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Churches reach agreement on Holy Sepulchre restoration

07 June 2019


Fr Francesco Patton (left), Patriarch Theophilos (centre), and Patriarch Nourhan Manougian celebrate after signing the agreement, last week

Fr Francesco Patton (left), Patriarch Theophilos (centre), and Patriarch Nourhan Manougian celebrate after signing the agreement, last week

THE Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is to undergo a multi-million-pound restoration, after an agreement was reached by the leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Churches last week.

A statement issued last Monday announced the start of an estimated £10-million project to renovate the foundations and flooring of the fourth-century church, the Associated Press reports.

It was signed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem; the Catholic Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Francesco Patton, a Franciscan priest who holds responsibility for guardianship of the holy places on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church; and the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, Patriarch Nourhan Manougian.

The announcement comes after the completion of a £3.3-million restoration of the aedicule — from the Latin aedicula (little house) — that surrounds the tomb where Christ’s body is believed to have been laid after his crucifixion (News, 4 November 2016).

“This project comes immediately after the positive outcome of the project for the restoration of the Holy Tomb itself,” the statement says. “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 project is to be carried out in two phases: a study to determine the current state of the foundations, followed by a restoration of the foundations and pavement of the church. “Two Italian academic and scientific institutions of the highest qualification shall carry out the studies and execute the works under the supervision of the joint committee of the three Communities,” the statement says.

The King of Jordan, Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, last month pledged to cover part of the cost of the renovation using some of the £1.1 million that he was awarded alongside the Templeton Prize 2018 for his work promoting religious harmony within Islam and with other faiths (News, 29 June 2018).

The Vatican has also reportedly pledged about £440,000.

The ownership of the Holy Sepulchre, regarded by many Christians as the holiest site in the world, is shared by multiple churches in a status quo management agreement. It was closed by the leaders for a month in February last year, in condemnation of a “systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land” (News, 23 February; 2 March 2018).

Relations between the Churches have improved considerably in recent years because of their joint opposition to a Bill, brought by Rachel Azaria of the Kulanu Party, that would enable the Israeli government to confiscate lands leased by churches and assign them to third parties.

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