Friday 25 February, at 10.00 in Pius X hall at the Catholic University of Milan, marks the beginning of the conference entitled “Sebastia, the fruits of history and the memory of John the Baptist”. The aim of the conference, whose participants will include the President of the Catholic University, Professor Lorenzo Ornaghi, and the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa ofm, is to present the important scientific discoveries that have been made in recent years by the archaeological mission of the Custody in Sebastia, today a small, picturesque Palestinian village located not far from Nablus but in earlier times a magnificent city founded by Herod the Great. The importance of these excavations comes from their connection to John the Baptist. In fact, according to a living tradition that dates back to the first days of the Christian era, it was to Sebastia itself that the disciples of John the Baptist brought his decapitated body to be buried. While in the early centuries Christian pilgrims made visits to his tomb, this practice gradually died out following the Islamic conquest. Today, thanks to the patient recovery work carried out by the NGO ATS pro Terra Sancta of the Custody of the Holy Land, with scientific input from professors at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum and technical support from local partners, a Christian site of great importance has been returned to pilgrims and visitors.
ATS pro Terra Sancta is working in close collaboration with the Municipality of Sebastia and with the Mosaic Center of Jericho to preserve and enhance the cultural heritage of the village, and to support the local community. The involvement in Sebastia of ATS pro Terra Sancta and of the Custody of the Holy Land came about at the express request of Father Michele Piccirillo. The excavations at Sebastia have been financed since 2010 by the Lombardy Region of Italy and the Cariplo Foundation, and in earlier years through various Italian foreign aid programs.
Also participating in the conference will be Professor Marco Rossi, professor of Medieval Art History at the Catholic University, Carla Benelli, art historian, and Osama Hamdan, Palestinian architect and restorer. The latter two, in collaboration with ATS pro Terra Sancta, are responsible for the archaeological restoration works being carried out in Sebastia, continuing with dedication the work begun by Father Michele Piccirillo ofm, the noted Franciscan archaeologist who died in 2008. Architect Hamdan will speak about the latest discoveries and the activities to preserve the remains from the Crusader era that have been brought to light. Doctor Benelli will focus on the social importance of the archaeological discoveries at Sebastia. The discovery of remains from the Crusader era and their restoration for cultural and tourist visits have in fact opened new perspectives for life and work for many of the inhabitants of Sebastia: numerous Palestinian youths from the village have been trained as guides for visitors; the site is now being visited by scholars and students who are also able to participate in a mosaic workshop that was developed expressly for them; and a tourist center has been opened as well as a guest house for short-term visitors.
On 25 February, at the conclusion of the conference, a photographic exhibition will be inaugurated in the first cloister of the Catholic University, and will last until 4 March. The exhibition, consisting of 21 1×1.20m panels, two totems each having four panels, and a giant poster measuring 2.50×2.50m, will by means of texts, photographs, videos and maps of the site tell the story of the excavations and the positive impact that the work of ATS pro Terra Sancta has had on Palestinian society in the area.
For information and materials regarding the exhibition:
tel.02-18.104.22.168. cell. 347-81.01.823
For information on the project ATS pro Terra Sancta:
Michela Perathoner- ATS pro Terra Sancta: firstname.lastname@example.org