National Geographic – In Bethlehem’s Ancient Church, a Long Unseen Presence Appears

Urgent repairs to the decaying Church of the Nativity yield an unexpected revelation.

Hidden for centuries beneath layers of plaster, an angel made of mosaic tiles is being restored to its original glory.

By Anne-Marie O’Connor

BETHLEHEM, WEST BANKSilvia Starinieri, a young restoration technician, was slowly passing a thermographic camera over the smooth plaster walls of the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ, when she spotted an intriguing shape.

As she and her colleagues began painstakingly scraping away the plaster, a radiant face emerged, illuminated by mother-of-pearl. When the team saw the first golden tiles of a shimmering halo, “it was a very emotional moment,” says Starinieri, 28.

Beneath the plaster stood an eight-foot-tall angel, lost for centuries but now rediscovered and reunited with six other angels that watch over pilgrims in one of the oldest churches in Christendom.

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