Musicologist and historian David Catalunya, researcher at the University of Oxford, will undertake the reconstruction of the medieval organ of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. “This organ dates from the 12th century and is a unique specimen in the world,” he said.
His research project, Sound technologies of the Latin Christian Church 900-1300, aims to write the history of medieval organs, analyze their design and manufacturing processes to reproduce them and hear them be played. The Bethlehem Organ - one of the centerpieces of the Terra Sancta Museum (Jerusalem) - could not but attract his attention.
The pipes and bells of the organ were discovered in a very good state of preservation during archaeological excavations around the site of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 1906. Only the wood of the instrument is missing.
They were transported to Jerusalem and placed in the care of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
The objects have been kept for over a century in the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum and will be on display at the new Terra Sancta Museum in Jerusalem.
David Catalunya will present the research in his article “The 12th Century Organ of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem,” to appear in the Holy Land, in December 2021.
According to the researcher, the organ was probably brought to the Holy Land by the French Crusaders in the first half of the 12th century.
It survived the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187. The army of the Sultan of Egypt is said to have spared the organ, perceived as “a simple piece of furniture.”
David Catalunya believes that the organ pipes and other items may have been hidden underground on the eve of the Turkish invasion in 1244.
The organ first appeared as a musical instrument in Greece. It was introduced into the Latin Church in the 10th century.
While remains of fragments of water organs still exist in Greece and present-day Hungary, the pipes from Bethlehem represent a unique opportunity to understand the early stages of organ development to adapt to the new architectural frameworks of the churches there.