by Peter Weber/The Week
Jesus, in the Christian tradition, does not have a burial place because he rose up to Heaven, but for three days he lay in a tomb outside Jerusalem. Recently, some 50 scientists, workers, priests, monks, and a camera crew from National Geographic became the first people in centuries to look inside what's believed to be that tomb, during restoration of the marble shrine around it — the Aedicule — in the middle of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of Christianity's holiest sites. By the time Peter Baker of The New York Times arrived, the tomb had been resealed, he wrote in Thursday's Times, and nobody else is expected to peer inside in any of our lifetimes.
Three denominations sometimes uneasily share control of the church: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox. The restoration team had no plans to open the tomb originally, but decided they had to — very gently, for the first time since the 1500s — to make sure it remained dry and sealed. "We saw where Jesus Christ was laid down," Fr. Isidoros Fakitsas, the superior of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, told Baker. "Before, nobody has.... Now we saw with our own eyes the actual burial place of Jesus Christ."
The tomb has a long history, Baker explains:
"The church was first built where the tomb was discovered in the fourth century during the reign of Constantine, the first Roman emperor to officially convert to Christianity. It was sacked after Jerusalem fell to the Persians in the seventh century, then rebuilt and later destroyed by Muslim caliphs in the 11th century. After the Crusaders captured Jerusalem, the church was restored in the 12th century but burned to the ground in the 19th century and then rebuilt yet again. The marble shrine, known as the Aedicule, was built in its existing form in 1810 during the Ottoman era. [The New York Times]
The researchers collected samples they hope will teach them more about Christianity and its origins. And although you will never be able to see inside the tomb in person, National Geographic has released a longer teaser of the special they will air later in November. You can get a taste below.