The ancient Jerusalem shrine revered since the Roman era as the place where Jesus was laid to rest has been rescued from potential collapse and renovated after a year-long, internationally funded effort by Greek restorers.
The 19th-century building housing the tomb, known as the Edicule, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has been cleaned of centuries of candle soot and dirt, reinforced structurally and freed from the iron and wood girding put in place under the British Mandate in 1947 to prevent its collapse. It was reopened to the public on Wednesday.
The Edicule had become physically unstable because of excavations under the church and damage caused by sewage, rain and rising damp. Israeli police briefly shut the building in early 2015 after the state Antiquities Authority said it was unsafe.
The Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Christian communities share custody of the church, and famously squabble over prayer times and protocol. The denominations agreed last year on a special accord to move ahead with the restoration.
Rehabilitation of the building and tomb beneath was carried out by the National Technical University of Athens. The $4m project was funded with the help of donors, including the World Monuments Fund, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and private Russian individuals.
The project’s most dramatic moment came last October, when restorers removed a marble lid above what is widely believed to be the cave where Jesus’ body was laid before he rose from the dead. (Some Protestant Christians mark the place of Christ’s burial and resurrection at the Garden Tomb in East Jerusalem).