Church of Holy Sepulchre to Undergo First Major Restoration in Centuries

United by opposition to new Israeli laws and taxes, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian churches come together on multi-million dollar plan

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Metropolitan Theophilos leads the Easter Sunday Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, April 28, 2019.
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

The three churches in charge of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre say they have reached an agreement to begin a multimillion-dollar renovation of Jerusalem’s holiest Christian site.

Leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian churches issued a statement Monday announcing the project to restore the foundations and flooring of the church, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, entombed and resurrected.

Jordan’s King Abdullah said he would help fund the restoration work, whose cost is estimated at tens of millions of dollars. The Hashemite Kingdom views itself as the custodian of the city’s Christian and Muslim holy sites. The Vatican has agreed to contribute 500,000 euros ($557,000) for the project, which will begin with a comprehensive survey of the building and the necessary work.

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Abdullah did not say how much he would contribute. Jordan’s news agency Petra reported Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III as saying that the donation reflects the “king’s personal commitment to the security and future of Jerusalem as the custodian of Islamic and Christian holy sites in the city.”

A Greek team headed the 2016 restoration project to preserve the Edicule, a large structure inside the church housing the tomb. The upcoming second rehabilitation project will involve two Italian institutions.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by multiple Christian sects under a status quo management agreement. Even perceived alterations to the status quo have resulted in arguments and at times violence. As a result, the church has not undergone a major, comprehensive renovation for centuries.

Until just a few years ago, the cooperation that enabled the work on the Edicule and that has led to this latest agreement was considered unattainable. The improvement in relations among the sects administering the institution was in part motivated by their joint battle against an Israeli law that threatened to nationalize church land that was sold to private developers, as well as a fight against the imposition of municipal taxes on religious institutions. At the height of the dispute, the churches closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for three days.

The church is comprised of a number of structures from different periods. Most of the extant building was constructed during the Crusader period, which began nearly 1,000 years ago.

“This project comes immediately after the positive outcome of the project for the restoration of the Holy Tomb itself. It marks and confirms the Communities’ ongoing commitment to the maintenance and rehabilitation of this Holiest place, which in its silence and bareness eloquently proclaims the very essence of our Faith,” the church leaders said in a joint statement.

With reporting from The Associated Press