First facelift for Church of the Nativity in centuries

In this Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013 photograph, tourists walk around the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. To visitors arriving in Bethlehem for Christmas this year the Nativity Church will look different. Wrapped in scaffolding, the basilica is having a much-needed facelift after 600 years. Last year it has been included in UNESCO's list of endangered World Heritage sites.(AP)

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is wrapped in scaffolding this Christmas as it gets its first renovation in over half a millennium. 

Despite the scaffolding across the façade of the building, the church itself is still open for visits from the thousands of pilgrims who descend on the birthplace of Jesus during the festive season.

The work has been made necessary by water leaking in through the roof that is threatening to damage the church's mosaics and other treasures. 

"The water also has a bad effect on the plastering surfaces, on the mosaics, on the floors, on the frescoes. It could damage any, any historical elements inside the church," said Afif Tweme, of Palestinian engineering consultants, the Community Development Group, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Parts of the Church of the Nativity go back 1,500 years but the restoration of the roof in 1478 was one of the last major works to be carried out on the building.

The Palestinian Authority has stumped up £1 million towards the cost of the refurbishment. AP reports that an additional $800,000 is coming from the private sector.

Phase one of the project is expected to last around a year, and will see the damaged roof and windows repaired. After that, work will be done on other parts of the interior, as well as the exterior façade.

Giammarco Piacenti, who is overseeing the work, was quoted by AP as saying: "We'll save as many parts, even those in bad conditions, as we can.

"We'll only replace pieces that are no longer functional and can no longer help hold the roof. They will be as few as possible and will be made of a compatible wood, of aged wood of the same type and quality."