Relic from manger is re­turned to Holy Land

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BELIEF - By Joseph Krauss

JERUSALEM — Chris­tians cel­e­brated the return to the Holy Land of a tiny wooden relic they be­lieve was part of Je­sus’ manger.

The thumb-size relic was un­veiled to wor­ship­pers Fri­day at the Notre Dame church in Jerusalem for a day of celebratio­ns. Its per­ma­nent home will be at the Fran­cis­can Church of St. Cather­ine, next to the Church of the Na­tiv­ity in Beth­le­hem, the West Bank holy site where tra­di­tion says Je­sus was born.

Chris­tian tra­di­tion holds that Joseph and Mary trav­eled to Beth­le­hem to reg­is­ter for the Ro­man cen­sus and found no room at the inn, forc­ing her to give birth to Je­sus in a manger where an­i­mals were held. The idea that the son of

God was born in hum­ble sur­round­ings is cen­tral to Chris­tian the­ol­ogy.

A wooden struc­ture that Chris­tians be­lieve was part of the manger was sent by St. Sophro­nius, the pa­tri­arch of Jerusalem, to Pope Theodore I in the 640s, around the time of the Mus­lim con­quest of the Holy Land.

Brother Francesco Pat­ton, the cus­to­dian of the Fran­cis­can or­der in the Holy Land, said the wooden manger was given to Pope Theodore I as a gift be­cause the pope was him­self from the Holy Land and it would have strength­ened ties with the church. He said the wooden struc­ture is too frag­ile now to move, so Pope Fran­cis de­cided to return a small part of it in­stead.

Yisca Harani, an Is­raeli ex­pert on Chris­tian­ity, said

many relics were re­lo­cated from the Holy Land in the Mid­dle Ages as Rome and other ci­ties were es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as cen­ters of Chris­tian life.

She said the return of the relic “is def­i­nitely a statement say­ing the Vat­i­can and the Holy Land are together.”

Gali Tib­bon / AFP

A wooden relic be­lieved to be part of Je­sus’ manger was re­turned to Beth­le­hem on Satur­day.

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