1500-Year-old Concealed ‘Font Within A Font’ Found At Jesus’ Birthplace
A remarkable find has been announced at the Church of the Nativity, which Christians believe marks the location of Jesus Christ’s birthplace. Experts who have been working on restoring the have announced the discovery of a 1500-year-old baptismal font. This dates to the Byzantine era and was curiously found enclosed in a later baptismal font. The discovery is expected to help experts better understand the history and development of the site which dates to the Roman Empire.
The Church of the Nativity is located in the West Bank town of Bethlehem and is approximately 7 miles (10 kilometers) south of Jerusalem. It was built on the orders of Emperor Constantine in 330 AD, as a place of worship to honor the birth of Christ whom Christians and the Bible hold to be the son of God.
The church is the oldest site of worship of Christianity that’s been in constant use, and it forms part of a larger religious complex, which includes three monasteries of different Christian denominations. In the church, there is a silver star that marks the purported spot where Jesus was born, which is surrounded by lamps representing the various Christian churches.
A silver star marks the site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. (Cezary Wojtkowski / Adobe Stock)
Restoration Project Uncovers Baptismal Font
The Times of Israel has stated that in “2013, UNESCO declared the church a World Heritage Site”. The church has fallen into a state of disrepair in recent years and the Palestinian authority announced a restoration project for the church in 2013. In an earlier phase of the restoration work, a Byzantine mosaic of an angel was revealed.
During the most recent restoration work, the hidden ancient font was found, to the amazement of all in the project. This is a receptacle that was filled with holy water and was used in the Christian sacrament of baptism.
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The discovered baptismal font was inside a larger font. (Science News / YouTube Screenshot)
“It was discovered hidden inside the existing octagonal baptismal font,” reports the Christian Headlines. It was actually located in the bowl of the larger receptacle. The newly discovered baptismal font is circular and is made out of stone and is decorated with leaf motifs. It consists of a large bowl that is placed on a plinth.
The Mystery of the Baptismal Font in a Font
Ziad al-Bandak, head of a Palestinian presidential committee overseeing the restoration of the Church of the Nativity, has hailed the discovery of the receptacle at a press conference, held at the holy site. He stated that the find is a very significant one for the church and historic biblical town. Al-Bandak is quoted by the Daily Mail as stating that “Nobody knows why it has been covered and put in this place and never written in any historical book about it. Either in the church or in the historical books”.
Press conference held at the holy site about the discovery of the baptismal font. (Science News / YouTube Screenshot)
According to Fox News, “The font is estimated to date back to between 501 and 600 AD”. This was when Bethlehem was part of the Byzantine Empire, the heirs of the Romans. Based on the study of the stone used to make the vessel, it is believed to be as old as the columns in the church, which were erected during the 4 th century AD.
History of Restoration Work
The holy place has been restored many times through the centuries. It was renovated after it was badly damaged during a revolt against the Byzantines in the 6 th century AD. This roughly corresponds to the dating of the baptismal font. There is a possibility that the enclosing of the smaller receptacle in a later font was related to repairs carried out after the revolt was ended.
LiveScience, reports that al-Bandak revealed that foreign and local researchers “have been invited to study the font and get a better sense of the church's history”. They will hopefully establish why the baptismal font was hidden in the larger vessel. The receptacle can also help them to understand the evolution of the church which marks the site of the nativity.
Church of the Nativity where the baptismal font was discovered. (Geagea / CC BY-SA 2.0)
A celebration was planned for the successful completion of the restoration work this year. However, this has been pushed back until 2020. This is to allow the three Christian denominations to complete work on the Church of Nativity’s grotto, as planned. It is hoped that the discovery of the new baptismal font will attract more Christian pilgrims. The supposed place of Christ’s birth is very popular with visitors at Christmas and this is very important for the local economy in Bethlehem.
Top image: 1500-year-old baptismal font discovered at place of Jesus’ birth. Source: Christian Media Center – English / YouTube Screenshot.
By Ed Whelan