The great teaching that comes from Bethany: “We should all work together for a common home”

Giacomo Pizzi9 August 2019

For more than a month, restoration work has been underway on the Mosaic Center at the al-Uzair Mosque, the oldest mosque in Bethany, in Arabic Al-Azariya, which stands next to the church and the Franciscan convent dedicated to Saint Lazarus. The mosque dates back to the Ottoman period but was built on the remains of the Christian crusader monastery that was incorporated within its walls. In the place known as the tomb of Lazarus, King Folkus of Jerusalem, at the behest of his wife Melisenda, had the preexisting Byzantine church enlarged and build a monastery with direct access to the tomb for the Benedictine nuns of which Ivette, Melisenda’s sister, was abbess. The complex suffered serious damage with the conquest of the Saladin of 1187 and with time fell into disuse.

On the ruins of this monastery, today, there are three places of worship that have been living side by side for some time: the Franciscan Convent, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Mosque of al-Uzair. “We have seen the works that were done at the Convent of Saint Lazarus nearby and we asked Osama Hamdan and his collaborators for advice in order to restore our mosque. The mosque belongs to our ancestors and preserves an ancient cultural heritage, we want to preserve it and care for it, ”says Salah Shukeh, the head of the al-Uzair Mosque.

The council then turned into a concrete agreement to start the work: the boys of the Mosaic Center Jericho started the renovation of the mosque after receiving all the authorizations from the AWQAF, the Islamic religious authority.

Ayman Nafee, the project supervisor, explains the intervention that was done: “We are restoring the ancient walls, part of the church and the crusader monastery. We encountered great humidity problems and an improper use of cement in the previous restoration that did not allow the right perspiration “.

The work will be finished for the day of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic festival of the Sacrifice of Abraham. The rooms with the ancient Crusader vaults, finally renovated, will once again be able to host the many faithful who come to pray on this holy day.

These simple renovations are actually the important testimony of the climate of collaboration and respect for the two Christian and Muslim communities present in Bethany. Since the start of the “Hospitable Bethany” project, promoted by the Association pro Terra Sancta and by AICS (Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development), for the preservation of the archaeological remains of Bethany, not only has the number of pilgrims and visitors going to the site every year, but also moments of dialogue between the two communities. For example, the traditional Ramadan dinner was held, with the enthusiastic participation of both the Custos of the Holy Land and the head of the Mosque. On both sides there is a strong desire to preserve a common cultural heritage and to enhance an important sanctuary, overcoming the differences and divisions as in few other places in the world.