After nearly a year of being closed to the public, Jesus Christ’s final resting place in the Old City of Jerusalem—the spot where he is believed to have been crucified, laid to rest, and resurrected—reopened to visitors last week following a detailed renovation.
The centuries-old burial chamber, tucked inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is one of the holiest sites for Christians around the world, and it typically receives thousands of visitors every day.
Most of the rehab efforts focused on the Edicule, a limestone-and-marble structure covering the place believed to be where Jesus’s body was laid after his crucifixion. The work involved reframing parts of the structure, replacing stones that had fallen off, and securing the edifice with titanium anchors. Conservators also removed the marble slab from atop the tomb, repositioned it, and sealed it again. (Yes, this means that part of the work involved taking the top off Jesus’s tomb.)
Most of the work transpired at night to avoid disturbing those who came to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to pray.
The $3.7-million renovation effort was organized by the World Monuments Fund and engineered by the National Technical University of Athens, Georgia. A second phase of restoration to prevent moisture damage will begin next year.
Overall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most important spots in Jerusalem. Six different denominations of Christianity lay claim to the site: Franciscan, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox. These groups all feel very passionately about the tomb; one of the reasons the Edicule had fallen into disrepair was that the groups had argued over it for decades.
Although the tomb itself dates back to the 4th century, the Edicule was built in 1810, after fire damage to the rest of the burial site.
For some, the mere mention of the tomb stokes controversy. As CNN reported in 2015, a handful of experts believe Jesus and his family were buried in a different spot in the Talpiot area of Jerusalem. To this point, evidence to support that theory has been spotty at best.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.