Church of the Week: Church of St. Catherine

The lovely Robin and I re-visited the (Roman Catholic) Franciscan Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria on our most recent trip to Bethlehem (January 2010). The present church was built in 1882 on the ruins of a Crusader church and monastery belonging to the Augustinians. The colonnade of the present atrium (designed in 1948 by Antonio Barluzzi) incorporates surviving elements of the medieval cloister and a statue of Jerome in the courtyard.

It is a beautiful church, contiguous to the more famous Church of the Nativity, and built over the same complex of caves that includes (under the altar of the Church of the Nativity) the Grotto of the Nativity, where Jesus was born. This church (below) is where the Midnight Mass is held and broadcast around the world every year on Christmas.

In the caves below are found the tomb of St. Eusebius of Cremona, successor of St. Jerome, and superior of the monastery that once stood here. The common tombs of Saints Paula and Eustochium are in a room on the left, and opposite these tombs, there is the tomb of St. Jerome, whose remains are now in Rome. The last chapel is that of St. Jerome, where he lived and worked on translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the Latin Vulgate, starting in the year 384.

The church is named for St. Catherine of Alexandria, about whom nothing is known before the eighth century. She is buried in St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai.

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