The limestone slab where Jesus Christ’s body is said to have been laid out after his crucifixion has been pictured for the the first time.
The historic tomb where he is said to have been ‘rested’ and his body anointed was opened last week for the first time since at least 1555 AD – and scientists were given 60 hours of access before it was resealed.
After removing the marble slab that encased the tomb, scientists at the University of Athens and National Geographic were stunned to find a limestone burial shelf intact and a second marble slab with a cross carved into its surface.
Researchers were given the unprecedented access as part of restoration work.
The team were shocked to find portions of the tomb are still intact today, having survived centuries of damage.
The original surface was exposed during the restoration work being done at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, according to National Geographic.
Until then, marble had encased the slab since at least 1555 AD, and likely centuries earlier.
When work first began the conservation team from the National Technical University of Athens showed only a layer of material underneath the marble slab.
But as researchers continued their work over the course of 60 hours – and with just a few hours left before the tomb was to be resealed, another marble slab with a cross carved into its surface was exposed.
‘I’m absolutely amazed. My knees are shaking a little bit because I wasn’t expecting this,’ said Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at National Geographic.
‘We can’t say 100%, 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.’
‘This is the Holy Rock that has been revered for centuries, but only now can actually be seen,’ said Antonia Moropoulou of the National Technical University of Athens, who is leading the restoration of the Edicule.
The burial slab was enclosed in an 18th century shrine structure known as the Edicule – a word derived from the Latin term aedicule meaning ‘little house’.
The team cut a window into the southern interior wall of the Edicule, exposing one of the cave walls.
The tomb has now been resealed and will probably not be opened again for hundreds, possibly even thousands, of years. But before it was resealed, the surface of the rock was extensively cataloged.
Work on restoration of the Edicule is expected to continue for at least the next five months.
‘The architectural conservation which we are implementing is intended to last forever,’ says Moropoulou.
National Geographic has been filming the work being done at the church, which is considered the most sacred site in Christianity.
Christian tradition says Christ’s body was laid on a slab cut from a limestone cave after his crucifixion by the Romans.
He was resurrected three days after his death, according to scripture, and the women who came to anoint his body said no remains were found.
The evidence for this is not definitive, however, according to Dan Bahat, a former district archaeologist in Jerusalem and in Galilee.
‘We may not be absolutely certain that the site of the Holy Sepulchre Church is the site of Jesus burial, but we certainly have no other site that can lay a claim nearly as weighty, and we really have no reason to reject the authenticity of the site,’ Bahat said.
An ornate structure with hanging oil lamps, columns and oversize candlesticks, the Edicule was erected above the spot where Christian tradition says Jesus’ body was anointed, wrapped in cloth and buried before his resurrection.
It stands a few hundred yards from the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion.
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