Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

A titular see of Palestine. The early name of the city was Ephrata; afterwards Bethlehem, "House of Bread"; today Beith-Lahm, "House of Flesh." There died Rachel, Jacob's wife ( Genesis 35:19 ); David was born there ( 1 Samuel 17:12 ), and many other Biblical personages. There was enacted the gracious idyll of Ruth and Booz. There, above all, the Savior was born, a descendant of David, and from this fact the humble village has acquired unparalleled glory. It was at Bethlehem, also, that in the fourth century St. Jerome, St. Paula, and St. Eustochium fixed their residence. According to John Cassian, it was in a monastery of Bethlehem that the office of Prime was instituted. As early as the second century it was indicated by St. Justin Martyr, a native of Neapolis (Nablous), as the place of the Nativity. About A.D. 330 Constantine the Great built a basilica on this site. The present church appears to date from a later time -- either the fifth or the sixth century -- and has been repaired at still later periods. The Frankish kings were wont to come from Jerusalem to be crowned at Bethlehem, in memory of the coronation of David by Samuel. The greater part of the church is now shared by various communions, while the choir belongs to the Greeks alone, the Grotto of the Nativity is open to the Latins, the Greeks, and the Armenians, who hold services there each in turn.

The first Bishop of Bethlehem, Arnolfo (1099-1103), was appointed by the Crusaders. The see was not canonically erected until 1109, when the title was united with that of Ascalon, till then a Greek diocese (Revue de l'Orient latin, I, 141). The Diocese of Bethlehem-Ascalon existed from 1109-1378, but since the middle of the thirteenth century its bishops resided at Clamecy in France. The Diocese of Bethlehem-Clamecy was created in 1378, and suppressed by the Concordat between Napoleon and Pius VII, in 1801. The titular Bishoprics of Bethlehem and Ascalon, however, had existed separately from 1378 to 1603, when they were suppressed. From 1801 to 1840 both residential and titular sees, either of Bethlehem or Ascalon, were extinct. In 1840, Gregory XVI reunited the title of Bethlehem in perpetuum to the independent Abbey of St. Maurice d'Agaune in Switzerland. In 1867 the titular See of Ascalon was also re-established.

Bethlehem is today a little town with about 10,000 inhabitants, exclusive of foreigners (5,000 Latins, 100 Catholic, or Melchite, Greeks, 4,000 Greeks, a few Armenians and Mussulmans ). The inhabitants are very active and industrious. Besides agriculture, they are engaged in the fabrication of wooden, mother-of-pearl, and bituminous limestone objects, such as beads, crosses, etc. The women are remarkably beautiful and wear a peculiar costume which is very rich and of ancient pattern The Franciscans govern the Latin parish, a scholasticate, a primary school, and an asylum; the Christian Brothers have a novitiate for native young men; the Fathers of the Sacred Heart, or Betharramites, have a scholasticate for their missions in South America; the Salesians conduct an industrial school with an orphanage and an elementary school ; the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition have two convents, a school, an orphanage, and an infant school ; the Sisters of Charity have a hospital and an orphanage ; the Carmelite nuns, a monastery. The Greek Catholic parish lately established has not yet a church. There are also Greek and Armenian monasteries, and schools conducted by Greeks, Armenians, and Protestants.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 3:14-21
14 This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father,15 ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 33:1-2, 4-5, 11-12, 18-19
1 Shout for joy, you upright; praise comes well from the ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:49-53
49 'I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 20th, 2016 Image

St. Paul of the Cross
October 20: St. Paul of the Cross was born at Ovada in the ... Read More