Holy Sepulchre: restoration of the Tomb of Christ begins
JERUSALEM – The Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem announced, after their Easter celebrated according to the Julian calendar, the restoration work of the Aedicule began discreetly on May 8, 2016. The work is now visible in all recent days.
The interior of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre is unrecognizable since the beginning of the week: scaffolding and construction equipment are stored across the small paved square, even around the Tomb of Christ. The restoration work of the Aedicule, announced two months ago by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Custody of the Holy Land has begun.
An undertaking of at least eight months, around the clock
In an interview given to the Holy Land Magazine of the Custody, Antonia Maropoulou, the lead engineer and scientific coordinator of the site is reserved on the time-length of the project: “First we have to go through a “pilot phase”, in order to understand the entity of the problems of the site. The objective is to reinforce the structure of the aedicule, through dismantling the marble slabs that cover it, cleaning the materials, consolidating the walls from the time of the Crusades and repairing them with materials in line with the old ones. The marble slabs that cover the holy aedicule have also suffered greatly because of the pilgrims, for example from the soot from the candles which have been lit over the centuries: so they will be restored after having been remounted and fixed with titanium bolts.”(1)
The meticulous work will not hinder the devotion of the pilgrims who will always have access to the Holy Tomb, passing under a security framed structure. The most important work, requiring the closure of the aedicule, will be carried out at night: “The teams for the masonry work and the site will always and only work at night. Whilst the restoration workshop, as it is in the upper gallery of the Latins, can work in the daytime because in the position where it is, it will not come into contact with the pilgrims. We will work 24 hours a day.”(1) The restoration, entrusted to the Athens Polytechnic, is also supervised by architects of the three major communities who have custody of the Holy Sepulchre.
“The sanctuary should remain as it is, just be consolidated”
The restoration of the Tomb, funded by the three main Christian denominations of the Holy Sepulchre (Catholics represented by Franciscans, Greek Orthodox and Armenians) and by public and private contributions (such as the gift of King Abdullah of Jordan ), has objective of maintaining the conservation of the building as explained by Fr. Athanasius Macora, ofm: “This is a very conservative restoration: the sanctuary must remain as it is, just be consolidated. The steel beams surrounding the shrine will be removed and the aedicule will be more beautiful, but the restoration will be very conservative, there will be no new additions.”
The restoration required prior approval of the three communities. An agreement reached, given the urgency of the work, says His Beatitude Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch: “The restoration is very important, first from a technical perspective. The sanctuary is in this state for over 200 years. The Resurrection Church was destroyed, including Aedicule. At the time, it was restored quickly, in just two years, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the tomb of Christ were restored. And since then there had been no restoration, nothing was done. “
The Aedicule, built in the early nineteenth century after a fire, and was consolidated by a metal frame in 1947 under the British mandate. A recent study showed that the place was suffering, among other things, serious moisture problems associated with condensation from the breath of visitors but also oxidation due to the smoke of candles placed around and in the Holy Tomb.
Photos: Holy Sepulchre June 2, 2016 © LPJ / Thomas Charrière