Thousands of Christian pilgrims and members of the clergy gathered at a modest shrine in Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday to celebrate the completion of a monthslong effort, hundreds of years in the making: The restoration and repair of Jesus’ tomb.
The shrine, known as the edicule and in danger of collapse, had been propped up by an unsightly iron cage since the 19th century. Constructed by the Roman emperor Constantine I in the fourth century, the shrine covers the cave in which, the faithful believe, Jesus was buried before his resurrection.
The edifice, contained in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, is one of the faith’s holiest sites. It was worn down by centuries of water damage, fire, candle smoke, humidity, bird droppings, human visitors and disputes among feuding denominations, who share control of the church but were previously unable to agree on plans to fix the shrine.
“For the first time in over two centuries, this sacred edicule has been restored,” said the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem on Wednesday, when the restored shrine reopened to the public. “This is not only a gift to our holy land, but to the whole world.”
The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic denominations share custody of the church. The tomb was last restored in 1810 after a fire, but the religious custodians were compelled last year to make repairs after the Israeli authorities deemed the building unsafe.
The restoration cost more than $3 million, financed mostly by a donation from the World Monuments Fund, an American nonprofit organization. Other funding came from the three denominations and a personal donation from King Abdullah II of Jordan.
The work, which began in May 2016, was directed by Antonia Moropoulou, a professor at the National Technical University of Athens. The restorers removed the exterior stones from three sides of the edicule and created a special grout to “bond the masonry to the rock that lies at the core of the structure,” according to the World Monuments Fund.
In October, the restoration team revealed and removed a stone slab covering a marble bench on which Jesus was buried, according to tradition. The team also created an opening in a wall in the tomb, through which visitors can peer at the underlying rock.