JERUSALEM — The only mystical power visible was the burning light from seven tapered candles. And yet for ages, the tomb that sits at the centre of history has captured the imaginations of millions around the world.
For centuries, no one looked inside — until last week, when a crew of specialists opened the simple tomb in Jerusalem’s Old City and found the limestone burial bed where tradition says the body of Jesus Christ lay after his crucifixion and before his resurrection. For 60 hours, they collected samples, took photographs and reinforced the tomb before resealing it.
“We saw where Jesus Christ was laid down,” Father Isidoros Fakitsas, the superior of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, told me. “Before, nobody has.” Or at least nobody alive today. “We have the history, the tradition. Now we saw with our own eyes the actual burial place of Jesus Christ.”
The tomb believed to be Christ’s was opened as part of a complex renovation of the shrine that was built around it long after his death in what is today known as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, perhaps Christianity’s holiest site. The church was first built where the tomb was discovered in the fourth century during the reign of Constantine.
The marble shrine, known as the Aedicule, was built in its existing form in 1810 during the Ottoman era and has been crumbling lately. But only after pressure from Israel did the three religious communities that share the church, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic, agree to a renovation that began last spring.
Chosen to handle the project was the National Technical University of Athens, which had worked on restorations of the Acropolis in Athens and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The National Geographic Society teamed up with the university to work on cultural restoration and the National Geographic Channel will air a program later this month documenting the project.