BETHLEHEM (AFP).- It was hidden for decades at the church on the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born until conservationists uncovered it — an ancient mosaic of an angel.
Since 2013, Italian restorationists have been working with the Palestinian government in a mammoth effort to restore the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank — hailed by Christians as built on the site where Jesus was born.
The roof and windows have been restored and mosaics that had become barely visible over centuries have been painstakingly brought back to full colour, one tiny tile at a time.
In the course of the work they were surprised to uncover an angel that had been hidden under plaster for decades.
With thermal cameras, similar to those used by the military at night, they scanned the walls to see if there was anything behind them, said Giammarco Piacenti, CEO of the Piacenti restoration company which is leading the work.
“In that part it was completely different, you could see the angel. We said ‘what is this? It can’t be an angel’,” he told AFP.
After peeling back the plaster they uncovered the mosaic, bringing the number of angels in the church to seven.
Its outstretched hand is pointing in the direction of the cave where Jesus is believed to have been born.
And the discovery has already spawned a myth after the excavator who discovered it, who happened to be Piacenti’s niece, became pregnant shortly afterwards.
“All the family speak about how the angel (blessed her),” he laughed.
The church, which sees more than two million visitors on good years, was originally built in 339 AD but rebuilt in the sixth century after being destroyed in a fire.
Infighting between the three churches involved in running the site had prevented redevelopment, with the last renovations taking place in 1478, according to Piacenti.
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