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Sunday, November 30, 1997 Published at 09:10 GMT


Church of St Francis of Assisi reopens after earthquakes
image: [ Work will continue at the Basilica's Upper House for the next two years ]
Work will continue at the Basilica's Upper House for the next two years

The lower church of the famous Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is reopening, two months after the earthquakes which killed 10 people and destroyed some of the Basilica's priceless art treasures.

The Basilica's upper house, which housed the shattered frescoes, is to remain closed until 1999.

The reopening of the lower church is a small step forward for the famous Basilica of Saint Francis. It was relatively undamaged in the earthquakes and has been declared safe for visitors.

The lower church is reopening quietly with Catholic mass being celebrated in the normal way.

[ image: Experts disagree about how many of the thousands of fragments can be pieced back together]
Experts disagree about how many of the thousands of fragments can be pieced back together
But the main problem and the focus of attention is still the famed upper church. It suffered severe damage in the quakes and is likely to remain closed for the next two years.

The fate of its damaged Thirteeth and Fourteenth Century frescoes - attributed to Giotto and Cimbue - is still unclear. There is argument about how much of the precious frescoes can be restored and how best to carry out the work.

Italy's Culture Minister, Valter Veltroni, has said there is reasonable hope that the thousands of fragments salvaged after the quakes can be pieced back together, but others disagree.

The man leading the restoration effort, Antonio Perlucci, has said he is pessimistic about the possibility of re-building complete images from the jigsaw puzzle of fragments which remain.

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