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Persians Spared Church of the Nativity

The church was spared during the Persian invasion of 614 when, legend says, the invaders saw a mosaic on the facade showing the Magi - the three kings who brought gifts to the infant Jesus - dressed in Persian robes. Considering the site already theirs, they left the basilica alone.

Local Muslims, who for centuries had been permitted to use part of the church for prayer, spared it from a 1009 order of the Fatimid caliph Hakim to destroy Christian shrines. During the Arab Muslim conquest, many churches - including Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre - were heavily damaged or destroyed, but the Church of the Nativity survived….

Over the years, fires and earthquakes added to the damage done to the church by people, said interfaith scholar Daniel Rossing. But in the past three centuries, infighting among Christian sects overshadowed outside threats.

A dispute among Greeks, Armenians and Latins in the 1980s over who had the right to clean a 1.7-square-metre patch of wall and an overhead beam led to blows between clerics armed with chains and broomsticks. At one point, a ladder was yanked out from under a monk who was 4.5 metres up trying to wash the beam, recalled Rossing, then director of the Department for Christian Communities in Israel's Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Handling maintenance of an area in effect means controlling it, meaning every centimetre of the church is coveted. Rossing, who negotiated a solution to the dispute, will only say that the arrangement was elaborate.

- Of Jerusalem's ancient Church of the Nativity, in a 4/9/02 article in the Toronto Star