20 June 2023

University of Bethlehem and the Terra Sancta Museum, a partnership of competences


As part of the “Action for the identity and resilience of East Jerusalem” financed by the AFD – Agence Française de Développement’ and implemented by the NDC – NGO for development center, the Terra Sancta Museum has received important aid to complete the structural works of the museum. This partnership has culminated in the organization of workshops on architectural drawing for Palestinian students.

Open doors at St Saviour

The creation of a large museum in the basement of a  monastery, the foundations of which date back to the 12thcentury, could seem a wager. This is why establishing such a restoration project has to combine : solid historical studies, the constitution of a complete graphic documentation and detailed analysis of the structures… The Terra Sancta Museum wanted to share this construction experience with local professionals invited in September 2022 to St Saviour’s Convent, the seat of the Custody of the Holy Land.  

Following this open day, Lorraine, who has been working on the project of the museum since 2020, organized three training sessions. Focused on “architectural work in the context of the cultural heritage,” they brought together engineers and architects. To reach the student world far from Jerusalem as well, Lorraine went to the University of Bethlehem to hold the workshops in 4 sessions from January to June 2023.

The expertise of the Terra Sancta Museum outside its walls

Which strategy is adopted for actions outside the walls? First of all,  showing the extent of the project of the Terra Sancta Museum. In early 223, Lorraine presented the key elements in the creation of a museum to international standards to the students of the Faculty of the Arts : the international scientific committee, the types of works, the variety of the archaeological and historical collections… Then, there were monthly meetings for the practical workshops in small groups. After a short reminder on methodology, the students soon started the practical exercises of architectural drawing. Lastly, the semester ended with a field study visit to start drawing. The students went to the excavations of the PIAC, the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology, on the site of the Shepherds’ Field in Beit-Sahour, south of Bethlehem. The students’ curiosity at the beginning of the sessions was replaced  by motivation and a new interest in the project of the Terra Sancta Museum.

The initiative has the encouragement of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Bethlehem, Prof. Hanadi Younan. The workshops have been proposed for the degree in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage for two years on the initiative of Prof. Omar Abed Rabo. The 2nd year students benefit from this original opportunity. The aim of the workshops is to explain to them the bases of architectural drawing  and give them the keys to read plans and make scale drawings of the surfaces or facades…

Forthcoming collaborations

This desire for collaboration with universities and their students is also essential to help new Palestinian cultural actors to emerge. Job opportunities are not to be ruled out in the deployment of this large Christian museum in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. Today’s students will be the future collaborators of tomorrow.

Among the treasures held by the Terra Sancta Museum, the Palestinian heritage is still little studied. It includes mother-of-pearl artefacts, icons of the School of Jerusalem, Arab jewellery given as ex-votos … With its local partners, the Terra Sancta Museum takes part in temporary exhibitions to make its works known. Last year, the Dar el Sabagh centre of Bethlehem presented works of Bethlehem craftmanship in the exhibition “Minkom wa elaykom”  (19thDecember 2022 – 6th January 2023). Until 25th July 2023, the exhibition “Memories of St Saviour: convent parish, museum”  shows the  bond between the Friars and the inhabitants of the Old City of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Museum of Birzeit will also be receiving musical works from the collections of the Terra Santa Museum for its autumn exhibition!

All these initiatives aim to develop sharing competences in reciprocity. The Terra Sancta Museum intends to allow cultural appropriation of its heritage by the Palestinian public. It is with this objective that guided tours of the current exhibitions are offered free of charge in Arabic by the project’s mediation team. Schools, summer camps, scouts and other cultural partners will be invited throughout the duration of the exhibition of “Memories of St Saviour : convent, parish, museum.” This action is part of harmoniously living together which the Franciscans have been encouraging for 800 years.

Watch the project on video :

Translated from French by Joan Rundo.

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