It will be several more years before this is completed, pilgrims who visit next Easter will have an extraordinary preview of the unbelievable restoration work that has been done so far to the roof, walls and 900-year-old mosaics.
The site has been a magnet for pilgrims and tourists for nearly 1,700 years, people who have desired to be in the place where Tradition holds that Mary gave birth to Jesus (no room in the inn). But the centuries of wear and tear have left Christians with little of what the building and its treasures of art were really like. A catastrophic history of rotting roof and leaky windows let in torrents of water, causing extensive damage to its mosaics, murals and infrastructure. Nearly 2,000 years of candle soot had darkened the walls to the point where the mosaics were nearly invisible. When the Italian restorative specialists began to clean the blackened mosaics, the result was a great surprise of color and light, like night and day. The priests and Palestinian officials had feared parts of the church were in danger of collapsing and only this threat seemed to encourage all parties to come together to preserve this important Church.
Originally built in 339 AD by Emperor Constantine, the Church of the Nativity was almost destroyed by the Samaritans 200 years later. The current church was built on the same site. Christian art is the theology we see with the eye and this Church has provided a rich new viewpoint into the faith and life of those who came before us. Unfortunately, only 20% of the church’s mosaics survive yet those which do remain are magnificent monuments both to artistry and the Christian faith.
Here are some more pictures.