On November 28, 2011 the Palestinian government announced its intent to restore and to renovate the Nativity Church, the oldest church in Palestine and the birthplace of our savior Jesus Christ. It is a historic site that draws millions of tourists and visitors to Palestine. Preparations for the facelift of the 1500-year-old church moved ahead as planned amidst the religious and political conflicts.
According to the Ziad Bandak, one who oversees the restoration of the Nativity Church, the restoration of the church will cost millions and would take several years to complete. The first and foremost aspect of the restoration is to replace the church’s roofs and its ancient wooden beams which are no longer safe for visitors. They also found that the leaks in the roofs ruined the priceless paintings and mosaics inside the church.
Bandak mentioned that the project is the first comprehensive repair project of the Nativity Church since its completion in the 4th century. He said that they need to fix the damages brought by the wear and tear of time. According to history, the Nativity Church was constructed in 326 AD by Emperor Constantine to honor and to commemorate the three important events in the life of Jesus Christ. Since Jesus Christ was believed to be born in the cave, architects were able to construct the cave according to the devotional and architectural requirements. It was found that the case was encased in an octagonal structure which formed the sanctuary of the basilica and which stretched away to the west by five aisles and four monolithic columns.
When the church was damaged by an earthquake in 1927, it took three decades for the rival sects, Catholics, Armenians and Greek Orthodox, to agree on the repairs and completion of the project. Due to the huge amount of funds needed for the project, the Palestinian government appeals to the Arab and European countries to help in funding the project. Even though, the three sects agreed to pursue the project, they could not be reached for comments. Despite the pending overhaul of the historic Nativity Church, the government believed that the project will not affect the tourism industry nor hinder the group tours and pilgrimage to the church. According to Palestinian Tourism Minister Khouloud Daibes, local and foreign worshipers are on the rise during Christmas and at least two million people visited the Nativity Church annually.
Daibes informed tourists and travelers that they are welcome to visit the church during the restoration stage. Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas applied to the UNESCO to recognize Nativity Church as a World Heritage Site, but its application is not accepted because UNESCO did not recognized it as a state. When the decision triggered a cut off of funding from the United States, the United Nations cultural arm decided to approve the application. Abbas also signed a decree that mandates the restoration and repair of the church. Government officials hope that the project will start in 2012, which is projected to cost between ten to fifteen million dollars.