The Mosaic Centre: a new great opportunity for Bethlehem

Giacomo Pizzi13 June 2018

A new center of mosaics was inaugurated in Bethlehem to preserve the beauty of the Old City and to promote new job opportunities for local youth. The center is born within the project “New Mosaicists for Bethlehem” and is promoted by ATS pro Terra Sancta thanks to the support of the Friends Association P. Kaswalder, Association of Artisans of Trento, Association of Franciscan Missions Trento, Aca de Vita with the patronage of the Province autonomous of Trento.

“Mosaic is part of our culture!” Explains Osama Hamdan, director of the Mosaic Center Jericho, which has been promoting Palestinian cultural heritage for years through conservation, restoration and artistic production. Based on this experience, this project aims to improve the economic and social conditions of the population of Bethlehem (where unemployment reaches 26% and the figures increase for women). “Bethlehem deserves much more, – the director of the Mosaic Center says – especially it deserves to enhance the tradition of his craft from a qualitative point of view. The Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land five hundred years ago taught local Christians the art of working with mother-of-pearl and olive wood, but the art of mosaic has even stronger roots with Bethlehem and its territory (Sheperd’s Field and Herodion) “.

During the inauguration speech of last May 27, the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, declared: “We must give life by starting from the roots! If you think about the famous and splendid Byzantine mosaics of the Basilica of the Nativity, recently restored, the new mosaic center connects strongly with the history and ancient tradition of this city “.

The structure will enhance Star Street, the ancient and main road to the Basilica of the Nativity. And under the direction of architect Osama Hamdan, an old bakery owned by the Custody of the Holy Land, now abandoned as part of the historic center, was restored after eight months. “Our idea is to preserve the history and life of a place! Thus – Hamdan continues – we have preserved all the ancient architectural elements, including the oven and the blackened plaster “.
To keep these new premises alive, twelve young boys and girls from Bethlehem from familiar contexts with precarious economic conditions or unemployed, will learn the ancient art of mosaic through two training courses lasting three months each. “Some of the guys we have chosen – explains Melania Roma (ATS pro Terra Sancta) project coordinator – had already attended mosaic courses in 2016 thanks to a project funded by the CEI. They are also young graduates because this center can facilitate their integration into the world of work in the field of restoration “.

The center will also be a cultural workshop for hundreds of young students and their teachers, who will be able to take part in visits and workshops, but also a training place for tourist promoters.
In his courtyard, pilgrims, visitors and the local people themselves will also be able to read books on the history of Bethlehem, attend the work and understand the life of the mosaic. In fact, in the future there will also be collaborations with expert Italian restorers of the Province of Trento, who will be able to help young people in high quality training and new sales strategies for their products abroad.

“The work – says Vincenzo Bellomo, head of the ATS projects in Bethlehem – is also a tribute to the figure of Fr. Michele Piccirillo, the great archaeologist who has spent all his life discovering and enhancing this great treasure that the mosaic”. According to the Italian consul Fabio Sokolowicz “the center is an opportunity to preserve the great Palestinian cultural heritage, to create development and work but above all a way to work for dialogue and peace. The mosaics are and will be for Bethlehem the symbol of living together in harmony! “.

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