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Palestinian Muslims Help Christians Renovate Church in Bethlehem

Interior of the Church of the Nativity, looking east towards the altar and the entrance to the Grotto

A team of Palestinian and International experts are leading the biggest restoration of historical churches in close to 600 years. The renovation includes structural repairs to windows and the rooftops and preserving 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 under focus is the Church of Nativity built by Saint Helena at the place where scholars believe Jesus was born. The Church of Nativity has been in need of restoration for quite some time now, 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.

The holy site is revered by several different denominations withinn the Christian Church and Muslim sects, and 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.

Star marking the traditional site on which Jesus was born in the Grotto of the Nativity

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.”