Volunteers replace items after removing smoke damage at the grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity, revered as the site of Jesus' birth, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 27, 2014. A fire broke out at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, causing slight damage near the place where Jesus was thought to have been born. (Nasser Nasser / AP)
Bethlehem, West Bank — A fire broke out Tuesday at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, causing slight damage near the place where Jesus is thought to have been born.
Father Ibrahim Faltas, a church official, said the fire was accidental. “The curtains around the grotto caught fire from a candle and that is all that happened,” he said. “It was not arson.”
It occurred just a few days after Pope Francis visited the site.
The church is built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born. The fire was quickly put out, but burnt remains of the curtains lay on the floor near the grotto and there was some smoke damage to the walls.
The church is one of the holiest sites in Christianity. On Sunday, Francis went to the church during a three-day visit to the Holy Land, calling it a “great grace” to pray at the site of Jesus’ birth.
According to Christian belief, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, spent much of his life in Nazareth and the northern Galilee region of Israel, and was crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem.