BEIRUT: A 13th century fresco of the Virgin Mary found at a construction site in Beirut in the 1940’s was unveiled Thursday at the National Museum to a crowd of local officials and dignitaries, including the Vatican ambassador.
The fresco was discovered in Downtown Beirut in 1941, but languished underground in a storage facility, where it was badly damaged, for over 60 years. Restoration work began just two years ago, led by Italian restoration expert Giorgio Capriotti.
“Our main mission was to make the fresco lighter and more suitable for display, while of course keeping its authenticity and not altering the very fragile piece,” Capriotti said.
“It took eight months to restore, mainly due to dampness and humidity severely damaging it over six decades of neglect,” he explained, adding that it was the only fresco in Lebanon from that time period.
The historic fresco was unveiled by caretaker Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun and May Mikati, wife of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Their opening statements included words of praise for the restoration team’s hard work and highlighted how the Virgin Mary was a symbol of coexistence.
The exact provenance of the fresco appears to have been lost in the annals of history, but Layyoun admitted that some archeological sites have been damaged and even destroyed in Downtown Beirut due to construction.
“The situation is under control now, even though last Friday one of the buildings on a protected site collapsed,” he told The Daily Star.
May Mikati, who was instrumental to the restoration of the fresco, emphasized the Virgin Mary’s revered place in both Islam and Christianity.
“I’m involved with this project because I think it will unite the Lebanese,” she said, pointing out that the National Museum, where the fresco will be displayed to the public, lies on the former Green Line that divided east and west Beirut during the Civil War. “Pope John Paul II always called Lebanon the land of coexistence, and the Virgin Mary is today’s bridge between Muslims and Christians through this restored fresco.”