4

THE DARK
CENTURIES

The Downfall
of the Basilica

The fourth section explores the long phase of decline which started during the ninth century and overshadowed the magnificence of the Church of the Nativity.

The chronicles of pilgrims recount how the marble covering had been taken away, the wall mosaics had started to crumble, and the condition of the roof had become precarious. This critical situation mirrored the religious tensions that, in 1852, led to the creation of the Status Quo: a decree issued by the Sultan of Constantinople that meticulously regulated the modalities, rituals, and jurisdictions of the three religious congregations that have since managed the church as part of this decree – the Greek Orthodox, Franciscan, and Armenian churches.

“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 “The church looked like an empty granary, like a pharmacy without the apothecary vases, like a library with no books. Doves and sparrows flew freely inside and outside, coming in from the holes in the roof, which they still do”.

Father Felix Faber, 1480, 1483