sixth-century nave constructed by the Emperor Justinian is undergoing
massive restoration work. Photograph: Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA
craftsmen have begun urgent repairs to the centuries-old roof of the
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, first constructed in the fourth
century over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born 2,000 years
leaks, earthquakes and incidents that happened here in Bethlehem had a
negative impact on the whole structure and especially on the roof of the
church," said Ziad Bandak, head of the Palestinian committee overseeing
the work. "The leakage of the water affected the structure, the wood,
the walls and the frescoes and mosaics inside."
Piacenti, head of the family business that has been lovingly restoring
the ancient shrines of Europe for six generations, said he was honoured
to have won the international tender issued by the Palestinian Authority
to repair crumbling pine and cedar timbers up to 800 years old and a
lead roof donated by Edward IV of England in 1479.
Visitors light candles in the church. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters
very emotional to work here," Piacenti said as his experts applied
protective gauze to a gold-leaf mosaic of an angel high in the rafters
above the sixth-century nave constructed by the Emperor Justinian, and
technicians probed deep into the thick wooden trusses to check for
hidden damage. "This ancient structure has withstood the centuries and
we hope to make our contribution to its continuing presence here."
leaky roof has sparked regular clashes between mop-wielding monks from
the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches over who has
authority to clean which parts of the shrine shared between the three
denominations under a brittle arrangement known as the status quo. The
water damage has also harmed many of the wall frescoes and mosaics that
date back to Crusader times and beyond.
2009, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, fearful that the church
might collapse, issued a decree to repair the building that the warring
parties that run the church finally accepted.
A Greek Orthodox priest walks inside the Church of the Nativity ahead of Christmas in Bethlehem. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters
despite being declared a Unesco heritage site in 2012, the Palestinians
were able to raise only €2m of the €15m (£12.5m) required for the full
renovation of the building. In this first phase, expected to last until
next September, Piacenti's men, together with five Palestinian
colleagues, will repair or replace the roof lead and timbers and the
church's 18 upper windows.
"After we have stopped all the water leakage I hope it will be possible
to begin restoring the other materials," said Piacenti. "There are many
angels up here. I hope we can save them."