It is revered by different Christian sects and draws more than a million visitors to the Holy Land every year, making it the biggest tourist attraction in the Palestinian territories.
The Church of the Nativity, built by Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, sits in Bethlehem above what’s believed to be the birthplace of Jesus in one of the more politically divisive regions of the world.
The church is administered jointly by Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic authorities, and all have monastic communities there.
Since 2013, Italian experts from the art restoration firm Piacenti SpA have been working with the Palestinian government to overcome cultural and religious differences and forge ahead with an ambitious restoration expected to cost $15 million when completed.
“For those who have faith, this is the place where God arrived on Earth, born in a cave that really existed under this church,” Giammarco Piacenti, head of the project, told Religion News Service. “It was immediately venerated, so historically and archaeologically it is very important.”
Around 170 experts have been working on the restoration of the church’s ceiling, wooden architraves and walls for the past three years. During their research, they uncovered a mosaic angel, the seventh that still remains in the church, and cleaned and restored more than a million brilliantly colored tiny mosaic tiles.
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