3

A FORTRESS
OF LIGHT

The Transformations
of the Crusades
(twelfth century)

The third section guides visitors through the transformations of the basilica during the Crusades. Among the most significant modifications are the construction of the fortress to welcome new waves of pilgrims from the West, the decoration of the majority of the nave columns, and the complete remaking of the mosaic decoration that illuminates the upper walls of the basilica with its gold, nacre, and glass tiles.

Although only 130 square meters survive from the alleged 2,000 square meters of the original wall mosaic, their beauty is enough to demonstrate the deep reverence shown to this basilica during the Middle Ages by the people of the prosperous city of Bethlehem.

“This church is beautiful and covered with lead. Its pillars, with architraves and capitals, are made of the very same noble marble that covers the floor. The walls are adorned with gold, silver and many colours, and the building is enriched with every form of pictorial art you may think of.”

Thietmar, 1217