Around forty girls in school uniform approach the church curiously, peering in through the door and watching the archaeological excavations going on outside, enchanted by the huge ancient olive trees in the garden. They’re excited about this unusual trip, which will allow them to visit the Church of Gethsemane for the first time: even though it’s very close to their school, they’ve never been there before.
A few months ago this church was a building site: there is in fact ongoing restoration of the mosaics in the internal vaults, which will then move on to restoring the façade, the roof and floor. But taking place at the same time is a training course for five local boys, who are slowly learning the technique and the art of mosaic making from the expert hands of their teachers. The aim of the project is not only to restore the church, but also to increase young people’s awareness of and interest in the historical and artistic heritage of their country. And it’s in this spirit of involvement and bringing the children of Jerusalem closer to the beauty of their territory that a number of activities with local schools have recently begun.
The girls walk down the Mount of Olives to where the Women’s Institute Al-Tur is. Khaled Hamdan, who coordinates the activities with the schools, explains: “We started by contacting local schools in Arab neighbourhoods near the church, then we will expand the project to include the rest of the city.”
On October 4th accompanied by Khaled and Osama Hamdan, the architect working with ATS pro Terra Sancta and in charge of the restoration work, a class from the school in Al-Tur took part in the first of the visits that will be organised on a weekly basis. All the girls, as well as the four teachers who accompany them, wear a hat with a picture of the mosaic of Gethsemane and the logos of the organisations who are donating to the project: ATS pro Terra Sancta, the Custody of the Holy Land, Mosaic Center in Jericho, the Italian Consulate’s Palestinian Municipalities Support Program, the Municipality of Rovereto, The Bell of the Fallen Foundation, and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio of Trento and Rovereto.
The tour starts outside, where the girls listen closely to the history of the church and look on a map at the historical and architectural changes it has undergone over the centuries. It continues inside, where mosaicist Raed Khalil talks about his work and shows them the mosaics on the vaulted ceiling and the floor. Some take notes, others just keeping looking upwards, fascinated by the colours and the finely made shapes. Then they approach the table where two of the boys in training are working on a copy of particular part of the mosaic. The glass tiles – provided by an Italian company – shine in the light of the spotlight. At the end of the visit the girls ask to take a piece home as a souvenir of this special outing. And one of them, before leaving, asks timidly: “Can I bring the rest of my family to Gethsemane too?”