Italy Europe 24 – An archaeologist from Siena University leads Bethlehem Nativity’s church restoration

By Cinzia Dal Maso

Restoration work on the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem is being led by an Italian archaeologist, Alessandro Fichera. The work, which started a year ago, was entrusted to the firm Piacenti from Prato, which won an international tender in 2013. This is the first restoration performed on the Basilica since the Venetians fixed it up in the fifteenth century.

Fichera is part of the team that conducted the preliminary study, following a tender issued in 2009, and he is now in charge of overseeing the work. Coordinated by Claudio Alessandri of Consorzio Ferrara Ricerche, the team is composed of art historians and restorers from Rome’s La Sapienza University (research on mosaics and frescoes); of technical personnel from CNR Ivalsa research center (studying and dating of the wood); of engineers from the Benecom consortium (analysis of the building’s static quality); and of a group from the University of Siena, headed by Fichera, for archaeological and architectural analysis.

The restoration of the Basilica is still ongoing. The wood of the trusses had fallen prey to termites and had been subject to continued water seepage, and could collapse any moment.

As the work progressed, it became apparent that the walls themselves had to be restored, as well as the mosaics and frescoes, that the windows had to be replaced, and that many inlaid wood needed maintenance, such as the magnificent Armenian doorway leading from the narthex to the Basilica itself.

It is not everybody’s privilege to write “Nativity Church” on an archaeological dig’s blackboard: “While writing, I was so thrilled that my wrists shook. The Basilica is an astonishing place, regardless of any particular religious belief. Having the chance to investigate it is the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Fichera.

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