At this time of year, millions of Christians around the world turn their minds to the events that took place in the “little town of Bethlehem” over 2000 years ago. Yet few stop to consider what life is like for those born in Bethlehem today.
In this Christmas edition, Mark Dowd meets two young people from Bethlehem who are united in their love of an ancient spiritual art: icon painting, or “writing”, as it’s known. Nicola and Noura both attend the Bethlehem Icon School, and they have come to Britain to write two large icons – one of the Angel Gabriel, the other of the Virgin Mary – for Lichfield Cathedral in Staffordshire.
Together with their teacher Ian Knowles, the founder of the school, they explain what this prayerful art form means to them and how they have created icons of the Annunciation which are both uniquely Palestinian and uniquely English. And they offer a glimpse of life in modern-day Bethlehem – a West Bank town with a dwindling Christian population surrounded by the Israeli security barrier on three sides.