Restoration workers at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, traditionally considered the birthplace of Jesus, have uncovered a mosaic of an angel which was previously hidden under plaster, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
It was the seventh mosaic uncovered during the current renovations, using a thermography technique that scans solid surfaces for works hidden underneath them.
"Of the 2,000 meters of original mosaics, it has been possible to save 150 meters squared," said Giammarco Piacenti, owner of the company responsible for the restoration.
"It's the project of my life," said Piacenti, who estimated that more than 1.5 million mosaic pieces, in stone, glass and mother of pearl, had been used for the restoration.
Piacenti's attention is now focused on 50 columns in the central nave of the basilica, which are believed to hide 12th century paintings depicting saints from many Christian countries.
In support of the restoration, the Palestinian Minister for Religious Affairs Ziad Bandak has launched an "Adopt a column" campaign. "Whoever wants to donate money and become part of this beautiful adventure is free to do so," he said.
The Church of the Nativity was originally commissioned in 327 by Roman emperor Constantine and his mother Helena over the cave that is still traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. Fresh traces of Constantine's time have been found in the basilica, experts said last month.
The site's original basilica was completed in 339 and destroyed by fire during the Samaritan Revolts in the 6th century. A new basilica was built in 565 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, restoring the architectural tone of the original.
The Church of the Nativity is a World Heritage Site, and was the first to be listed under Palestine by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO.) It is also on UNESCO's List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.
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