Renovations were completed late last month on Christianity’s holiest site: the tomb where Christians believe Jesus was buried and rose from the dead after his crucifixion.
The tomb lies within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a 12th-century structure built atop 4th century remains. A shrine, called the Holy Edicule, lies at the church’s center and is thought to encase the cave where Jesus was laid to rest.
The Edicule was built in 1810, and the structure was at risk of total collapse due to fire and water damage. It had been propped up with an unsightly iron cage for 70 years to try to prevent just that.
Yet repairs stagnated as feuding denominations who own the church—Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic–were unable to agree on plans to fix it. Then last year, Israel’s Antiquities Authority declared the building to be unsafe, and briefly closed it. This declaration finally prompted the denominations to make the repairs. And last May, after approval from the pope and the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as $4 million in donations, restoration work began.
“I would venture to say that if this intervention hadn’t happened now, there was a very great risk that there could have been a collapse,” said Bonnie Burnham of the World Monuments Fund, a nonprofit that helped raise funds for the project.
The restoration effort was led by a Greek restoration team based in Athens. The team methodically removed parts of the Edicule and put them back together after installing titanium mesh and grout to strengthen the building’s core. Candle soot and pigeon droppings were scrubbed off the walls. Most dramatically, the iron cage was at last removed.