RAMALLAH, November 29 (JMCC) - After centuries of delay, Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity may finally see repairs, officials have told The Independent
The three Christian groups with rights in the church that commemorates the place of Jesus' birth have long competed over the chance to repair the basilica's failing roof - with the result that little has been done.
Now, authorities are hopeful that if Bethlehem is named a cultural heritage site by UNESCO, international funding will go to fixing the building and thus bypass the church rivalries.
After centuries of neglect that experts believe have damaged the frescoes beyond repair, Palestinian officials say that the most urgent renovations should now go ahead next year. We will start with the roof, said Ziad al-Bandak, an adviser to the Palestinian Authority on Christian affairs. Hopefully we can start after Easter.
Experts estimate the cost of the entire renovation could reach between $10-$15m (£6.5-£9.7m). The most urgent repair of the leaking roof comes in at roughly €1.5m, Mr Bandak said, some of which money has already been raised. Palestinian officials say the rest will depend on Unesco, itself facing a $65m funding cut from the United States for its decision to admit Palestine.
The Church of the Nativity is among the oldest churches in the world, surviving earthquakes and fires, and more recently, the 2002 siege of Bethlehem, when Palestinian militants took refuge in it. But it is the explosive tensions between the Christian custodians that are the greatest threat to the basilica.
In a damning Unesco report from 1997, the authors wrote that, when it rained, large puddles formed on the floor of the church, that dripping rainwater had damaged some of the wall and floor mosaics beyond repair and warned that loose masonry posed a serious threat to the safety of tourists. The roof hasn't been replaced since the 15th century, when King Edward IV of England sent lead, and Philip, Duke of Burgundy, dispatched wood and iron.