Mother of Pearl from Palestine

During the last 100 years the MOP industry developed in several directions.

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Since 1850, Bethlehem has witnessed major development in the industry of mother of pearl, encouraged by the presence of pilgrims and religious persons due to the relative stability and increasing good relations between this area and Europe.

One development in MOP industry was the simple souvenir industry whereby small pieces of religious and traditional nature were manufactured with mother of pearl and often mixed with olive wood. These items were destined for the pilgrim and tourist markets and included rosaries, crosses, small icons, boxes, covers of holy books, etc.

The higher caliber craftsmen focused on large pieces. These were mostly icons on Christian themes decorated with mother of pearl carefully cut and shaped and colourfully glued in a mosaic format.

The other development was the exceptional work of large models and art pieces. These are usually done on demand by governments as gifts to royalty, rulers and high-ranking religious personalities. These included, for example, a large model of the Dome of the Rock that was made as a gift for King Farouk of Egypt in the 1940s, a model of the Church of the Nativity in 1930s sent to the Vatican, and one of the Holy Sepulchre sent to St. Petersburg. Many of these pieces are found today in the Vatican Museum, the British Museum, the Hermitage, and other museums in Austria, Greece, Chile, Colombia, India, and Kashmir.

Working with mother of pearl requires simple tools such as cutters. Certain chemicals are used to glue the mother of pearl pieces which are then polished not only to make them look better, but also to preserve them for a long time. The work is time-consuming and requires skill and patience. The introduction of modern tools in the second half of the 20th century, such as small motors and tools for carving, made things easier of course. Nowadays in workshops in Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala one can see industrial tools that copy figures and carve them.

Based on the book, “Nacar di Palestina” by Enrique Jidi, Colombia.

Extracted from

Bethlehem's position as an important Christian city has for centuries attracted a constant stream of pilgrims. This generated much local work and income, also for women, including making mother-of-pearl souvenirs.

Previously, most of the oysters for the mother-of-pearl supply came from the Red Sea. Today, however, Australia, California, New Zealand and Brazil are the main exporters.

Present day products, include crosses, earrings, brooches, maps of Palestine, and picture frames.

Extracted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



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