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Memorial ceremony to honour archaeologist that worked extensively in Jordan held at ACOR

By Saeb Rawashdeh - Sep 21,2018 - Last updated at Sep 21,2018

Interior of Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo (Photo by Khaled Al Azzeh)

AMMAN — We were spectators of the destructions of antiquity, unable to do anything to end this catastrophe, said dean of Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem, Father Rosario Pierri, at a lecture organised by the American Centre of Oriental Research (ACOR) on Wednesday.

The event titled "A Memorial Evening for Father Michele Piccirillo" marked the tenth anniversary of the death of a Franciscan scholar who spent 35 years of his life working on Jordanian heritage sites, particularly mosaics.

"A humanist, as such, should have a very different view of reality and history, because he tries to reconstruct the life of our ancestors without any pretension to understand it completely," continued Father Rosario reflecting on the life and scholarly legacy of Piccirillo (1944-2008), who was "a Franciscan priest by vocation and an archaeologist by his mission".

The humanist observes and he is a spectator because he knows that in order to understand the cultural heritage, he has to live as his ancestors had lived, elaborated Father Rosario, adding that regarding the current situation in the region, we have witnessed the destruction of monuments with total indifference.

"Those who deal with antiquities and the art of the past, through the humble everyday objects that have come to us, inevitably find themselves in dialogue with humanity," he underlined, noting that “the hermeneutic circle is not only valid for texts, but mosaic, sculpture and bowls which are a tangible expression of the life of men and women who loved, suffered, rejoiced and believed like us".

The archaeological debut of Father Piccirillo occurred in the summer of 1972 and he diligently worked on mosaics in Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Egypt until his untimely death ten years ago.

Father Bellarmino Bagati, who was a professor of Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem, was an early influence of Piccirillo, before he specialised in Near Eastern studies at Sapienza University of Rome, said Father Rosario.

"In 1993, his enthusiastic research culminated in a volume titled ‘The Mosaics of Jordan’, sponsored by ACOR, whose preface bears the signature of His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan," Father Rosario said, noting that four years after, Father Michele was the main promoter of the international congress organised to commemorate a century since the discovery of the Madaba Map.

Director of the Franciscan Archaeological Institute of Mount Nebo Franco Sciorilli, who for many years was a disciple of Father Piccirillo, remembered how they collaborated on multiple regional initiatives including the Bilad Sham Project, which lasted from 2004-2008.

According to Sciorilli, the most significent work of Father Piccirillo was the restoration of Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo.

"The very important segment of his work was the interaction with local community, because Father Piccirillo clearly understood that the cultural sites will remain for locals, while foreign experts come and go," Sciorilli highlighted.

"We are in Jordan and Jordan is undoubtedly the country in which Michele had worked the most, and in which he had spent most of his life. Jordan was his passion," concluded Father Rosario. 

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