A worshipper prays inside the Edicule surrounding Jesus’ tomb.
It’s one of Christianity’s holiest sites — the burial chamber where Jesus Christ is believed to have been entombed. Now following nine months of meticulous restoration, it’s reopened to the devoted.
Situated in the heart of the Christian quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City, much-needed repairs were conducted to the Edicule, a small limestone and marble structure built on the site identified in the 4th century as Jesus’ final resting place following his crucifixion.
The ambitious project was overseen by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) while Antonia Moropoulou of the National Technical University of Athens led an interdisciplinary team of specialists and masons who carried out the work.
It was unveiled to the public on Wednesday.
The conservators, who worked mostly at night so as not to impact the Christian faithful from praying at the holy site, fixed underlying masonry before returning displaced stone blocks to their original positions, securing them with titanium anchors, according to Moropoulou.
“We consolidated the holy rock. We opened the tomb of Christ in order to protect it from the infection of grout. Then we reinstalled the stone slabs after inserting joints of titanium,” Moroloulou said on Monday.
Masons raised a marble slab last October which covered the holy resting place for the first time in almost 500 years.
Photo: As part of the restoration project, members of the National Technical University of Athens removed steel girders which had encased the shrine for the past 70 years.
Kristin Romey, archeology writer at National Geographic told CNN at the time: “What we’re looking at really is investigating how this whole site evolved over time, how this became the focal point of worship and veneration for more than two billion Christians today.
“This is the first time in modern memory that we have removed the marble from the tomb and are able to look down and investigate the original rock that, according to Christian tradition, the body of Jesus Christ was laid out on,” she continued.
Six denominations of the Christian faith share this holy space — Franciscan (Catholic), Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox church. In a bid to maintain neutral guardianship for the multi-denominational place of worship, a Muslim family has held the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for generations.
Quarrels between the Holy Sepulchre custodians had held up repair work to the dilapidated monument for over 50 years.
Then last year three of the communities — the Franciscan, Armenian and Greek Orthodox Churches — were able to set aside their conflicts to save the Edicule from collapse.
“This is a historic moment of collaboration between the major Christian communities, and others around the world, to ensure the preservation of the unique for Christianity, Holy Place of Anastasis,” said His Beatitude Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem in a press release.
Protecting the holy site
The restoration was completed just a few weeks before Easter when thousands of worshipers from across the globe are expected to once again make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The remnants of Jesus’ rock-cut tomb are encased within the Edicule, which sits at the center of church’s main Rotunda. It has been desecrated or destroyed at least four times throughout history. The current structure was rebuilt by a Greek architect in 1810 after fire damage to the monument.
According to the WMF, the total cost of restoration was 3.45 million euros (just over $3.72 million) using donations from private individuals including WFM trustee Mica Ertegun, who provided $1.3 million to support the project.
“I wanted people to come together to preserve this holy site which is so important to all religions. Its restoration is extraordinary,” she said in a press statement.
WMF says a second phase of restoration is due to begin over the next year to ensure “long-term structural stability of the Edicule and to prevent damage from moisture from recurring the future.”