Holy Sepulchre Reopens


Candles adorn the newly restored tomb that many Christian pilgrims believe is where Jesus’ body was buried before his resurrection.
Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

By John Martin

Crowds of Christian pilgrims flocked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in mid-March to celebrate renovation of what is widely believed to be the temporal tomb of Jesus. The tomb, or edicule, is the central attraction of the church, which attracts visitors from across the world. A few yards away is what pilgrims consider the site of the crucifixion.

The renovation project was carried out by a team of about 50 researchers and restorers from the University of Athens. It took 12 months, with most of the work done at night to ensure no disruption of worship. The work involved removing marble left in place since the 1500s. It also meant removing layers of grime and dust and installing steel rods to strengthen the structure.

Six Christian churches share control of this ancient church. Visitors will often witness noisy disagreements between their resident clergy. Each has a dedicated prayer area. All six agreed to the $3.3 million renovation.

The Greek Orthodox patriarchate, with its headquarters there, has the largest space in the church. There are other locations controlled by the Catholic Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, and the Egyptian Coptic, Syriac, and Ethiopian churches. Pilgrims enter the church to complete the traditional Stations of the Cross walk through the streets of Jerusalem. The final three stations are found in the church.

Eusebius, the first major Christian historian, claims that the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the second century built a temple to the goddess Aphrodite on the site to bury the cave where it was claimed Jesus was buried. St. Helena, mother of Constantine the first Christian emperor, rediscovered the tomb and reclaimed the site for Christianity. At her orders a church was built in 324-25.

The church forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City of Jerusalem.

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