The name of Antonio Barluzzi, an Italian Fransciscan monk born in Rome (1884-1960) is a common one among those who designed some of the most prominent churches and chapels in Israel. Barluzzi was the architect behind the most famous church structures such as the Church of all Nations (Gethsemane in Jerusalem), Church of the Transfiguration (Mt. Tabor in the Jezreel Valley), Dominus Flevit (Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem) and the Church of Mt. of Beatitudes (NW corner of the Sea of Galilee). He was also responsible for a few other chapels, one of which is my favorite. Called the Church of the Angels, this chapel is located in the Shepherds’ Fields of Beit Sahour, a Palestinian Christian town just east of Bethlehem (although unfortunately the Christian population is decreasing at the hands of the Palestinian Muslims).
There are several reasons what makes the Church of the Angels so special. First, it is the art work. Though only a small domed room, each wall displays part of the birth narrative from Luke 2. In one relief, the angel can be seen proclaim the good news to the frightened shepherds. The expressions on the faces of these shepherds are captured in great detail.
The painting seemingly invites the observer to enter the scene along with the shepherds that one holy night to hear the wonderful proclamation of the birth.
The next painting to the right is a scene of the manger. In one way, it is a classic depiction of Mary and Joseph surrounding the manger, with the shepherds now arriving to observe this great miracle themselves. Additional paintings on adjacent walls further the Christmas story in beautiful detail.
The acoustical brilliance of the chapel is what also makes this Barluzzi structure so special. The five to seven second echo within the chapel makes the blending of our voices sound like a seasoned choir. The tunes of even the most common Christmas carols rebound off the dome roof with unbelievable majesty. Singing together is a meaningful worship encounter.
From the outside, this small chapel doesn’t appear to be anything unique. It actually takes on a modest look, and appropriately so, given the humble birth of Jesus that took place in nearby Bethlehem. Maybe this is the final reason what makes the Church of the Angels so inviting. Barluzzi certainly captured the essence of the Christmas story in how the chapel was built. His aim and purpose was certainly accomplished.
May the songs of the carols continue to wonderfully echo forth within the painted walls of the Church of the Angels.