13 December 2013
Italian Marcello Piacenti, project manager on the renovation of the roof of the Church of the Nativity, points to a mosaic from 1100, the Crusader period, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
As the world prepares for Christmas, the “little town of Bethlehem” is seeing one of its historic landmarks undergo a massive restoration project:
Helping restore the roof of the Church of the Nativity is like touching a piece of the beginning of Christian history, said an Italian restorer who is heading work on the first phase of the long-awaited repairs.
“I am not a practicing religious person, but working on this church is very emotional,” said Marcello Piacenti, 53, the on-site project manager and a restorer with his family’s company, Piacenti Spa, which began the work in September. “I have restored many old churches in the world, but when I arrived here I knew I had arrived to the center of everything.”
More than five years in the planning and researching, the restoration of the church’s wooden beams and lead roof and its 38 windows represents the beginning of an ambitious project, said engineer Imad Nasser, technical representative of the Palestinian Authority’s national committee for the restoration of the Church of the Nativity. Nasser said that, two years ago, it was estimated that the repairs would cost $15 million, not including the construction management fees.
Repairs are being done in several phases, as the funds become available, he said, with essential repairs such as the roof given priority. The next stage will include the completion of protection of the stone facade of the external walls once the funds are acquired, he said, noting that more than $2.7 million is still needed for that phase.
A member of the Franciscan order noted that members of the Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian churches, all of which have a presence at the Church of the Nativity, have agreed not to speak to the press in order to avoid any conflicts over sovereignty issues.
Though much care has been taken not to disturb the visitors and the church, Christmas pilgrims this year are being met with metal scaffolding, inside and outside, and protective wooden coverings around the marble columns inside the church.
Read more about the restoration.
Tags: Bethlehem Architecture West Bank Church Church of Nativity