JERUSALEM – The Edicule, the shrine that is believed to be the place Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead, just received a $4 million makeover.
The renovated tomb was unveiled Wednesday morning at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem. The ceremony was streamed online.
A team of 50 Greek scientists and restorers from the Greek National Technical University of Athens completed the tedious restoration work, which focused on a small structure above the burial chamber.
They worked for a little over nine months, mostly at night, to allow the pilgrims from all over the world to visit the holy site. They removed the iron cage that was built around the tomb by British authorities in 1947 and cleaned up black grime that had built up after years of pilgrims lighting candles.
The workers used modern technologies and materials to prevent the tomb from collapsing, stabilizing it with titanium bolts.
"If this intervention hadn't happened now, there is a very great risk that there could have been a collapse," Bonnie Burnham of the World Monuments Fund told the Associated Press on Monday. "This is a complete transformation of the monument."
Six denominations share custodianship of the church, Latin (Roman Catholic), Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Copts. Bitter disputes over territories and responsibilities have erupted in the past, sometimes involving physical quarrels, and police involvement. In a sign of the distrust between the different denominations, the keys to the church have been held by a Muslim family since the 12th century.
But all that animosity was briefly forgotten. All the denominations pitched in and contributed to the project.
Other donations were made by Mica Ertegun, the widow of a co-founder of Atlantic Records. Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also chipped in about $162,000 euros each. There were also other private and church donations, Burnham said.
Although the Edicule itself is now stable, experts say that another extensive renovation project is necessary to address the problems that damaged the structure: the excess humidity and smoke from candles in the ancient Jerusalem basilica. The Vatican has promised “substantial” support for that project.
Concern for the church's stability brought the Christian denominations together. Antonia Moropoulou, who supervised the renovation, hopes it will inspire all the religious groups to start a "new era" of cooperation. She hopes the communities will make some changes in longstanding customs inside the church, like pilgrims smashing their lit candles onto the Edicule's stone wall, so the structure is not compromised.
Money is being raised for another round of restorations – including consolidating drainage and sewage pipes underground and around the tomb to stabilize its foundations. Many hope further renovations won't be needed for years to come.
"Here is a monument that has been worshipped through the centuries,” Moropoulou said, “and will be worshipped forever."