The remains of a fifth-century Byzantine church were on Monday unveiled in Gaza following a three-year restoration project, with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas officials touting an embrace of their “Christian brothers.”
The remains of a church and monastery were first discovered in Jabalia, a city in northern Gaza, in 1997. Spanning an area about 800m2, the church’s floor is adorned with what officials said are “rare” mosaics, including depictions of animals, hunting scenes and palm trees.
Visitors can gaze at the mosaics from elevated wooden walkways.
The Gaza Ministry of Tourism said the church’s original walls were adorned with religious texts written in ancient Greek dating from the era of Emperor Theodosius II, who ruled Byzantium from 408 to 450.
At a ceremony marking the site’s reopening, the most senior Christian cleric in Gaza, Archbishop Alexios of Tiberias, talked about Christianity’s long history in the coastal territory, saying that “monasticism began in the Gaza strip in the year 280.”
However, the number of Christians in Gaza has been falling for years, many of them having emigrated, particularly after the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in 2007.
Local church officials said only about 1,000 Christians remain in the enclave, down from 7,000 in 2007.
Issam al-Daalis, president of the Governing Committee for the Management of Gaza Issues, said that the site’s restoration is an example of Hamas’ “embracing” of its “Christian brothers in Gaza.”
The restoration was carried out by French organization Premiere Urgence Internationale at a cost of nearly US$250,000. The British Council also supported the work.
About 2.3 million people live in Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel since 2007.
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