The tomb where Jesus is believed to have been buried in Jerusalem’s Old City has been unveiled again after undergoing its first renovation in 200 years.
The monument, which includes a 19th-century ornate edicule or shrine surrounding the tomb, is a key part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The tomb was formally reopened on Wednesday in a ceremony attended by religious leaders and donors, following a nine-month-long and $3.7m renovation led by the church’s three main Christian denominations.
The Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations share custody of the church, but disputes between the three have led to renovations being delayed for decades.
This is the first restoration that has taken place in about 200 years and is a considered as a historic event.
Centuries of candle smoke and visiting pilgrims had left the monument discoloured and almost black. Parts of it were also coming loose, with warnings that it was structurally unsound and posed a risk to the millions who visit the site every year.
Unlike other parts of the church, which were renovated between the 1960s and 1990s, the edicule had been neglected.
A window has been installed to allow pilgrims to see the bare stone of the ancient burial cave for the first time. The new structural integrity means a protective cage installed 70 years ago by the British is no longer necessary.
Samuel Aghoyan, the superior of the Armenian Church at the Sepulchre which co-financed the project, said the work is not the end of plans to renovate the church.
Aghoyan added that they have “tentative” plans to fix the basement of the edicule as well as the “entire floor of the church”.
October last year was perhaps the most dramatic moment in the renovation process when the cave thought to be the tomb of Jesus was opened for the first time in centuries.
Marble slabs were removed to allow for the chamber’s reinforcement.
A top slab dating from the era of the Crusades, indicating that the tomb had not been opened for 700 years was found. Another was found from the era of Constantine the Great, the emperor who began the Roman empire’s transition to Christianity in the fourth century AD.
Whether the site is indeed the place of Jesus’s burial has long been a matter of dispute. Some Christians believe he was buried in the Garden Tomb, outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.