UNESCO, UAE begin reconstruction of historic Iraqi church destroyed by ISIS

The Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Hour in Mosul, Iraq, known as Al-Saa'a Church, will be restored in a project spearheaded by a UNESCO-United Arab Emirates partnership.
The Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Hour in Mosul, Iraq, known as Al-Saa'a Church, will be restored in a project spearheaded by a UNESCO-United Arab Emirates partnership. | UNESCO

Work has begun to rebuild a Christian church in Iraq destroyed by the Islamic State as part of a partnership between the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Muslim-majority United Arab Emirates.

UNESCO announced last week that construction has commenced on the Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Hour in Mosul. Mosul was once Iraq’s second-largest city before it was overrun by the Islamic State terrorist group in 2014 but liberated by U.S.-backed coalition forces in 2017. 

"With the official approval from The Dominican order, UNESCO — in close collaboration with relevant authorities — will now start the stabilization and rehabilitation of The Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Hour in Mosul,” the international body said in a statement

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"This project’s component will include all the phases of a stabilization and rehabilitation project — from site clearance and initial survey to the preparation of the detailed design for the actual execution of the works.”

The church, also known as Al-Saa’a Church, was built in the 1800s and is located at the heart of the Old City of Mosul. The church is also known as “The Clock Church” because it was gifted a clock in 1880 by Empress Eugenie of France, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III.

As previously reported by The Telegraph, the church was blown up by the Islamic State. 

According to UNESCO, the church has always been considered one of the area’s iconic landmarks and was a “living example of the brotherhood between Moslawis.”

“The rehabilitation of this church is important not only because of its value as cultural heritage but also as a testimony to the diversity of the city, a proud crossroads of cultures and a peaceful haven for different religious communities over the centuries,” UNESCO said.

International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based advocacy group, reports that Al-Saa’a Church represents the “long historical presence” of Christianity in Mosul. 

According to UNESCO, the church building also carries architectural value. 

“Each viewer coming from Nineveh or Al-Farouq Street would see the Al-Hadba Minaret first then the bell tower of the Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Hour, or vice-versa,” the statement reads. “This architectural and urban feature is engraved in the memory and history of the people and of the city and is emblematic of the cultural diversity and peaceful co-existence between its communities.”

The project will “create a unique ‘on-the-job training’ opportunity for local heritage professionals and craftsmen.”

The rehabilitation project was announced last October as part of the UNESCO-UAE initiative called “Revive the Spirit of Mosul.” The project aims to reconstruct the historic landmarks of Mosul damaged by the Islamic State. 

Another project announced as part of the initiative last October was the restoration of the Al-Tahira Syriac-Catholic Church. The centuries-old church had its roof collapse when it was bombarded in 2017. 

The UNESCO-UAE partnership is also working to restore the Al Hadba Minaret and the Al-Nouri Mosque of Mosul, which was built more than 850 years ago. 

“UNESCO is fostering reconciliation and social cohesion in Mosul through the restoration and reconstruction of emblematic historical sites as part of UNESCO’s international initiative ‘Revive the Spirit of Mosul,’” UNESCO stated.  

The initiative will also include the construction of a museum and memorial site to “exhibit and preserve remnants of the sites with the community and educational spaces.” 

The UNESCO-UAE partnership comes as the Arabian country has been devoted in recent years to promoting interfaith harmony. 

UAE labeled 2019 its “Year of Tolerance.” In 2019, UAE hosted a regional religious freedom summit and also hosted the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula. 

Last September, plans were announced for the building of an interfaith complex called the Abrahamic Family House in which a church, synagogue and mosque will be built on Saadiyat Island near Abu Dhabi.

The Abrahamic Family House was a result of Pope Francis’ visit to Abu Dhabi last February. Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt signed off on establishing the interfaith Higher Committee on Human Fraternity

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