February 2011

Sebastia – the fruits of history and the memory of John the Baptist in Milan

sebaste_04An exhibition to help make better known in Italy the archaeological site of Sebastia in the Palestinian Territories, to tell the story of the conservation and development activities undertaken in the village by ATS pro Terra Sancta (the NGO of the Custody of the Holy Land), and to highlight the contribution to the project provided by the Cariplo Foundation and the Lombardy Region of Italy.

The exhibition will be inaugurated on 25 February with a conference beginning at 10:00, to be held in Pius X hall of the Catholic University of Milan, 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.

Sebastia: The fruits of history and the memory of John the Baptist

an exclusive video and photographic exhibition for transmitting news and information about a situation that is both little known and fascinating. The life of the Palestinian village, between archaeology and development.

Where? At the Catholic University of Milan

When? From 25 February to 4 March 2011

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What is Sebastia?

The Palestine village of Sebastia (also frequently transliterated from Arabic as Sabastiya or Sebastiya) takes its name from the city founded in 25 BC by Herod the Great on the site of ancient Samaria, capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. The archaeological excavations have brought to light spectacular remains that can today be visited in the upper part of the village, including a Hellenistic tower, the remains of the Roman temple dedicated to the Emperor Augustus, the forum, the basilica, the theater, the stadium, the walls and the colonnaded avenue. In the early Christian period Sebastia became a pilgrimage destination, as the site of John the Baptist’s tomb. A church was constructed over the tomb during the Byzantine period (5th century), later reconstructed during the Crusader period (12th century), and then transformed following the Islamic conquest into a mosque dedicated to the prophet Yahya, the Muslim name for Saint John the Baptist.

ATS pro Terra Sancta and institutional and private donors

ATS pro Terra Sancta, created to support social and cultural projects of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, has been working for several years with the Municipality of Sebastia. Projects to restore the historical center of the village have been carried out with the financial support of Italian foreign aid and, since 2010, the Cariplo Foundation and the Lombardy Region of Italy.

The recovery and restoration works: between archaeology and development

Beginning with a small nucleus of buildings, the preservation activities in Sebastia have been gradually enlarged to encompass a substantial part of the historical center, at the same time helping the village economy by employing local artisans and workers at the site. The activities turned out to be particularly interesting when, after having cleaned up the rubble and debris from the area, the remains of an important fortification were brought to light, along with a tower having a spiral staircase and, finally, a chapel, all very probably dating from the Crusader period. In 2009 two mosaic pavement fragments of exquisite workmanship were unearthed, probably remains from the Byzantine monastery adjacent to the church.

Social and cultural activities in Sebastia

Apart from preservation activities, the project has supported a number of training activities for the local population, notably for women and youths. A lodging service has been put in place,  providing hospitality to tourists and pilgrims in both renovated buildings and with village families. Training courses for local tourist guides have been organized, as well as for the production of typical local products which are sold in the handicraft shop located in one of the restored buildings in the historical center.

The exhibition in Milan

The objectives of the historical/archaeological/photographic exhibition and the accompanying video material are threefold:  to make better known in Italy the archaeological site of Sebastia (ancient Samaria) in the Palestinian Territories; to tell the story of the conservation and development activities undertaken by ATS pro Terra Sancta in the village; and to highlight the contribution to the project provided by the Cariplo Foundation and the Lombardy Region of Italy.

The exhibition consists of 29 panels measuring 1×1.20 m, a poster measuring 2×2 m, and two videos produced for ATS pro Terra Sancta by the journalist Alessandra Buzzetti. “The Fruits of History – Voyage to Sebastia”, in Italian (14 minutes in length) and “The Last Prophet – on the trail of Saint John the Baptist” (length: 10 minutes).

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