A Jerusalem shrine may reasonably be Jesus’ burial site

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre
The Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre (flickr/Michael Privorotsky)

A Jerusalem shrine may reasonably be Jesus’ burial site, say its renovators. The Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre (from the Latin aedicule, or “little house”), located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City’s Christian Quarter, has long been regarded by many Christians worldwide as the site of Christ’s ancient burial tomb.

According to Custodia Terrae Santae, a Franciscan website devoted to many sanctuaries in Israel, the Edicule was built in 1555 to shelter the holy site. After over 200 years of inactivity, as part of a recently initiated restoration project, workers and scientists have begun to explore the ancient chamber and have found evidence that may support traditional belief.

From a nationalgeographic.com article dated Oct. 26, “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre…is currently under the custody of six Christian sects. Three major groups—the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Armenian Orthodox Church—maintain primary control over the site and the Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syriac communities also have a presence there.”

The Edicule’s last known renovations were performed in the early 1800s after it was destroyed by fire. According to a post at Faith in the Bay, a San Francisco Bay Area “Online Faith Destination,” persistent disputes among these six entities had, until recently, prevented needed upkeep and repair of the shrine: “In danger of collapsing from damage that it suffered 200 years ago, no one would agree on how to fix it.”

“For the first time in centuries, scientists have exposed the original surface of what is traditionally considered the tomb of Jesus Christ… [T]he tomb has been covered by marble cladding since at least 1555 A.D., and most likely centuries earlier,” the National Geographic article goes on to say.

“‘The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it,’ said Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, a partner in the restoration project. ‘It will be a long scientific analysis, but we will finally be able to see the original rock surface on which, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid…’

“The Edicule and the interior tomb are currently undergoing restoration by a team of scientists from the National Technical University of Athens, under the direction of Chief Scientific Supervisor Professor Antonia Moropoulou.

“The exposure of the burial bed is giving researchers an unprecedented opportunity to study the original surface of what is considered the most sacred site in Christianity. An analysis of the original rock may enable them to better understand not only the original form of the tomb chamber, but also how it evolved as the focal point of veneration since it was first identified by Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, in A.D. 326.

“‘We are at the critical moment for rehabilitating the Edicule,’ Moropoulou said. ‘The techniques we’re using to document this unique monument will enable the world to study our findings as if they themselves were in the tomb of Christ.'”

National Geographic published an update on the project’s progress on Oct. 31: “‘When the marble cladding was first removed on the night of October 26, an initial inspection by the conservation team…showed only a layer of fill material underneath. However, as researchers continued their nonstop work over the course of 60 hours, another marble slab with a cross carved into its surface was exposed. By the night of October 28, just hours before the tomb was to be resealed, the original limestone burial bed was revealed intact.

“‘I’m absolutely amazed. My knees are shaking a little bit because I wasn’t expecting this,’ said Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic’s archaeologist-in-residence. ‘We can’t say 100 percent, but it appears to be visible proof that the location of the tomb has not shifted through time, something that scientists and historians have wondered for decades.’

“…[R]esearchers confirmed the existence of the original limestone cave walls within the…Edicule… A window has been cut into the southern interior wall of the shrine to expose one of the cave walls.

“‘This is the Holy Rock that has been revered for centuries, but only now can actually be seen,’ Moropoulou said.

“…While it is archaeologically impossible to say that the tomb recently uncovered in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the burial site of an individual Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth, there is indirect evidence to suggest that the identification of the site by representatives of the Roman emperor Constantine some 300 years later may be a reasonable one.”

Holy Sepulchre Timeline