“Michele Piccirillo, Franciscan archaeologist, between science and providence”

Giacomo Pizzi2 November 2010

“A book born from an act of love for an extraordinary man” – these are the words used by Father Giovanni Claudio Bottini to present the book in memory of the recently passed away Franciscan archaeologist “Michele Piccirillo, francescano archeologo, tra scienza e provvidenza” (Michele Piccirillo, Franciscan archaelogist, between science and providence), presented during the cycle “Looks on Christians in the Middle East” which took place during the Synod for the Middle East. “As an archaeologist, Piccirillo contributed to rewriting some sections of the history of the Church, through the information gathered from the mosaics he discovered, finding out names of bishops, priests, churches and demonstrating that in the first 3 centuries of Muslim domain in the Holy Land the Christian community prospered” commented Father Bottini, recalling that Father Piccirillo made archaeology an instrument of peace and of encounter for people of different religions, meeting the concrete needs of the local population.

The cultural and artistic valorization of the sites was never the only aim of the Franciscan friar: the past activities and the projects still carried out by ATS pro Terra Sancta, the NGO of the Custody of the Holy Land, invest much on supporting the economy in the area involved in the projects and on the benefits that could derive for the locals. Let’s think for example of the Mosaic Center in Jericho and the importance that the vocational training of the locals still has. “The Mosaic Center in Jericho” says Osama Hamdan, an architect cooperating with ATS pro Terra Sancta and Father Michele Piccirillo’s disciple “serves the Palestinian area both in the restoration activities and in the production of mosaics: we started with 2 people in 2002, now we have 13. The idea was not to train simple technicians, employees, but people who could think, to invest not only on stones, but on people” The same principle is still at the very foundation of the activities carried out at the nacre laboratory in Bethlehem, where, as the art historian Carla Benelli explained “the objective is to start again, by training local artisans, a production which since 1600 has created in Bethlehem masterpieces hosted today in museums worldwide”.

Another project created and started by Father Michele Piccirillo is the one currently carried out in Sebastia by ATS pro Terra Sancta, where, next to restore a historical centre in total degradation, local people are trained so that the Palestinians can better take advantage of the opportunities arising from works done in town.