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One of Christianity’s Holiest Sites Gets Its Grand Unveiling

A team of 50 experts spent nine months cleaning and reinforcing the shrine that is believed to be above Jesus’ tomb

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre's Edicule when it was still was covered by the iron cage in 2010. ( Michael Privorotsky CC 2.0)
smithsonian.com

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, houses one of Christianity’s most sacred monuments: an ornate shrine, believed to have been built over the cave where Jesus of Nazareth was buried and resurrected. Throughout centuries of war and inclement weather, the shrine has been damaged, rebuilt and damaged again. By 1947, it had fallen into a state of such disrepair that it was covered with a rather unsightly iron cage.

Now, after a nine-month, $4 million renovation project, the shrine—known as the Edicule—has been restored, Harriet Sherwood reports for the Guardian. The newly renovated structure will be unveiled during a ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today.

Fifty experts from the National Technical University of Athens carried out the much-needed restoration of the Edicule. They scrubbed away clumps of candle soot and pigeon droppings, enforced the structure with titanium bolts and mortar, and lifted up that bulky cage that has covered the shrine for decades.

Four months into the restoration, the team pulled back marble slabs within the Edicule and hit upon a limestone burial bed, which is believed to be Jesus’ original resting place, Kristin Romey wrote in an exclusive piece for National Geographic in October. A small window has now been cut into the Edicule so pilgrims can view the rock beneath it.

The renovation marks a new chapter in the long and ragged history of Jesus’ tomb. As Jason Daley reports for Smithsonian.com, historical sources suggest Roman emperor Hadrian covered Jesus’ place of burial with a temple to Venus around 132 A.D. Two centuries later, in 335 A.D., the Christian emperor Constantine tore down the pagan temple so the tomb could be unearthed. He subsequently ordered a majestic church to be built over the burial site, which later became known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. At the same time, according to Live Science’s Stephanie Pappas, Constantine had the Edicule installed over Jesus’ burial cave. The top of the cave was removed so pilgrims could peer inside.

Since the days of Constantine, the Edicule has gone through several incarnations. It was destroyed by order of the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt in 1009, and subsequently rebuilt by the Byzantines in 1048. As control of Jerusalem was bandied about between Christians and Muslims during the Crusades, the structure fell into disrepair. It was restored in the 16th century, only to be consumed by a fire in 1808. A few years later, the Edicule was resurrected for the fourth time by the Greek architect Nikolaos Komnenos.

The 19th-century structure persisted until the present day, but it has not been well-maintained. According to the Guardian’s Sherwood, previous restoration projects were thwarted due to wrangling amongst the six Christian denominations— Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Copts—that share control of the Church.

The squabbling sects were forced to set their differences aside when the Israel Antiquities Authority temporarily closed the Edicule in 2015, due to concerns that the structure had become unsafe. With the blessing of these religious leaders—and with the help of a $1.3 million donation—construction on the Edicule began the summer of 2016. After months of work, the venerated Christian site is now ready for its grand unveiling.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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