Tag Archives: Barluzzi

Bethlehem

Nativity bell towersBethlehem is a city in the Palestinian Authority with a population of 21,947 and another about 25,000 in the neighboring towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jalla. The majority (72%) in the district are Muslim today. Christians in Bethlehem constitute less than 15% of the population (Fifty years ago, Christians made up more than 70% of the population). In the Hebrew Bible, the city is described as the birthplace of King David, in the New Testament, as the birthplace of Jesus, and hence is a center of Christian pilgrimage. Although Israelis are not allowed by Israeli law to enter areas of the Palestinian Authority, I have authorization as an Israeli tour guide to take foreign tourists to Bethlehem and Jericho.

The main attraction in Bethlehem is the Church of the Nativity which stands at one end of Manger Square facing the Mosque of Omar. On the sides of the square are restaurants, souvenir shops, and a modern building that houses the Tourist Information Center, a bookstore, a restaurant and an exhibition hall which currently has a display of creches, the models of Jesus’ birth in the manger from Christian communities around the world, each in their own native style.

Mosque Omar, Manger Sq

The Church of the Nativity was begun in 327 CE by Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus as told in the Gospels of Mathew and Luke; the sanctuary had an octagonal floor plan centered directly above the cave and was completed in 339 CE.

Nativity pre529

Nativity todayThis church was destroyed by fire during the Samaritan Revolts in 529 CE. Justinian rebuilt a new basilica in 565 CE similar to the original, making it one of the oldest surviving churches.  In this plan, the octagonal sanctuary was replaced, being enlarged to three apses. Since then the church has had numerous additions, including its prominent bell towers. The Church of the Nativity is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first to be submitted by the Palestine Authority.

Wooden trap doors give access to portions of the original geometric floor mosaics that survive from Constantine’s church.

C Nativity mosaic

Twice the church was spared, by the Persians during their invasion in 614 CE because, according to legend, they were impressed by a representation of the Magi — fellow Persians — that decorated the building. In 1009 the Muslims prevented the application of el Hakim’s decree ordering the destruction of Christian monuments because, since the time of Omar, they had been permitted to use the south transept for worship.

Entrances Church of NativityJustinian’s building had three imposing doorways of which only the central one is now in use (the left entrance is blocked by a buttress, the right by an Armenian hall for pilgrims). The one remaining doorway has been severely constricted – in the Crusader period, it was lowered with a Gothic arch; after 1515, the entrance was further reduced to prevent looters entering with horses and wagons – today it’s called the Door of Humility. Under Crusader rule the church was comprehensively redecorated, the interior walls  covered with gold mosaics. and a unique assembly of Crusader art was painted on the red limestone columns. Access to the grotto is via a pair of Crusader Gothic doorways on either side of the raised sanctuary, the bronze metal doors and baptismal font are from Justinian.

Beside the church is an elegant medieval cloister which was restored in 1948 by Barluzzi. The adjoining Church of St. Catherine is built in a more modern Gothic revival style. Beneath the church is a series of caves where St. Jerome lived and worked on the Vulgate, his translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Latin (having previously translated portions from the Greek Septuagint which came from Alexandria) from 384 CE.

From Bethlehem you can drive east through Beit Sahour to Shepherd’s Field, the site where the shepherds saw the Star of Nativity. There are two rival locations, one Greek Orthodox and the other Franciscan. Both sites have been excavated, and there have been churches and monasteries on both sites since the 4th century. This area is also believed to be where Ruth the Moabite gleaned in the fields of Boaz behind the harvesters. Ruth married Boaz and had a son Oved, the father of Jesse who was the father of King David.

The Greek Orthodox site is at Kanisat al-Ruwat and includes a cave used as a church from the 4th century, of which the barrel-vaulted roof (5th century) still survives; today, a new large church has been built on top. About 600m to the north is the Franciscan site with a low natural cave or rock shelter that is used as a modern chapel. Above is a modern church built by Barluzzi in 1954, shaped like a tent and decorated with a beautiful bronze angel by Duilio Cambellotti.

Shepherd Field Church

If you continue east, perched on the cliff above the Kidron valley is the Monastery of Mar Saba dating back to 483 CE.

Solomons Pool

West of Bethlehem are three large reservoirs from the Hasmonean period, called Solomon’s Pools, that stored the water from two aqueducts from springs in the Hebron Hills. From these pools the Upper and Lower aqueducts continued via Bethlehem, Armon HaNatziv, Abu Tor to the Old City (remains of the aqueduct can still be seen along the route); another aqueduct was built by King Herod to bring water to Herodium. The Palestinian Authority have built a large conference center with a restaurant and small archaeological museum overlooking the pools.

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Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth

The Church of the Annunciation has a long history. In the middle of the 4th century, a shrine with altar was built in the cave in which Mary had lived. Emperor Constantine commissioned a larger structure when his mother, Helena, visited the Holy Land to discover the locations of and commemorate important events in Jesus’ life. The Church of the Annunciation was founded around the same time as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem [interesting that Barluzzi worked on all three of these important churches]. It was known to still exist around 570 CE, but was destroyed in the 7th century after the Muslim conquest.

The second church was built over the ruins of the Byzantine era church during the Crusades, after the conquest of Nazareth by Tancred in 1102 but was never completed. Saladin’s victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Hittin in 1187 ended construction of the church. Five Crusader Romanesque capitals carved by stonemasons from northern France were discovered during excavations along with artifacts from the Middle Bronze Age, Israelite period, Herodian-Roman  and Byzantine periods are in the small museum in the Franciscan convent. In 1260, Baybars and his Mamluk army destroyed the church during their attack on Nazareth.

The Franciscans received permission to return to Nazareth in 1620 and constructed a small structure to enclose the holy grotto that is venerated as the house of Mary. In 1730, they received permission to construct a new church, which was enlarged in 1877.

Church of Annunciation, Nazareth, 1945

Church of Annunciation, Nazareth, 1945

This church stood until 1954 when it was demolished to enable the construction of a new basilica.

In 1924 Ferdinando Diotallevi, the custos, or head of the Franciscan Custody, with the approval of Pope Pius XI began to plan a new basilica to commemorate the Annunciation in Nazareth. Diotallevi intended to entrust the building of the church to Antonio Barluzzi, a young architect who had already proved his abilities and qualifications by building the Church of the Agony (Gethsemane, 1922-24) in Jerusalem and the Church of the Transfiguration on top of Mount Tabor (1919–24) for the Franciscan Custody. Barluzzi was asked to submit his plans for the Church of the Annunciation, but the project was aborted, due to political tensions inside and outside the Custody.

The idea of rebuilding the church emerged again fifteen years later in 1939 when the new custos, Alberto Gori, reappointed Barluzzi to the project. During World War II Barluzzi resided in Italy returning to the Holy Land in 1947. During that time he designed two churches. The first was the incredibly ambitious project of rebuilding the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The new plan was prepared by Barluzzi and Luigi Marangoni but was never built [sometimes an architect’s best plans are never actualized, check out Louis Kahn and the Hurva synagogue].

Model Church of Holy Sepulcher, Barluzzi

The second was the design for the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth which Barluzzi thought would be his final work in the Holy Land.

Barluzzi designed a church in eclectic style, using contemporary construction technique, reinforced concrete covered mostly by local limestone. The church was a concentric building dominated by a large dome reminiscent of St. Peters in Rome and surrounded by four towers dedicated to the four evangelists. The towers symbolized the voices announcing to the four corners of the world the event of the Incarnation – critics said the building looked too much like a mosque. In the plan, the length of the church was 90 meters, and the height from the ground to the cross on top of the dome was 72 meters, a very large building. Inside, Barluzzi designed a rotunda over the holy grotto and four wings for the requirements of the liturgy. Like his other projects Barluzzi was involved in the smallest details of the inner decoration far beyond the usual level of architectural planning. For each statue he designated a location, character, symbolic meaning, and connection to the main theme of the church. By 1941, Barluzzi had prepared many sketches of the church and a model on scale of 1:100, and his plans were approved by Father Leonardo Bello, the minister general of the Franciscan order.

Barluzzi drawing Annunciation

Model Church of Annunciation, Barluzzi

All the necessary permits were obtained from the State of Israel, and in December 1954, the year designated by the Vatican as the Year of Mary, the cornerstone of the church that corresponded to Barluzzi’s plan was laid in a well-attended ceremony. However, four years later, in 1958, the new Franciscan custos, Alfredo Polidori took the project from Barluzzi.

Barluzzi wrote in his diary: On 3rd February 1958 the Custos of the Holy Land replaced me by the architect Muzio of Milan to build the Nazareth sanctuary. This gave me heart trouble all night long.. I am going back to Rome and I will seek refuge at the Delegation of the Holy Land…

Barluzzi died on December 14, 1960 in a small room at the Delegation of the Holy Land.

The new basilica was designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio of Milan, one of the leading architects of the Novecento style who came to Israel for the first time in 1958. Muzio planned the church as a fortress, to contrast the new church with the remains of the earlier  churches – he meant to convey that its fate, unlike that of its predecessors, would be different. The fortified nature of the church is evident in its size and strength, its seclusion from the urban surroundings, and the details of the building, like narrow windows, almost slits. The church dimensions are 44.6 meters long and 27 meters wide, and the dome height is 55 meters, still a large church. The outer walls are covered in light-colored combinations of local stone with modern reliefs and engravings that decorate the southern and western façades. It seems that the church was based on an earlier St. Antonio church that was built by Muzio in Varese, Italy.

Church of Annunciation, Muzio

Muzio actually erected two churches, one on top of the other. The lower church protects the valuable archaeological remains of the Byzantine-era church which are displayed next to the holy grotto, the perimeter of the modern church follows the outer limits of the walls of the Crusader-era church. The upper church is designated for the celebration of the liturgy. The upper church is connected to the monastery by a suspended courtyard that protects the underlying remains of the ancient village of Nazareth from the time of Jesus that was discovered during excavation work in 1955.

Annunciation Church grotto

Inside, the modern style of Muzio’s work manifests itself in the extensive use of exposed reinforced concrete and sharp angles. The stained glass windows are striking.

Annunciation church stained glass

The church is decorated by works of art dedicated to Mary and to the Annunciation that were donated by every nation of the Catholic world. Muzio was not involved in choosing the art. The church was built by the Israeli building firm Solel Boneh during the years 1960-69 and cost 2 million dollars.

Annunciation church dome

Chuch of Annunciation, Interior

Church of Annunciation, Interior 2


For an excellent in-depth analysis, see Masha Halevi’s article, “The Politics Behind the Construction of the Modern Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth” at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/catholic_historical_review/v096/96.1.halevi.html

Two Churches: Mary and Jesus

Two Churches: Old and New

In the Kidron valley is a church built on a rock cut cave that is the tomb of Mary, mother of Jesus. Through the centuries the cruciform (in the shape of a cross) church was destroyed many times but the facade and wide staircase descending to the tomb is from the Crusader period. On the left side of the staircase a chapel to Joseph, Mary’s husband, on the right a chapel to Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne; Queen Melisende is also buried there. Today the Greek Orthodox Church is in possession of the shrine, sharing it with the Armenian Apostolic Church (the Syriacs, the Copts, and the Abyssinians have minor rights). A niche on the southern wall is a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca, installed when Muslims had joint rights to the church.

In a courtyard off the Via Dolorosa in the Old City is a small church that reminds me of the Crusader church. The Church of the Flagellation, marks the Second Station of the Cross, where according to tradition, Roman soldiers flogged Jesus and placed a crown of thorns on his head after he was brought to Pontius Pilate. The architect, Antonio Barluzzi, rebuilt this church in 1929, in medieval style over ancient ruins. Barluzzi designs churches so that the style and decoration preserve the history and recall the events that happened at the site. The facade has one central opening with a Crusader style pillow-shaped arch that incorporates a crown of thorns. There are 10 icons under the roof, a crown of thorns, two representations of a cat of nine tails (see if you can recognize the others, for example there is an image of a rooster and 3 stars*). The floor is made of small, inlaid colored stones in geometric patterns.

Probably the most impressive part of the church are three large stained glass windows: on the left, Pilate washing his hands of the affair, on the right, the victory cry of Barabbas, in front, the flogging of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns amidst the soldiers. Above is a dome in gold mosaic and decorated with a crown of thorns intertwined with flowers.

 

Click on the thumbnails above to display a larger image (these are quite incredible stained glass images). Included below is a closeup of the dome.

Near the church of the Tomb of Mary are two other Barluzzi churches, the Church of the Agony at Gethsemane, also known as All Nations and the Franciscan chapel farther up the Mount of Olives, Dominus Flevit. You can contact me about arranging a tour to visit Barluzzi churches including:

  1. St Veronica Church, VI Station of Via Dolorosa
  2. Chapel, XI Station in Church of Holy Sepulcher
  3. Church of Visitation, Ein Kerem
  4. Church of Lazarus, Bethpage
  5. Mount of Beatitudes, Galilee
  6. Church of Transfiguration, Mount Tabor

* Rooster and 3 stars refer to Jesus’ prophecy at Gethsemane that Peter will deny him 3 times before the cock crows