Located at the center of one of the world’s oldest churches-The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem-is the shrine which, according to tradition, contains the tomb in which Jesus’s body is believed to have been interred after the crucifixion. For ages, the conditions at the tomb have fallen into great disrepair. Now, in time for Easter, its restoration at the hands of a Greek conservation team (the same team in charge of the massive restorations at the Acropolis in Athens) is complete.
The project, which started in May, 2016 was completed on March 22nd at a cost of just over $4 million. Funding was provided, in part, by donations amounting to $1.4 million contributed by individuals to the World Monuments Fund. The remaining balance was provided by private donors.
A complete transformation of the monument was imperative. After centuries of exposure to environmental factors, as well as ritual candle smoke and wax drippings, the shrine was in need of urgent attention to prevent further decay and possible collapse.
The restoration team went through the painstakingly slow process of stripping the stone slabs one by one from the shrine’s façade, patching the internal masonry of the shrine, and injecting it with tubes of grout for reinforcement. Each stone slab was cleaned of candle soot and pigeon droppings using the equivalent of a Q-tip-size cotton swab to protect the archeological integrity of the tomb. Afterwards, titanium bolts were inserted into the structure to provide additional reinforcement.
Visitors to the renovated tomb will benefit from the meticulous restoration of the frescos, the original letters of inscriptions, the different panaches of mural paintings as well as the recently revealed original consistency and colors of the stone.
The highlight of the project occurred in October, 2016, when scientists removed a marble slab which hadn’t been moved since the 16th century. Upon doing do, they revealed what is thought to be the original Holy bed of Jesus. “We may not be absolutely certain that the site of the Holy Sepulcher Church is the site of Jesus’ burial, but we certainly have no other site that can lay a claim nearly as weighty, and we really have no reason to reject the authenticity of the site,” Dan Bahat, former city archaeologist of Jerusalem, told National Geographic.
Now, visitors can continue to workshop at what is considered to be the Holiest site in Christendom.
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