This unassuming church is built on the site where Shepherds are thought to have been “watching their sheep by night” on the eve of Christ’s birth. It was here that an angel came to the shepherds and told them that the son of God had been born and that they should go to Bethlehem to the manger where he lay. The modern church is built over an ancient cave and is officially called “The Shepherd’s Field of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land”.
It is a Roman Catholic site with a Franciscan chapel. The Shepherd’s Field Church is located not far from Bethlehem in the Palestinian Authority in the area of Beit Sahour, a predominantly Christian village.
The church was designed by renowned architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1954. The church is joined to the ruins of an earlier church and monastery. The overall concept of the shape of this church is to resemble a shepherd’s tent.
It has a dodecagonal shape (12 sides). The exterior is of exposed stone work topped by a white dome. Above the entrance to the church is a bronze statue of an angel – the angel who appeared to the shepherds. Above the angel are three bells.
Inside the church has five apses. The church has a simple altar table standing beneath the high domed ceiling and the circular space is surrounded by tall arches. Above the arches Latin scriptures are written around the circumference of the inner dome. Above the scripture are small circular windows divided by statues of angels.
The dome itself is perforated with small glass-covered openings which let in the natural light symbolizing the light of the angel. Murals depict the shepherds and their flock, the manger scene and the visitation of the angel.
Adjacent to the church is a low natural cave which visitors can enter. The natural rock shelter has a soot-blackened ceiling from years of smoke from the fires of inhabitants. The cave has been partially enclosed to form a small chapel with the natural rough hewed walls. The ruins of a monastery lie to the north of the church
Other sites in the same area also claim the title of Shepherd’s Filed. Nearby there are the Protestant Caves at YMCA Shepherd’s Field. The site is now used as a YMCA rehabilitation center. Ruins of a 5-7th century Byzantine church mark the Greek Orthodox location of Shepherd’s Field. A Greek Orthodox red-domed church (Kaniset el-Ruat or Church of the Shepherds) stands to the east. North of the Orthodox site is a Catholic site called Siyar el-Ghanam (Place for Keeping Sheep) where there is a single-apse church and a small walled monastery.