Seventy years after it was first installed, an iron cage that was built around the chamber housing the cave in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is said to have been entombed and resurrected was finally removed last week. The structure of girders was erected by the British in 1947 to prevent the collapse of the Edicule, as the chamber is called. Disagreement among the Christian sects that have custody over the church prevented more substantial repair work from being done until recently.
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The removal of the protective cage was made possible by months of painstaking work to stabilize the Edicule, that began in June 2016. A team from the National Technical University of Athens is leading the renovation work, under the supervision of church representatives.
In the course of the renovation, components of the chamber were removed for restoration offsite before being replaced. The climax of the renovation project came in October, when the cave thought to be the tomb of Jesus was opened and centuries-old marble slabs were removed, in order to allow for the chamber’s reinforcement. A window was cut into one of the Edicule’s marble walls so that Christian pilgrims will for the first time be able to glimpse a part of the natural limestone wall of the tomb.
The girders were removed only after scientific tests showed the structure to be stable.
“The British did good work, and it is good that they put up the cage, but now our models have shown that the structure is stable and [the cage] may be removed,” said Prof. Antonia Moropoulou, the head of the team from the Greek university that is supervising the renovations. She added that writing on the iron beams gives their origin as India.
Once the renovation is complete — by mid-April, in time for the Orthodox Easter, it is hoped — visitors will be able to see the Edicule in full.
Last week, Moropoulou presented the heads of the caretaker churches with plans for the next project at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which will include excavation of the floor surrounding the Edicule and repair of the drainage system. “Under the Edicule there are excavations, tunnels, sewage and groundwater, and the entire monster is rising up and threatening the structure. The foundations must be stabilized,” she said.
With reporting from the Associated Press.