Mother-of-pearl carving in Bethlehem

Mother-of-pearl carving is a traditional handicraft in Bethlehem, and is said to have been brought to the city by Franciscan friars from Italy in the 15th century.[1]

Model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, made in Bethlehem, probably late 1600s. In the British Museum
Workers in mother-of-pearl in Bethlehem. Photo taken 1900–1920 by American Colony, Jerusalem.
Mother-of-pearl work from Bethlehem, as seen in a shop in Ramallah, 2012


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. According to Weir, Bethlehem women's employment in the mother-of-pearl industry goes back at least to the seventeenth century.[2] It was noted by Richard Pococke, who travelled there in 1727.[3]

The first exhibition in the west of mother-of-pearl artifacts from Palestine was at The World Fair in New York in 1852. Two brothers, Giries and Ibrahim Mansur, exhibited their work and were a great success.[1]

Previously, most of the oysters for the mother-of-pearl supply came from the Red Sea. As of 2007 however, Australia, California, New Zealand and Brazil are the main exporters of the mother-of-pearl.[4]

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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Tourist Products,, 23.01.2007, Source: "Bethlehem, The Immortal Town" by Giries Elali Archived 2021-05-08 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Weir, 1989, pp.128, 280, n.30
  3. ^ "there are many Christians here: they live by making not only crosses and beads of wood, inlaid with mother of pearl, but also models of the Church of the holy Sepulchre, and of the several sanctuaries in and about Jerusalem"; Pococke, 1811, p. 436
  4. ^ Bethlehem municipality website Archived 2007-11-21 at the Wayback Machine


  • Weir, Shelagh (1989). Palestinian Costume, London: British Museum Publications Ltd. ISBN 0-7141-2517-2. (exhibition catalog)
  • Pococke, R. (1811): A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World: Many of which are Now First Translated Into English, (Popocke starts at p.  406)

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