Restoration work in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has brought to light an icon of great religious and historical value, officials say.
Ziad al-Bandak, a Palestinian presidential adviser for Christian Affairs, told Ma'an news agency that the centuries-old icon is made of brass, silver, shells and stones.
He added the religious artifact was found under plaster about two months ago near a window in the church.
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Originally built in the fourth century by the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena over what is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, the Church of the Nativity was leveled in the Samaritan Revolt of A.D. 529 and reconstructed during the reign of Justinian in the 6th century.
The church was in such poor condition after centuries of neglect that in 2012 it was listed by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, as an endangered world heritage site.
A year later, the first major restoration in more than 500 years began. So far $8 million, from the Palestinian Authority, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches and others, has been spent to restore the church.
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"The removal of centuries of dust has left mosaics sparkling in the sunlight filtering through brand new windows," al-Bandak, who is leading the Palestinian committee in charge of the restoration, said.
"Structural repairs on the fragile rooftop and windows have been completed and artistic treasures have been returned to their delicate elegance," he added.
The first phase of the restoration has now ended, but another $11 million is needed to complete the project.
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Meanwhile, plaster covering the mysterious religious artifact has been removed. The ancient icon is not available for public viewing and photographs have yet to be published.