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Jesus' tomb to be unveiled to public after $4 million restoration

The Guardian logo The Guardian 22-03-2017 Harriet Sherwood
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 21:  (ISRAEL OUT) The tomb of Jesus Christ with the rotunda is seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on March 21, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. The tomb of Jesus Christ in the rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City was, on 26 February 2017, without its iron cage for the first time since it was placed around the stone tomb by the British in 1947 to keep the Edicule from falling apart. Greek archaeologists have been working since June 2016 to restore the tomb, believed to be the place where Jesus Christ was buried and then resurrected from after his crucification.  (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images) Inside the Tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem

The newly-restored tomb in which Jesus’ body is believed to have been interred after his crucifixion will be unveiled to the public at a ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City this week.

A team of Greek scientists and restorers has completed the nine-month renovation project, which focused on a small structure above the burial chamber, known as the Edicule. It is the most sacred monument in Christianity.

“If the 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, which had oversight of the project, told Associated Press. “This is a complete transformation of the monument.”

The delicate restoration was carried out by a team of about 50 experts from the National Technical University of Athens, which had previously worked on the Acropolis in the Greek capital and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The conservators worked mainly at night in order to allow pilgrims continued access to the shrine.

In October, a marble slab covering the rock-carved tomb was lifted for the first time in more than two centuries, allowing restoration workers to examine the original rock shelf or “burial bed” on which Jesus’ body is thought to have rested. A small window has been cut into marble slabs to allow pilgrims a glimpse of the rock.

The team also repaired and stabilized the shrine with titanium bolts and mortar, and cleaned thick layers of candle soot and pigeon droppings. The work involved the use of radar, laser scanners and drones.

The newly-restored Edicule of the tomb of Jesus Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. © AFP/Getty Images The newly-restored Edicule of the tomb of Jesus Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Wednesday night’s ceremony to mark the completion of the restoration will be in the presence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and a representative of Pope Francis.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the heart of the Christian quarter of the walled Old City, covers the assumed site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. It is a huge attraction for pilgrims and tourists from all over the world, many weeping and clutching precious mementos or photographs of loved ones and forming long queues for the shrine.

Six denominations – Latin (Roman Catholic), Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Copts – share custodianship of the cavernous church. Bitter disputes over territories and responsibilities have erupted in the past, sometimes involving physical altercations. Disputes between the denominations have held up restoration work for decades.

In a sign of the distrust between the different denominations, the keys to the church have been held by a Muslim family since the 12th century.

The shrine has been rebuilt four times in its history, most recently in 1810 after a fire. The structure had been held in place for almost 70 years by iron girders erected on the instructions of a British governor who ruled Palestine in the Mandate era. They have now been removed.

The $4 million cost of the restoration came from contributions from the six denominations which share custody of the church, King Abdullah of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Mica Ertegun, the widow of Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, who gave $1.3 million.

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