Story of the Holy Land: preserving its cultural heritage

Giacomo Pizzi8 September 2010

“Recounting the Holy Land” is a project aimed at collating, archiving and preserving ancient heritage. It will widen the knowledge of the documented history of Christianity in these areas, and it will also keep updated information on the experiences of the Franciscan presence here and on the works currently undertaken by the Custody. The initiative is promoted by the Custody of the Holy Land and its non-profit NGO, ATS Pro Terra Sancta, and is born of the need to not only support the “Living stones”, but also to preserve the “Stones of memory”. The objective thus is to emphasize the archiving, documenting, historical and artistic work undertaken by the Franciscan friars during the last eight centuries in the name of all Christianity. The ultimate aim is to establish a modern museum centre in Jerusalem.

Emanuela Compri is a volunteer archaeologist with the ATS Pro Terra Sancta and the Custody of the Holy Land, working for several months at the archaeological museum of the Stadium Biblicum Franciscanum . She recounts her personal experience and relationship with the Franciscan finds and archives.

“Combining this Land with the ability to provide time and skill makes for endless connecting possibilities. It was thanks to one of these connections that I met Daniela, a volunteer with the Custody helping to catalogue the finds in the archaeological museum of the Faculty of Biblical Sciences and Archaeology, at a Christmas dinner in Bethlehem. I left for the Holy Land last November for a year as a voluntary worker, full of enthusiasm and anticipation for all the new things which awaited me.

The type of service for which I had volunteered was different from my usual profession and background, giving me the chance to learn and test myself in a new work environment. But as one knows, life is unpredictable…and new opportunities always come along. Going back to that evening in December, I learnt about the project of the museum of the Faculty of Biblical Sciences and Archaeology, which immediately drew my attention.

My field of work is, in fact, archaeology. After graduating, I continued in this sector becoming what is known as a “field worker”, in other words, I am involved in archaeological excavations in urban and rural settings, bringing to light ancient remains and reconstructing fragments of everyone’s past. The dedication which the Franciscan fathers have always shown towards the land of Jesus has placed them among the first pioneers of archaeology of the Holy Land; in their museum you can find not only retrieved objects, but also the significance of the places which mark the path taken by each pilgrim. After a few months, I had the opportunity of also offering some of my voluntary time to the Museum’s cataloguing project.

This was a unique opportunity which fitted in well with my already developed personal journey, and is really suited to my field of  profession. The work consists of the compilation of an information database which contains data of each single archaeological find and object kept in the Museum found in the first station  along the Via Dolorosa.

This process of cataloguing precedes the reorganization and re-modernisation of the museum exhibition, and gives voluntary staff the opportunity of touching relics which would otherwise be locked in a glass cabinet, as well as tapping into that universe of connections which hides behind every object and which opens into an infinite web of knowledge.

You need constancy, curiosity, passion and patience, because being in the field doesn’t mean that you know the whole alphabet –  you need to look for the missing letters from the material available. On this journey I am accompanied by an exceptional guide, Father Eugenio, who with infinite simplicity and generosity, makes all his knowledge available to anyone who asks. I once heard him say: ‘culture is like love – the more you share it, the bigger it gets!’