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Excavation of floor of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre expected to uncover hidden history

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J-P Mauro - published on 03/25/22

The work on the floor will allow archaeologists to explore what is underneath the Holy Sepulchre for the first time.

After years of delay caused by the world pandemic, the second phase of restoration has commenced at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The new project will see the floors restored, while a subsequent archaeological investigation will explore what lies underneath. Workers will also update the plumbing, electric, and fire suppression systems.

The groundbreaking commenced under the supervision of the Three Major Communities who run the site: the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Custody of the Holy Land of the Franciscans, and the Patriarchate of the Armenians in Jerusalem.

The work is fruit of an agreement among these three custodians that took 30 years to arrange. The previous round of renovations finished in 2017, an effort that saw cracks in the tomb repaired and uncovered a monument built by the Templars in the 12th century.

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According to Custodia,  Fr. Francesco Patton of the Custos of the Holy Land remarked on the day: 

“The pandemic slowed down the possibility of going ahead from the project to the execution, but now we are ready to start. In this historical context, with the pandemic and the war, cooperation on the restoration work takes on a different meaning, because this is the spot where Jesus becomes a cornerstone of the Church.”

Renovation

The Jerusalem Post reports that the paving stones will be extracted and restored. This is a delicate process, as the pavers come from various points in history, with some suspected to have come from the time of Constantine. Others may have come from periods between the Crusades and the 19th century. The effort will seek to date each stone before determining if it is in good enough shape to restore. 

Basilica-of-the-holy-sepulcher-Jerusalem

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which dates to the 4th century, is also in dire need of updates to the functionality of the site. The plumbing system, which was described as “a jumble of pipes and drains,” need to be reorganized for efficiency’s sake, which will also reduce humidity. Further additions of special fire-fighting systems will improve safety within the Edicule. 

Excavation

The archaeological investigation of the Holy Sepulchre will be led by Francesca Romana Stasolla, professor of Christian and Medieval Archaeology at Rome’s Sapienza University. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, she explained the project: 

“This is a very important historical work,” she added. “We will have to work day by day and see what we uncover. Technically, the work will be the same as in any excavation. We expect to see all the sequences of the church history to the Constantine church. But in every archaeological excavation there are surprises.”

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Prof. Giorgio Piras, also of Sapienza University, noted that the site has never been excavated before and no one knows what they might find. He said he expects to at least discover some remnant of Roman Emperor Constantine’s church.

Daily Sabah notes that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will remain open throughout the process. The floor work will be divided into sections, so that the space remains available to pilgrims and visitors. 

Archbishop Sevan Gharibian, Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said at the groundbreaking: 

“I wish all the best to our communities for this project and to the technicians, who will certainly do their best to complete the work as best as possible.”

Read more at Jerusalem Post.

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