For Christians, few sites are more sacred than the Holy Edicule, an elaborate stone shrine covering what’s traditionally believed to be the site of Jesus’s burial and resurrection. The ancient landmark sits in the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem's Old City. Time had taken its toll on the shrine, and in 2016, preservationists launched a nearly $4 million restoration project. Now, after nearly a year, The Guardian reports that the refurbished religious site is complete.
Officials unveiled the Holy Edicule in a ceremony on Wednesday, in the presence of religious leaders. “For the first time in over two centuries, this sacred edicule has been restored,” said H.B. Theophilos III, head bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, according to The Jerusalem Post. “This is not only a gift to our Holy Land, but to the whole world.”
Located in Jerusalem's Old City, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre dates back to the 12th century and sits on 4th-century remains. Millions visit the church—and the Holy Edicule—each year, but the shrine itself hadn’t been restored since 1810, after nearly being destroyed by a fire. Due to years of neglect, the Holy Edicule was covered in centuries’ worth of soot and grime, and its walls were unsteady. And for nearly 70 years, iron girders supported the shrine.
The Edicule’s restoration was stalled for years, thanks in part to disputes between the multiple Christian denominations that hold the site sacred. They all ended up contributing funds to the restoration project; other donors, according to NPR, included King Abdullah of Jordan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the World Monument Fund, a U.S.-based nonprofit that works to preserve historic and cultural sites around the world.
Greek conservationists scrubbed the shrine’s stone, reinforced its core, repaired its walls, and removed its girders. "Now you can see the colors, the texture of the stone, you can see the letters of inscriptions, the frescos, the different styles of mural paintings,” professor Antonia Moropoulou, who led the project, told NBC News.
The project also yielded archaeological insights: In October, experts pulled back the tomb’s marble covering, which dates back to the 16th century or before. This allowed them to see the traditional “burial bed” of Jesus, carved from the side of a limestone cave, National Geographic reports.
Workers re-covered the bed with marble, but they made a feature newly visible—the shrine’s original stone walls—by cutting a window into one of the shrine’s walls. Now, visitors can finally view a segment of what’s believed to be Jesus’s tomb up-close.
[h/t The Guardian]