THE RESTORATION OF THE NATIVITY CHURCH IN BETHLEM

Worksite, operative team and Restoration

 
The Nativity Church in Bethlehem, in the last five years, has been the object of a project for its study and restoration. This could be realizable thanks to the relations between the three religious communities (Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Franciscan) wich have specific rights and properties in the Church, regulate from the Status Quo. The uniqueness of the historical site and the importance of the project have considered a large phase of study and knowledge of the building construction and its component materials, and their conservation state. A document published in 2000 by UNESCO (WENZEL-SZAKTILLA-PLIETT 2000), underlines the poor state into which the roof of the church was and the resulting damages to the plasters, mosaics and floors, due to the rain.
The complete documentation that reported the total decay state of the Church was composed during the project since 2010, by a multidisciplinary group coordinated by Consorzio Ferrara Ricerche (University of Ferrara).
On August 26, 2013 an agreement has been signed for the Restoration of the Church of by Piacenti S.p.a. – Italy as “Contractor”. The executive planning and the restoration intervention should have to regard the renovation of the physic and mechanical functions of the wooden trusses and boards system, the replacement of the lead sheets as external covering of the roof. After that the restoration operations affected also those Church's areas in very bad conditions aesthetically and structurally:

- the internal and external surfaces (plasters and stones)
- the mosaics
- the narthex
- the main iron and wooden doors of the Church
- the wooden architrave.

At the moment four skilled teams are working on site. The restorers are highly specialized and coordinated by a technical team situated in Bethlehem and in the Italian office.
Each material of the Church needs a special study, documentation and restoration treatment, and the worksite has to be arranged and coordinated every day with the maximum efficiency in order to respect the time-schedule and the restoration itself. The Contractor has a Local Partner as an important help and support for the logistic and materials finding issues. Many of the local workers, Palestinian workers, are involved in the arrangement of the worksite, and the relationship between the different roles and nationalities are increasingly positively surprising.
Many consultants and experts of the various fields of restoration, are involved in this work, the relief and survey of the building, the structural engineering, the diagnostic analysis, the history of art and the restoration. Each branch has a consultant, a project manager, a foreman and a team composed by skilled workers, all of them are followed and controlled from the technician team ad from the site supervisors for the time, budget and art respect.
This presentation aims to let to know how this worksite was studied, a worksite very difficult, in a delicate ambient as the Nativity Church, in the Palestinian territories.
All the work phases will be illustrated, starting from the project to the operative methodology that had united the traditional conservation of art and the new technologies for the restoration.
The study and the participation to the international tender needed a huge applicative obligation both to obtain a knowledge of the building and to the elaboration of the technical and economical offer. Those difficulties were surpassed, and the target acquired, thanks to the synergic work of the expert technicians coming from different sectors.
Each organizational, technical and economical aspect was exanimate in depth to limit future possible unforeseen. Now, after three years, is possible to affirm that choose were provident.
After the contract sign, and after the minimum necessary time to the combination of the first team of work and the arrangement in Bethlehem, the preliminary phases were started.
During the waiting for the scaffolding arrival (all the materials are imported from Italy through 30 shipment by containers, from Genova to Ashdod), the Church was investigated by a metric, material and photographic survey.
The structure of the scaffolding were designed and calculated by the engineers to obtain an ordinate and light asset, this to give full access to every area of the Church, without interferences during the religious activities. The scaffolding also allowed the shoot and visits by journalists and visitors interested at the work.
It is important to stress that each restoration process is always preceded by accurate diagnostic investigations, to assess the quality and the quantity of matter under examination.
The restoration began with the renovation of the roof. 2000 square meters of surface were in a very bad state of conservation, and were restored by replacing old plates in lead, and creating an air chamber that would allow ventilation between the layers. The wooden beams and trusses under the roof, which contribute to the stability of the overall structure of the Basilica, were the subject of a high-tech restoration. The work followed a procedure designed and approved specifically for the type of structure and this wood, such as the replacement of deteriorated portions with prosthesis of the same old woody species. The study and restoration work continued towards the recovery of the wall surfaces, which show beautiful stones and old mortars (the original construction of Justinian), ancient plasters "fiber-reinforced", and completely original mosaics of exceptional craftsmanship.
The team of experts for each sector followed the methodology in full compliance with the original materials and their historical context.
The products used are derived from the artistic tradition and experience to ensure a recovery of the works and to protect them in future.

 [by Giammarco Piacenti, Silvia Starinieri]