FOR what is thought to be the first time in almost 500 years, the stone shelf in the tomb where Christ’s body is believed to have been laid after his crucifixion has been uncovered.
The tomb under the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem, was briefly opened last week as part of an ongoing £3.3-million restoration of the edicule — from the Latin aedicule (little house) — that surrounds it.
Archaeologists from the National Technical University of Athens first removed marble cladding which has been in place since at least 1555, exposing rubble infill. Beneath was a stone slab, etched with a small cross, and below that they found the burial shelf, hewn from the side of a limestone cave.
In an interview with the National Geographic Society, which is working with the restoration team, the university’s chief scientific supervisor, Professor Antonia Moropoulou, said: “This is the Holy Rock that has been revered for centuries, but only now can actually be seen.”
Built in 1810, the edicule was damaged by an earthquake in 1927, and, in 1947, exterior girders were needed to shore it up. It was only last year, however, that agreement was reached over its restoration.
The researchers were allowed 60 hours to excavate the tomb. They hope that their examination will allow them to determine the original form of the chamber, and understand how it evolved as the focal point of veneration since it was first identified by Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, in 326.
National Geographic’s archaeologist-in-residence, Fredrik Hiebert, said: “I’m absolutely amazed. My knees are shaking a little bit, because I wasn’t expecting this. We can’t say 100 per cent, but it appears to be visible proof that the location of the tomb has not shifted through time — something that scientists and historians have wondered for decades.”