Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity gets a makeover

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Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity gets a makeover

By Salomé Parent/ la-croix.com

Fifteen centuries after its reconstruction by Emperor Justinian, Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity has lost none of its splendor.

Each year more than two million pilgrims or tourists enter the small entry door to the basilica to visit the treasures the church has accumulated since it was first recognized in the second century as the site of Jesus’ birth.

Soon, visitors will be able to once again admire mosaics that have been hidden from public view for hundreds of years.

Damaged by fire in the sixth century and worn down by time and events, the church's appearance has seriously deteriorated.

As a result, Palestinian authorities decided in 2009 to seek funding for a complete renovation expected to cost more than 18 million euros.

In 2013, the three churches responsible for the holy site — the Latin, Armenian and Orthodox churches — launched a "presidential committee for the restoration of the Nativity church."

For more than two years, the Italian group Piacenti, which specializes in the renovation of ancient monuments, has devoted its entire efforts to the first phase of the project, including the repair of the roof and windows.

Ibrahim Abedrabbo, the engineer who has supervised the whole project, cannot contain his joy at the outcome.

"The greatest part of the work has already been completed. Now, we are working on the details," he explains, perched on the scaffolding, which will continue to conceal a large section of the ceiling of the central nave for several more weeks.

Once this is removed, a fresco of seven angels created during the twelfth century by the Syrian artist Basilius will again be on display.

"Originally, the fresco had twelve (angels). We had planned to restore six but luckily we were able to locate one more in our research," says Abedrabbo.

However, the five-year project has been far from easy, particularly given the difficult relations between the three churches.

According to the Treaty of Berlin, which was signed in 1878, each church has specific tasks, which need to be respected to preserve the proper functioning of the holy site.
Yet over the course of history, this triumvirate has also caused countless conflicts.

In 2014, for example, a fire in the grotto damaged the entry point. But owing to failure to reach agreement, it has not yet been repaired.

Funding is another recurring issue.

A total of 30 governments, religious institutions and private groups have helped finance the renovations.

More funds are still needed to complete the next stage of work, however, including the restoration of the floor mosaics.

Although it was registered as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2012, the church and the pilgrimage path leading up to it remains on a list of 54 sites regarded as "world heritage in danger."

"To be removed from the list, it will be necessary to decide on a plan to preserve the whole ensemble," Abedrabbo explains.

The imminent completion of the renovations are expected to greatly assist in achieving this objective

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 13:45
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