MOSAIC DISCOVERED IN NA TIVITY GROTTO
Discovery of an ancient mosaic representation of the Nativity and traces of still more ancient mosaics may convert a ouch-needed government renovation project in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem into an archaeological research undertaking.
The renovation consists of cleaning nearly a century's accumulation of candle-soot from the walls and ceiling of the Grotto, a project which Catholics were prevented from undertaking by their Orthodox co-proprietors.
During the renovations the ancient mosaic was discovered in a niche above the Nativity Altar. It presents the Madonna and Child. The mosaic has been badly damaged, partly by a fire in 1873 and also apparently by hammer blows, which mutilated the countenances of tlfe infant and of Our Lady and the shepherds. The work evidently is Romanesque-Byzantine, with the Madonna and Child in the centre, the worshipping shepherds in the foreground, and the Nativity Basilica in the background, after the style of a medieval painting.
Important from the Catholic viewpoint is the fact that below the scene, in large letters, is the Latin inscription, " Gloria in Excelsis Deo et in Terra Pax Horninibus." With the silver star beneath the altar is another Latin inscription, " Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est." (Here of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ was born.) This evidence, it was pointed out, is proof that at one time it was a Catholic altar, from which the Catholic Mass has been excluded during 200 years of Greek-dissident possession.