Blog 350 May 15, 2017
This time it’s a building!
From the time of my first visit to Jerusalem in 1968, I’ve recognized that the Holy City is filled with mysteries and legends. My last book Bible Lands reflects many of those adventures. The latest story is the renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the sight of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Because this 2,000 year old site is enchased inside a church building, Protestants are often reluctant to embrace the location. Alternatives such as the Garden Tomb (not too far away) are suggested, but they are only a symbol. The reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In the first century, the area was originally a Jewish cemetery developed around a limestone quarry.
Time, poor drainage, millions of tourists burning candles, etc., have taken their toll on the structure. Moreover, the church is overseen by three Christian communities that often agree about nothing. (the Greek Orthodox, the Franciscan Order, and the Armenian Patriarchate). As a result of their disagreements, this chaos has left the building to seriously deteriorate.
Consequently, an important rebuilding is now going on around the Aedicule – or the actual burial tomb of Jesus. Ironically, the work is being paid for by Greece’s Aegean Airlines, the World Monuments Fund in New York, and King Abdullah II of Jordan. Prof. Antonia Moropoulou of the National Technical University of Athens heads the project of 50 workers who do their remodeling from 7 pm to 6 a.m. in order to minimize interference with tourists. Moropoulou reports that the work is 65% finished and believes the completed project will reveal much that has been hidden because of smoke, poor care, and time.
In order to sustain the structure of the Aedicule, titanium rods have been installed under the marble slabs that surround the burial site. Engineers have also recommended the installation of a better sewage system and water disposal unit because moisture has greatly weakened the structure.
When the marble covering was removed from the place where Jesus’ body was laid, the actual rock surface was revealed for the first time since 1555. Only a handful of priests, scientists, and engineers were able to see the original stone. Now a window has been installed that reveals the bedrock of Jesus tomb.
I have been to the Church of the Sepulcher many times and taken numerous groups there. One of the leaders of the Armenian community showed me a recently discovered painting of pilgrims arriving that dates back (they think) to the first century. On one occasion, I spent the night locked in the church. Pilgrims sometimes do this in an overnight vigil of prayer and supplication.
On a later visit, I was walking through an ancient burial area adjacent to the tomb of Jesus and fell into a grave where the covering had been removed – but that’s a story for another day.
Today the new resurrection is the rebuilding of the tomb itself. Miracles never cease in Jerusalem.
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