|Restoring for humanity the origins of Christianity
Last year we were to have celebrated the 70th anniversary of the
Franciscan presence on Mount Nebo to commemorate the first campaign (13
July 1933) to excavate the Memorial of Moses. Continuing tensions in the
Middle East, the aftermath of the war in Iraq and the endemic
Israeli-Palestinian crisis made it advisable to postpone the celebrations
to quieter times.
Fourth training course
The 2003 summer campaign aimed mainly at organizing the fourth training
course for the restoration of the ancient mosaic in the best possible way.
The campaign was directed by the Franciscan Archaeological Institute in
collaboration with the Jericho Workshop for Mosaic Restoration and the
Madaba School for Mosaic Restoration.
Jordanian, Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese students participated as
they had in the past; but Iraqi guests also participated, warmly welcomed
to the course by all for two groups held mainly on Mount Nebo. The groups
also worked on the mosaics at Umm al-Rasas and Madaba.
Work on the restoration of the mosaic floor of St George's Church in
Khirbat al-Mukhayyat/Nebo City, one of the first mosaics discovered by the
Franciscan mission in Jordan, is progressing well. This mosaic, originally
laid by the mosaic artists Naum, Kiriakos and Toma, was completed in 536
at the time of Bishop John of Madaba. Its rich iconographic motifs make it
one of the most representative examples of sixth-century classical
The best news was the permission the Syrian Authorities granted to the
entire group to travel to Shahba-Philippopolis in the Hawran to continue
work as planned on the splendid mosaics in the city, birthplace of Emperor
Philip the Arabian. The work was financed by the Custody of the Holy Land
and by the General Administration for Cooperation and Culture of, the
Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Work is also under way on Mount Nebo to restore and preserve the panels
of the pulpit discovered in the Church of the Lions at Umm al-Rasas-Kastron
Mefaa. The fragile panels of bituminous limestone, finely engraved with
geometrical motifs, crosses and figurative designs which were later erased
during the iconoclastic crisis, are the best preserved parts of an ambo
yet to be discovered in any of the churches in Jordan.
We gladly gave our colleagues a hand when they asked us for help, just
as we worked with our friends from the Danish Institute in Damascus on the
restoration of the mosaic of the Concert at Mariamin, a
third-fourth century masterpiece on display at the new Archaeological
Museum of Hama.
We also collaborated last year with the American Research Center of
Cairo to restore three splendid mosaics preserved in the Greco-Roman
Museum in Alexandria: the Stag Hunt from Shatbi-Alessandria (third
century B.C.), the Berenice from Thmuis (third century B.C.) and
the fragment of the legend of Alpheius and Arethusa from Thmuis,
which dates back to the third century A. D.
In Jarash, Jordan, among the olives planted on the slopes of the
mountain that descend on the western side towards the ruins of the city,
the Department of Antiquities has unearthed a small monastery chapel with
floor mosaics laid in the time of Bishop Paul, who governed between 526
Also in Jarash, in the area of Wadi ed-Dayr that separates the Northern
Gate of the town from the spring of al-Birkatein, an excavation of the
foundations has uncovered a burial complex. In one of the five excavated
tombs, a lead sarcophagus was found, decorated with a classical
mythological scene and crosses, almost a novelty for the antiquities of
Making the most of a cordial invitation, we even climbed once again to
the summit of Jabal-an-Nabi Harun in Petra, to be updated on the
excavations under taken by the Finnish expedition at the Monastery of St
We continue to be involved in the project of Baptism Park, opened at
the wish of the late King Hussein on the eastern bank of the River Jordan,
in accordance with the information provided by the Franciscan
archaeologists of Mount Nebo. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch has already
constructed a church by the river, in front of the chapel built on the
west bank by the Custody of the Holy Land. At the request of Bishop Salim
Sayegh, Latin-rite Auxiliary of Jerusalem and Jordan, we are working with
the architect Vito Sonzogni from Bergamo on plans for a Shrine of the
Baptism to be built and administered by the Catholics of the region.
Apart from the celebrations that had to be postponed, in the area of
scholarship we celebrated the 70th anniversary with the publication of the
book Arabia Cristiana in Italian, French and German. We presented a
copy to H.B. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. At the end of
the campaign, he chose to celebrate with us and the Christian communities
of Madaba and Ma'in his 70th birthday as well as the liturgical feast of
Moses the Prophet and Man of God, to which the basilica on the summit of
Siyagha is dedicated.
Furthermore, a book containing the projects submitted by groups of
architects who responded to our appeal to reroof the Memorial of Moses is
ready for publication.
To mark the Pope's Visit to pray at the Shrine of Pompei on Mount Nebo,
a copy was made in mosaic of the inscription of the Church of Our Lady at
Madaba, built in 767 A.D. At the height of the Islamic period, the
community of the small southern town of the Arabian Province expressed its
faith in concise and theologically correct terms: "If you want to look at
Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, and the Son she conceived, the Only Son of
the One God, purify your mind, your body and your soul, so that with pure
prayers you may purify the People of God".