Ancient Christian icon found in Bethlehem

The scaffolding around the restorations was visible when Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III attended a recent service in the church of Nativity in Bethlehem.Reuters

An ancient icon of "great religious and historical value" has been found by craftsmen working on the restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The icon, made of brass, silver, shells and stones, was found two months ago near a window in the church built in the fourth century by the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena over what is believed to be the place of Jesus' birth. 

The restoration has been taking place for nearly three years, has cost $8 million already and is funded by the Palestinian Authority and others with the cooperation of top international archaeologists and experts from Italy. The first phase is now finished and a further $11 million is needed to complete the rest of the project. 

Ziad al-Bandak, a Palestinian presidential adviser for Christian Affairs, told Ma'an news that although the icon has been repaired, it is not yet available for public viewing and photographs have yet to be published. 

Bandak said: "The removal of centuries of dust has left mosaics sparkling in the sunlight filtering through brand new windows. Structural repairs on the fragile rooftop and windows have been completed and artistic treasures have been returned to their delicate elegance."

Although the church is one of the top tourist attractions in the region, numbers of visitors have declined since the a rise in tensions last October, which has resulted in the deaths of nearly 180 Palestinians and more than 25 Israelis. 

According to The Times of Israel the Church of the Nativity, listed as endangered by the UN cultural agency UNESCO, was badly neglected for centuries. Until two years ago it suffered serious leaks which threatened the heritage inside.