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Current Page: World | Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Historic Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Undergoes 3-Year Restoration by Muslim, Christian Church Leaders

Historic Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Undergoes 3-Year Restoration by Muslim, Christian Church Leaders

Nigerian pilgrims pray inside the Church of the Nativity during Christmas celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2015. | (Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad)
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal (3rd R) leads a Christmas midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 25, 2015. | (Photo: Reuters/Fadi Arouri/Pool)
A worshipper lights candles as she attends a Christmas service according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar, in the church of Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, January 6, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad)
Worshipers attend a Christmas service according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar, in the Church of Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, January 6, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad)
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III (C) attends a Christmas service according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar, in the Church of Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, January 6, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad)
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Palestinian Muslims are part of an ongoing international effort to renovate the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which scholars believe is the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

The Associated Press said in a report on Tuesday that the team of Palestinian and international experts are leading the biggest restoration the historical church has received in close to 600 years. The restoration includes the removal of centuries of dust and structural repairs to windows and the rooftop, with workers being careful to preserve artwork and mosaics dating back to the Crusades.

"For the first time you can see, when you go up, mosaics really magnificent and beautiful and unique in the whole world," said Ziad al-Bandak, who leads the Palestinian committee in charge of the restoration.

The church was built in the fourth century by Saint Helena over the location in Bethlehem where the Virgin Mary is believed to have given birth to Jesus.

The Church of the Nativity has been in need of repairs for some time, and has suffered a number of accidents over the many years — including one in May 2014, where a fire broke out after a candle ignited curtains in the church's grotto.

Church officials said that the fire was not arson, however, and added that there was some smoke damage to the walls, as well as reported damage to some icons of Mary and Jesus.

The AP noted that the holy site is revered by several different denominations withing the Christian Church and Muslim sects, and added that the Palestinian Authority has said it will help the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Churches fund the cost of the restoration.

The ownership of the church is shared by the above-mentioned Christian denominations, upholding a 19th-century agreement that assigned responsibility regarding its upkeep.

Al-Bandak said the different churches have been "very cooperative" over the restoration process, which is expected to take three years to complete, and noted that the renovations taken place already can be described as "revolutionary."

He added that an additional $11 million will be needed in terms of funding, though PA President Mahmoud Abbas has promised to help play a part in raising the funds.

"He told me from the beginning: 'Even if you don't have all the money to go ahead, start. This is a holy place and money will come,'" al-Bandak revealed.

He added: "We are very proud of it because when we protect our national heritage, our history, we protect our future."

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