Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mosaics in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Haaretz has an article today about the restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church used to be covered inside by mosaics, some of which have survived to the present day, but have been obscured for many years by soot and dirt.
The Church of the Nativity was established in what is now the West Bank town of Bethlehem in the year 333 C.E. by Emperor Constantine, but that structure was destroyed in the Samaritan revolt in the 6th century and rebuilt in 560. From the period of the Crusades until 1492, the church underwent comprehensive renovation a number of times.

Since then, however, there have been only a few minor repairs. The Ottoman Turkish authorities constructed large support structures for the church after an earthquake threatened to bring down one of its exterior walls, and the British added wooden beams to support the walls. But in recent centuries, the church hasn’t undergone a thorough renovation.....
The cost of the renovations at the Church of the Nativity was about 18 million euros ($20.5 million), which was funded by the Palestinian Authority, the Vatican and other governments, along with a large number of contributors from the Palestinian business sector.

The renovations are being carried out by a family-owned Italian restoration firm called Piacenti with the assistance of Palestinian workers. Haaretz was given a tour of the site by the engineer in charge of the project, Ibrahim Abed Rabbo of Bethlehem; Marcello Piacenti, who heads the company that bears his name; and Franciscan Father David Grenier, the general secretary of the local Custody of the Holy Land, with oversight of holy places.

The greatest preservation challenge was restoring the huge mosaics that in the past covered the church’s walls. The restorers have estimated that only about 7 percent of the original mosaics remain – a million and a half tiles covering 125 square meters of space, compared to the more than 2,000 square meters in the past.

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