JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A fragment of wood reputed to be from the manger where Jesus was laid after his humble birth went on display in Jerusalem on Friday, ahead of its transfer to Bethlehem for the official launch of the Christmas season.
The wood piece, just a few centimetres (inches) long, was once kept in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. It was handed over earlier this week to the custodian of the Bethlehem church, who said it brought “great honor to believers and pilgrims in the area”.
It was unveiled to the public at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, encased in a silver-colored ornamental table-top stand, and will later be taken to Bethlehem, known to Christians as the birthplace of Jesus.
There, it is expected to be placed inside Saint Catherine’s Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square, in time for the lighting of the Christmas tree on Saturday.
The provenance of ancient relics is often questionable. Still, they are revered by the Christian faithful, among them the coachloads of pilgrims who squeeze through a narrow sandstone entrance in the Church of the Nativity all year round to visit the birth grotto that is its centrepiece.
“We are excited and thank the pope, the holy father, Francis, for the gift and the right to safeguard the holy relic,” Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land for the Catholic church, said in a statement.
The relic, according to the statement, dates back more than 2,000 years and “was part of the manger in which Baby Jesus was laid”. It was sent to the Vatican in the 7th century.
Bethlehem, in the West Bank, is always busy ahead of Christmas on Dec. 25, especially for Christians who make up around 1% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Reporting by Ammar Awad; Editing by Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry