'Burial Slab' of Jesus Discovered in Jerusalem

Visitors outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (AP) — In the innermost chamber of the site said to be the tomb of Jesus, a restoration team has peeled away a marble layer for the first time in centuries in an effort to reach what it believes is the original rock surface where Jesus' body was laid.

The innermost chamber at the centre of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre has always been considered by many historians and Christianity as the site where Jesus was entombed and eventually resurrected, but until now it was assumed that the original cave chamber had been destroyed over the years.

The body of Jesus Christ was laid on a shelf or "burial bed" hewn from the side of a limestone cave after his crucifixion. It is the first time in almost 500 years the slab has been seen by anyone.

The tomb's original surface was uncovered in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem while restoration work was undergoing.

For the first time in centuries, the burial slab that many Christians believe once held the body of Jesus Christ has been uncovered by scientists. Entire edicule and tomb are being repaired and restored.

A team from the National Technical University of Athens are carrying out restoration work on the sacred site.

Studying the tomb will also help scientists gain a better understanding of the original form the tomb took and how it has evolved over the centuries.

Clergymen outside the Edicule which houses Jesus's tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
Clergymen outside the Edicule which houses Jesus’s tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

The Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus III, said the "atmosphere was special" while waiting outside the Edicule as the burial shelf was exposed.

A year later, the Emperor commissioned the construction of the church to house the burial slab.

"We are at the critical moment for rehabilitating the Edicule", Moropoulou told National Geographic.

The walls of the 1,600-year old chapel are covered in a thousand-plus years worth of soot as Christians travel there to light incense burners and candles in honour of Jesus Christ. They include the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Armenian Orthodox Church.

But differences were set aside when past year police briefly shut down the holy building after it was deemed unsafe - prompting the fix effort.

The restoration team wants to tightly seal the core of the tomb before injecting parts of the shrine with mortar for reinforcement, so the material doesn't seep inside what is considered to be the holy rock.

At a cost of US$4 million, (€3.7 million) the restoration was not cheap, with major donors including Jordan's King Abdullah II and Mica Ertegun, widow of Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun.

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