Sunday, 10 July 2011

Arab Orthodox Church of St Nicholas, Beit Jala

The cave of St Nicholas. Beneath the rub is a mosaic of the Imperial Byzantine Eagle, only ever used under Imperial sanction and indicating that this was a major ecclesiastical site during the Byzantine era.
The Orthodox Church of St Nicholas is situated just outside of Bethlehem in the small town of Beit Jala.  It is built above the site of St Nicholas’ 3rd century hermitage, a cave,  when he spent some time in Bethlehem; the current church dates from 1925.

Built completely by local people, the interior of the dome was painted in oil by local iconographers from Bethlehem who were highly influenced by the Alleppo School of Syria. This iconographic school produced a style of iconography unique to the Arab Christians of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, resembling late Russian iconography but with certain stylistic differences. Originating with the Melchite Eastern Catholics in Syria from the early 18th century in the 19th century there was a major centre in Jerusalem by which time its style was found throughout the eastern rite churches, those in communion with the Pope and eastern Orthodox. 

Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. The Orthodox church of St Nicholas can be seen in the centre of the picture, identified by the silver dome. Beit Jala is one of the last Christian majority towns in the Holy Land.
 These wall paintings had been significantly damaged by water, re-plastering and previous attempts at restoration. This demanded a considerable amount of new painting in this style as well as restoration. I also re-gilded and restored the icons of the iconostasis, and executed two new commissions in the church, one of thePlatytera , Our Lady of the Sign, on the ceiling of the apse. The other is of St Sabba. I also wrote a new, large icon of St Nicholas narrating some of the many miracles attributed to the saint in the town.

This work was carried out under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

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