The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem — the basilica built over the site where it is believed Jesus died, was buried and resurrected — began its first major renovation in over 200 years Monday.
The project will primarily restore the Edicule of the Tomb, a shrine believed to house the tomb where Jesus was laid following the crucifixion, according to Christian tradition. No significant structural repairs have taken place in the Edicule since 1810.
Antonia Moropoulou, an architect from the National Technical University of Athens who is overseeing the project, told the Associated Press that the Edicule’s marble and stone slabs, while stable, are warped and need immediate attention after decades of exposure to water, humidity, candle smoke and incense. The shrine also needs additional protection against potential earthquake damage.
The project is not expected to disrupt normal visitation to the site, and is projected to run about $3 million. Three Christian denominations who administer the church — Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox religions — will make equal contributions to the restoration. King Abdullah of Jordan also made a personal donation to the project in April. The Jordanian royal family has a long history of patronizing the shrine — the first King Abdullah visited the church in 1948. (RELATED: For Many, Israel Is Geopolitical Tourist Destination)
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses the last four stations of the Via Dolorosa, a 14-step devotional observed by Christians in commemoration of Jesus’ death. The structure was first erected as a temple to the goddess Aphrodite by order of the Emperor Hadrian in the second century AD. Emperor Constantine ordered in 325 that the temple be converted into a Christian church.
Three smaller Christian denominations from the Oriental Orthodox community also maintain a presence on the broader campus of the basilica — none of the religions related to the church are Protestant.
Representatives of the three major communities that control the church have worked together to finalize and finance the renovation plans.
“What has happened is a very good sign, a sign of togetherness,” said Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem.
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