Asiaone – Christian rivals find unity in Nativity church restoration

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories – When Pope Francis visits Bethlehem in May he will see scaffolding covering the roof of the Church of the Nativity. It may be an eyesore, but it symbolises a rare show of unity among rival Christian faiths that are working together to restore the ancient basilica.

Built in the fourth century by the Roman Emperor Constantine and restored by Justinian after a fire in the sixth century, the shrine over the cave where Jesus is believed to have been born is undergoing a major renovation.

The project, which will see the entire church restored, began last September and is expected to cost 15 million euros (S$25 million).

Following a historic agreement between the Palestinian Authority and the three churches that administer the site in an uneasy partnership, repairing the roof was designated as a priority.

Its rotting rafters, each weighing 20 tonnes, have not been repaired for the past 200 years.

That task, at a cost of 1.9 million euros, was entrusted to a family firm in Italy that specialises in the preservation of ancient structures.

Marcello Piacenti, leader of the Italian-Palestinian renovation team, said that, damaged by fungus and damp, the wood fractures easily in places.

“The project is about preserving what can be preserved in the best way possible, such as the beam of the central nave,” he says.

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