18 months of work and the Gethsemane basilica is like new

Throughout the summer the 5,000 pilgrims who visit the Basilica of the Nations at Gethsemane each day were derived of the traditional photo in front of the building. Scaffolding draped with a large black covering hid almost the entire façade.

On Tuesday November 5th, the scaffolding was removed and everyone who was in front of the basilica rediscovered it. Cleaned and repaired, it was like new. The mosaics had required the care. Between the winter rains and the intense heat of its western exposure, the cement that binds the hundreds of thousands of mosaic tiles to the wall was tried to the limit, not to mention the scars left from the 1967 war that needed repair. All the tiles were checked, one by one, with intense precision using surgical instruments, as can be seen in the photographs below.

In fact, not only the mosaic on the façade was restored, but all the mosaics of the basilica. The restoration took eighteen months and was performed by young Palestinian restorers with the financial support of the Custody’s NGO, ATS Pro Terra Sancta, and coordinated by art historian Carla Benelli and architect Osama Hamdan.

As worthy successors of Fra Michele Piccirillo, Carla and Osama managed the product, not only as the technical experts that they are, but also as impassioned art lovers, eager to share and transmit their knowledge. That is why the work was not entrusted to European mosaic specialists but to young Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, trained by the Jericho Mosaic Center (created by Fra Michele). “Entrusting the restoration of the basilica that is closest to the Olive Garden to young Muslims was a beautiful experience,” explains Carla. “And they all expressed their gratitude and their pride in having participated in this preservation work.”

They are not the only Muslims to have worked in the basilica in recent months. The project was also intended to be of educational value. More than a thousand children from the schools in the Mount of Olives area and the Ras al-Amoud neighborhood entered this church that is part of their environment but which they don’t know at all for the first time. The constant stream of pilgrims intrigued them, but learning that over two billion believers know of the site, at least by name, surprised them. Learning that it was permanently open to them was so surprising that at the end of the visit one child asked again, “Can I come back with my parents, too?” Yes, you can come back, everyone can come back to admire the work of restoration.

To learn more about the how the project progressed, you can visit the pages of the NGO ATS Pro Terra Sancta, which followed it from the beginning with text and images. (For a list of articles about the Gethsemane project, see the bottom of the page, after the photos.)

Thanks: To the Consulate General of Italy in Jerusalem and its program of support of Palestinian municipalities (PMSP); to the city of Rovereto, to the Opera Campana dei Caduti foundation and the Cassa di Risparmio de Trente et Rovereto foundation, to all the benefactors who made a donation to the Custody and its NGO—including the smallest –specifically for the support of this project.

To the Franciscan friars who supported the project, but also tolerated the work.

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