The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem is a sacred site for Christians. The church is thought to be built on the spot where Christ’s body was placed after he was crucified. And now archeologists have unearthed some astonishing artifacts.
Much of what lies beneath the floor of the church hasn’t been seen in centuries, but is being exposed as part of a restorations and preservation project. And researchers have now unearthed a slab that, according to tradition, is where Christ was placed before the resurrection.
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The location of the tomb wasn’t a mystery, though it is believed that no one has seen beneath the marble slab that covers it since 1555. In the tomb, archeologists found a second marble slab, one with a cross carved into its surface that is believed to date back to the era of the Crusades.
“I’m absolutely amazed. My knees are shaking a little bit because I wasn’t expecting this,” said Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at National Geographic.
“We can’t say 100%, 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.”
“This is the Holy Rock that has been revered for centuries, but only now can actually be seen,” said Antonia Moropoulou of the National Technical University of Athens. Moropoulou is leading the excavation and study of the tomb’s contents.
The excavated burial slab had been enclosed in an 18th century shrine called the Edicule. The archeologists cut a small hole in the interior of the Edicule to see inside to the cave walls.
After the most recent exploratory work, which was chronicled in a soon-to-be-released documentary, the tomb was resealed. There are no plans for it to be reopened–possibly ever. “The architectural conservation which we are implementing is intended to last forever,” says Moropoulou.
At the time of the crucifixion, the site of this was well outside of Jerusalem. And the site’s history is long and convoluted. The Roman emperor Hadrian, a century after the crucifixion, built a temple dedicated to Aphrodite over the spot in an attempt to erase the developing Christian history.
The first emperor to follow Christ’s teachings, Constantine the Great, built a church over the temple in 325. In 1009 the church was leveled by the Fatmid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, only to be rebuilt again in the mid-11th century.
In the 12th century, the Crusaders came through and built the Holy Sepulcher. Much of this was damaged by fire in 1808. To cap it all off, the entire structure was damaged by an earthquake in 1927.
Since then, the various authorities that have governed the site have allowed three denominations control: the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Armenian Orthodox Church. Though the groups have fought for control, all three have come together for this latest restoration.