Bethlehem: Church of the Nativity undergoes facelift

By Daniela Berretta

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12 2013 8:31 a.m. MST

"We'll save as many parts, even those in bad conditions, as we can," he said. "We'll only replace pieces that are no longer functional and can no longer help hold the roof. They will be as few as possible and will be made of a compatible wood, of aged wood of the same type and quality."

Aside from the roof and windows, other elements that will need repair in the future are the external facade, internal plastering, wall mosaics and paintings and wooden works, said Tweme. If funding is secured, the work could take four to five years, he said.

The church was built in the 4th century by Saint Helena over a cave where the Virgin Mary is said to have given birth. What pilgrims mostly see today is the basilica church built by the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian I, who ruled from 527 to 565 AD.

The construction doesn't include the area that is the main focus of the pilgrimage: the place located under the altar crypt that hosts the 14-pointed silver star marking the spot where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was born.

In spite of large scaffolding lining the sides of the nave near the entrance, visitors don't seem to mind, at least for the moment. Sister Aziza, an Eritrean nun who lives in Israel, welcomed what she says is much-needed repair.

"I'm very grateful and happy that they're renovating it. Otherwise it will fall," she said. "And it will be safer for people and also to worship. It is a nice step that they agreed to renovate it, because for so many years I've been waiting for this renovation."

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