The burial site of Jesus Christ’s body, where he’s believed to have been lain to rest and then resurrected after his crucifixion, is now open to the public at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. One of the holiest places in Christianity, the tomb was unveiled in a ceremony on Wednesday after nearly one year of restoration efforts that cost up to $4 million.
In an exclusive report from National Geographic, it was revealed that a team of scientists from the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) believes the shrine is still in danger of significant structural failure. The small structure called the Edicule (“little house” in Latin), which houses the remains of a cave believed to be the tomb of Christ, reportedly sits on unstable foundation.
The history of this holy ground contributes significantly to its instability. Two thousand years ago, the site was a limestone quarry, then hosted tombs of Jewish upper class. Since then it has been the site of temples and shrines destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly over the centuries.
During a recent survey, modern technology revealed that parts of the Edicule sit on the debris of previous structures and the rest are on the edge of sloped and quarried bedrock. The mortar of the foundation has deteriorated from moisture and age. Tunnels and trenches snake directly beneath the Edicule, while pillars holding up the shrine stand on unconsolidated rubble.
NTUA warns that the dangers of the area should not be taken lightly. Additional work is necessary to make the Edicule and its surrounding church safer for public viewing.
“When it fails, the failure will not be a slow process, but catastrophic,” Antonia Moropoulou, NTUA’s chief scientific supervisor, told National Geographic.
Efforts for additional renovation are being led by NTUA, who are proposing a 10-month, six-million-euro project to fix the structural concerns over the holy site. The work will be done with minimal interruption to tourists visiting the Edicule.
According to a report from The Guardian, six separate denominations currently share custodianship of the church: Latin (Roman Catholic), Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Copts. Part of the challenge of restoring the sacred shrine was disputes among the different groups.