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Church of the Mother of God

Source: Postcard published by the church in the early 1980s


The Church is located about two blocks from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.


+972 2/74 47 57

Mailing Address

P.O. Box 1010
Bethlehem, Israel

A Brief History of the Church

The history of the community in Bethlehem goes back to the late 19th century when a few Syriac Orthodox families settled there. As a result of the calamities that befell the Christians of Ottoman Turkey after World War I (seyfo), many families migrated to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, primarily from Isfis, Azekh, Middo, and Ma`sarteh, with a couple of families from Kharput, Adiaman and Mardin. At an unknown date (probably prior to 1913), a monk purchased a house west of Omar's Mosque in Bethlehem for 50 gold Liras and donated it to the Monastery of St. Mark (Jersualem). The upper floor with two rooms were used for worship services; the parish priest lived on the middle floor and the St. Ephrem school occupied the lower floor. Later, a board under the name of St. Ephrem was formed in 1922 and purchased the land upon which the current church is built. On 19 Sept 1927, the late Patriarch Mor Ignatius Elias III placed the corner stone on that property for a church.

Shortly thereafter, the number of immigrants increased and outgrew the modest building that housed the church. As funds were lacking, the entire community worked with their hands to build the current church. The elders of the community still fondly remember Patriarch Mor Elias III with a showel working with the rest of the community. The new church was completed in 1943. The old church building is now used as the community's social hall (the altar and the burial place for the priests was sealed and is accessed by a small door from the social hall's kitchenette).

On Feb 7, 1943, the church was dedicated under the name of the Virgin Mary by Mor Philoxenus Jacob of Salah, then Bishop of Jerusalem. A tower was then built at a total cost of tower 2,000 Jordianian Dinars, with four electric bells imported from Germany; it was dedicated on Dec 4, 1966 by Mor Dioscorus Luka Shaya, then Bishop of Jerusalem.

In April 2002, Palestinian gunmen took refuge in the church and later at the adjacent Church of Nativity with Israeli army in pursuit thus putting the church in the international media spotlight.

The siege of the church. April 3, 2002

Parish Priests who have served the Church (until 2002)

  • Ibrahim Zaytun
  • Hanna Zaytun
  • Gabriel Jabu
  • Abdul Ahad Sarkar
  • Michael Barja`
  • Isaac Kosto
  • Jacob Joseph Isaac

Fr. Jacob Isaac who serves the church (as of 2002) was ordained priest for Bethlehem on 15 Nov 1959 by the late Patriarch Mor Ya`qub III. He was born in Bartelli, Iraq, in 1932, attended St. Ephrem Seminary (in Mosul), and later taught there for 5 years. He resided at the Dayro d-Mor Mattay from 1958-59 until his ordination in 1959.

Organizations and Publications

St. Ephrem School. The school was established 1913. It was first located in the aforementioned house and then moved to the current location near the current church. It was closed during WWI and resumed in 1919 after the British Mandate began (the Mandate Government supported the school with 28 Egyptian Jineh). An additional room was added in 1937, and a committee was formed consisting of Abdulahad Khamis, Saliba Masriyyah and Shukri Ketlo. As of 2002, the school has only two classes.

St. Ephrem Society was established in 1932 with encouragement of Mor Gregorios Afram of Sadad and was responsible for the construction of the current larger church. In 1927, the society purchased the current cemetery on the road to Beit Sahur for 90 Palestinian Liras. They also continued to purchase properties around the current church, the total cost of which was 10,000 Palestinian Dinars in 1944 (according to a colophon in the Church's Phanqitho).

Club and Scouts. The club was established in 1949, and moved to its current location (the old church) in 1955. The scouts were established in 1958, and women were included in the late 1970s. A Young Ladies League, was also established in 1951 and its first president was Nijmeh Abdulahad Khamis. The league was active only for a few years.

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Last Update: September 22, 2002