Source: Daily Mail
November 24, 2016
The limestone slab where Jesus' body was said to have been laid out after his crucifixion was revealed last month for the first time since at least 1555 AD.
After removing the slab that encased the tomb, scientists were stunned to find the burial shelf intact and a second marble slab with a cross carved into its surface.
The tomb was opened and resealed within 60 hours during work being done at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Now, new images have emerged revealing the restoration work on the stones that cover the outside of the tomb as well as an 18th century shrine known as the 'Edicule'.
The Edicule - a word derived from the Latin term aedicule meaning 'little house' - was last reconstructed after a fire in the early 1800s.
The Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Armenian Orthodox Church agreed in 1958 that conservation of the Edicule was needed.
But it's taken almost 50 years to get the $4 million (£3.2 million) of funding needed to restore it.
In the 1940s, iron bars were installed to keep the Edicule structure upright until the project started.
Now a team of engineers is injecting mortar around the marble slabs that make up the Edicule so that supports will no longer be needed.
Researchers were given the unprecedented access to the inside of the tomb within the Edicule as part of restoration work that started in October this year.
The team was shocked to find portions of the tomb are still intact today, having survived centuries of damage.
Until then, marble had encased the slab since at least 1555 AD, and likely centuries earlier.
When work first began, the conservation team from the National Technical University of Athens showed only a layer of material underneath the marble slab.
But as researchers continued their work over the course of 60 hours - and with just a few hours left before the tomb was to be resealed, another marble slab with a cross carved into its surface was exposed.
The team cut a window into the southern interior wall of the Edicule, exposing one of the cave walls.
The tomb has now been resealed and will probably not be opened again for hundreds, possibly even thousands, of years. But before it was resealed, the surface of the rock was extensively catalogued.
Work on restoration of the Edicule is expected to continue for at least the next five months.
'I'm absolutely amazed. My knees are shaking a little bit because I wasn't expecting this,' said Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at National Geographic, after opening up the tomb.
'We can't say 100 per cent, but it appears to be visible proof that the location of the tomb has not shifted through time, something that scientists and historians have wondered for decades.'
'This is the Holy Rock that has been revered for centuries, but only now can actually be seen,' said Antonia Moropoulou of the National Technical University of Athens, who is leading the restoration of the Edicule.
'The architectural conservation which we are implementing is intended to last forever,' says Moropoulou.
National Geographic has been filming the work being done at the church, which is considered the most sacred site in Christianity.
Christian tradition says Christ's body was laid on a slab cut from a limestone cave after his crucifixion by the Romans.
He was resurrected three days after his death, according to scripture, and the women who came to anoint his body said no remains were found.
The evidence for this is not definitive, however, according to Dan Bahat, a former district archaeologist in Jerusalem and in Galilee.
'We may not be absolutely certain that the site of the Holy Sepulchre 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,' Bahat said.
An ornate structure with hanging oil lamps, columns and oversize candlesticks, the Edicule was erected above the spot where Christian tradition says Jesus' body was anointed, wrapped in cloth and buried before his resurrection.
It stands a few hundred yards from the supposed site of Jesus' crucifixion.
With its stone staircases, gilded ornamentation and many dark chambers, the church is one of Christianity's holiest shrines.
But that hasn't stopped clerics from engaging in turf rivalries over the years.
The Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches are responsible for maintaining separate sections, and each denomination jealously guards its domain.
While the clergymen who work and pray at the church generally get along, tensions can rise to the surface.
In 2008, an argument between Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks erupted into a brawl.
This time, the clergymen put aside their differences — a reflection of the dire need for the repairs.
Last year, Israeli police briefly shut down the building after Israel's Antiquities Authority deemed it unsafe, prompting the Christian denominations to join forces.
The Edicule and the tomb are currently being restored by scientists from the National Technical University of Athens.
The university's chief scientific supervisor Professor Antonia Moropoulou told National Geographic that it is 'the critical moment' for restoring the Edicule.
It was last reconstructed in the early 19th century after a fire destroyed it.
But repairs are long overdue as the structure was damaged in an earthquake in 1927.
Earlier this year, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, as well as the the Roman Catholic Church, and the Armenian Orthodox Church (the three main out of six Christian sects that have custody of the church) invited the NTU to lead the restoration project.
Work is expected to be complete in the spring of 2017.
The church, one of the world's oldest, was built in 325 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Constantine.
That structure was destroyed in 1009 by Muslim Caliph al-Hakim. A 12th-century restoration by the Crusaders gave the Holy Sepulchre its current appearance, while in 1808 a fire all but destroyed the Edicule.
In 1852, the Ottoman authorities then governing the Holy Land provided a framework for resolving disputes inside the church.
They put into effect the 'status quo,' a set of historic laws and power-sharing arrangements that rigidly regulates the denominations' activities inside the Holy Sepulchre.
The Rev. Athanasius Macora, a Franciscan monk who represents the Catholics at the inter-church commission that negotiates disputes at the Holy Sepulchre, said the renovation might have been more ambitious if not for the status quo rules.
'I personally would have liked to maybe contemplate some alternative to simply restoring the current structure. But because the status quo is so conservative in its nature.
'We had to more or less accept the fact that there would be no change whatsoever to the current structure, and it would be restored as it is now,' he said.
Still, for pilgrims like Italian Claudio Pardini, the restoration is 'an important sign' that all of the Christian churches are getting together to preserve their faith's traditions.
'It's good to take care of our churches so that we can leave the next generations a sign, something to visit,' he said. 'Because Christ isn't an idea. He's a story.'