Jerusalem church needs a miracle: Squabbling over roof repairs

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If pilgrims worshipping in the Church of the Nativity look up at the roof, they will see a battlefield threatening the future of one of Christendom's most holy sites.

Squabbling over crucial roof repairs between the three Christian communities that share custodianship of Jesus's birthplace is endangering the 1,500-year-old basilica.

Large holes in the 500-year-old lead roof have let rainwater flood inside for years. It streams down the walls and threatens to wash away Crusader-era murals and destroy Byzantine mosaics.

A botched repair by the Greeks, in which the roof was given a waterproof lining, has created new problems, as condensation now eats into the plaster and rots wooden beams.

The most authoritative survey for decades found the wood was so badly damaged that a large truss was only being prevented from crashing to the floor by friction.

But while the three communities accept that repairs are needed, mutual suspicion means they cannot agree on how to carry them out. The impasse means that each year the winter, rains destroy more of the church's once magnificent interior.

"The Church of The Nativity should be a symbol of what we are as Christians, not a symbol of disunity and disagreement," said Father Michele Piccirillo, a Catholic priest and archeological expert. "The condition of the roof is unbelievably bad, and it must be settled, not just for the benefit of the church, but for all Christianity.''

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