BETHLEHEM (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP)—Down a Bethlehem alleyway, sunlight illuminates a golden icon of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, signaling the revival of an ancient art being practiced in the workshop inside.
The building near the Church of the Nativity–the site where Christians believe Jesus was born–houses a group of enthusiasts specializing in the sacred art of iconography.
They are doing so some 2,000 years after Christian iconography began in nearby Jerusalem–also where Christians believe Jesus was resurrected after his crucifixion, to be commemorated this Sunday for Easter.
They work in both silence and prayer, with their art a far cry from the cheap mass-produced icons sold in souvenir shops to tourists and pilgrims.
“Icons are not commercial objects for us, but holy images that we honour,” said Nicola Juha who heads the Bethlehem Icon Centre.
He explains that icons like theirs are used by worshippers who, for example, light candles before them and pray.
According to tradition, Luke the Evangelist painted the first Christian icon in 60 AD.
Ian Knowles, far from his native Britain, now teaches the same art to not only Palestinian Christians, but also those from countries including Canada and Poland.
Watching the meticulous brushstrokes of his students, he said he left home to spend two weeks in the region and was still there nine years later. Read more here.