The spot believed to be the original burial place of Jesus – the Edicule at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City – will be reopened on Wednesday 22 March after nine months of restoration works.
“If the intervention hadn’t happened now, there is a very great risk that there could have been a collapse,” Bonnie Burnham of the World Monuments Fund, which had oversight of the project, told Associated Press.
The restoration was completed by a team of Greek scientists and restorers after the six Christian denominations who claim custodianship of the site – Latin (Roman Catholic), Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Copts – agreed to set aside ongoing disputes and jointly fund the US$4 million project. According to The Guardian, the remaining funding came from King Abdullah of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Mica Ertegun, the widow of Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, who gave $1.3m.
The shrine has been rebuilt four times, the last time in 1810, following a fire.
This time, the team of restorers from National Technical University of Athens removed the stone slabs from the shrine’s facade, cleaning them and removing heavy layers of soot and pigeon droppings. The internal masonry of the shrine was reinforced with tubes of grout, and the stone slabs replaced.
According to Associated Press, titanium bolts were inserted into the structure for reinforcement, and frescoes and the shrine’s painted dome were also given a facelift.
In October 2016 the team removed a layer of marble to reveal the original rock shelf on which it is believed Jesus’ body may have been originally laid after he was taken down from the cross. A small window has been cut from the shrine’s marble walls for pilgrims to see — for the first time — the bare stone of the ancient burial cave.
The unveiling ceremony will be attended by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and a representative of Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.