer.

Rome did not fall in the fifth century with the usurpation of the last emperor in Rome in 476. To the east, at the new capital of Constantinople, modern Istanbul, the Eastern Roman Empire was starting a new renaissance in art and administration that would become known as Byzantium.

An exhibition in New York City’s Onassis Cultural Center explores the place of early Christianity in these often misunderstood years. Transition to Christianity: Art of Late Antiquity, 3rd to 7th Century AD opened yesterday and runs until May 14, 2012.

The exhibition brings together more than 170 objects from collections in Greece, Cyprus, and the US. There are a wide range of objects including mosaics, paintings, sculptures, architectural elements, inscriptions, coins, liturgical objects, jewelry, and domestic items. The timeline spans the last years of paganism and the rise of Christianity as a tolerated and eventually the official religion.

Early Christian art took on many of the forms and styles of earlier Roman art, as you can see from this 7th century silver plate, shown here in a Wikimedia Commons image. This is one of the nine so-called David Plates, commissioned by the Emperor Heraklios (ruled 610-641), whose victory over the Persians was compared to David’s defeat of Goliath. In this plate David is being presented to Saul (1 Samuel 17:32–34). The figures are dressed like Roman aristocracy.

The exhibition looks at many facets of late Antiquity including the interaction of paganism and Christianity, daily life, the importance of cities, and funerary art.

Of course the “barbarians” had art of their own. While that’s beyond the scope of this exhibition, many museums have collections of the Germanic tribes’ unique styles of jewelry, glasswork, and carving. The British Museum has an especially good collection.