A hidden angel mosaic at Bethlehem shrine sees light

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. “From a historical, artistic and spiritual point of view, it is everything,” said Piacenti. “The centre of the world — this is everything.”

The ongoing restoration, however, is threatened by limited funding, with the Palestinian authorities looking for a further 7.5 million euros ($8.3 million) on top of the nearly 10 million euros ($11 million) already received.

There are 50 sixth-century columns to be restored, most of which have barely visible paintings of crusader figures, with wealthy donors being asked to “adopt a column”, Piacenti said.

Ida Molinaro, a restorer, is painstakingly bringing back the colour to one column. Each costs 50,000 euros ($55,000) to restore.

Because of the religious importance of the site, it has not been closed down during the work, so renovators have to work around throngs of tourists and monks, a situation she admits can be tough.

If the necessary funding is found, the renovations are due to be completed in 2018.AFP

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