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Jesus’ Burial Shrine in Jerusalem Restored in Time for Easter

Work ends on $4 million renovation of Edicule in Church of the Holy Sepulcher, with pilgrims now able to see stone of ancient burial cave for first time • Restoration funded by World Monuments Fund, PA President Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah, and others.

Just in time for Easter, the tomb of Jesus has been resurrected to its former glory.

A Greek restoration team has completed the historic renovation of the Edicule, the shrine that tradition says houses the cave where Jesus was buried and rose to heaven.

Gone is the unsightly iron cage built around the shrine by British authorities in 1947 to shore up the walls. Gone is the black soot on the stone facade from decades of pilgrims lighting candles. And gone are fears about the stability of the old shrine, which had not been restored in more than 200 years.

“If this 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 said Monday. “This is a complete transformation of the monument.”

The fund provided an initial $1.4 million for the $4 million restoration, thanks to a donation by the widow of the founder of Atlantic Records. Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also chipped in about 150,000 euros ($160,000) each, and more funds came from other private and church donations, Burnham said.

The limestone and marble structure stands at the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, one of the world’s oldest churches, with the 12th century building standing on fourth century foundations. The shrine needed urgent attention after years of exposure to environmental factors including water, humidity and candle smoke.

Three main Christian denominations jealously guard separate sections of the church, but they put aside their long-standing religious rivalries to give their blessing for the restoration. In 2015, Israeli police briefly shut down the building after the Israel Antiquities Authority deemed it unsafe, and repairs began in June 2016.

A restoration team from the National Technical University of Athens stripped the stone slabs from the shrine’s facade and patched up the internal masonry, injecting it with tubes of grout for reinforcement. Each stone slab was cleaned of candle soot and pigeon droppings, then put back in place. Titanium bolts were inserted into the structure for reinforcement, and frescos and the shrine’s painted dome were given a face-lift.

The restorers also made some discoveries.

On Oct. 26, the team entered the inner sanctum of the shrine, the burial chamber of Jesus, and temporarily slid open an old marble layer covering the bedrock where Jesus’ body is said to have been placed.

Below the outer marble layer was a white rose marble slab engraved with a cross, which the team dated to the late Crusader period of the 14th century. Beneath that marble slab was a much older gray marble slab protecting the bedrock, with mortar on the slab dating from the fourth century, when Roman Emperor Constantine ordered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built.

The restorers have cut a small window into the shrine’s marble walls so that pilgrims can see — for the first time — the bare stone of the ancient burial cave.

“It seems we are in front of levels of history that are validated,” said Antonia Moropoulou, who supervised the renovation. full story

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