Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 14 November 2019

Church of the Nativity removed from Unesco World Heritage endangered list

Its removal comes after high-quality restorations of its ‘roof, exterior facades, mosaics and doors’

A view of the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank holy city of Bethlehem, on July 2, 2019. AFP
A view of the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank holy city of Bethlehem, on July 2, 2019. AFP

Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, was removed from Unesco's list of endangered world heritage sites on Tuesday after restoration work.

The church, located 10 kilometres south of Jerusalem in what Unesco calls "Palestine", was named by the cultural agency as a world heritage site in 2012 and placed on its endangered list the same year due to its poor condition.

Church and Palestinian officials have since overseen high-quality work restoring "roof, exterior facades, mosaics and doors", Unesco said.

A previous plan of concern to Unesco to dig a tunnel underneath Manger Square, in front of the church, was also abandoned, it said.

The committee reached the decision to remove the church from the endangered list during a meeting in Baku, which began on June 30 and continues until July 10, it said in a statement.

The Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches share custody of the site located in the city which is today in the Israeli-occupied West Bank under Palestinian Authority control.

An initial church was built there in the fourth century AD.

It was replaced with a new structure in the sixth century but floor mosaics from the original church remain. Later alterations were made to the church.

During the Christmas season, pilgrims from around the world visit the church and the grotto within it believed to be Jesus's birthplace.

The church, one of Christianity's most sacred shrines, was built over a cave where the Virgin Mary is said to have given birth. The Holy Land site also includes several other churches.

The Palestinian Authority launched the renovation after Unesco put the site on the endangered list. Bethlehem hopes the renovation will boost tourism and a weak economy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

It submitted a request for it to be removed from the endangered list. It said it had overseen the "implementation of the conservation works at the Church of the Nativity, which included a series of restoration works which mainly targeted the restoration of the roof and the narthex [altar lobby entrance] and all other components of the desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger”.

Unesco's website describes the "inscribed property is situated...on the site identified by Christian tradition as the birthplace of Jesus since the 2nd century".

Unesco became the first UN body to recognise Palestine as a state and to give it membership at the organisation. The decision provoked controversy in Israel.

The organisation has also designated the Old Town of Hebron, the largest city in the occupied West Bank, as a world heritage site, again angering Israel. The body said the Old Town, which hosts the Ibrahimi Mosque, as belonging to the State of Palestine. Israel claims the site as its own, calling the mosque the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

The mosque was the site of one of the worst massacres in Palestinian history, when a far-right Israeli settler entered the mosque and shot and killed 29 people in 1994. The massacre led to mass protests across the occupied West Bank.

Updated: July 3, 2019 05:55 PM

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