Catholic, Greek and Armenian Churches Work Together to Renovate Christ’s Tomb
June 07, 2016
Catholic, Greek and Armenian Churches Work Together to Renovate Christ’s Tomb –
JERUSALEM (AP) — A team of experts began a historic renovation on Monday at the spot where Christians believe Jesus was buried, overcoming longstanding religious rivalries to carry out the first repairs at the site in more than 200 years.
The project is focused on reinforcing and preserving the Edicule — the ancient chamber housing Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is the first such work at the tomb since 1810, when the shrine was restored and given its current shape following a fire.
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 (meters) from the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.
With its stone staircases, gilded ornamentation and many dark chambers, the church is one of Christianity’s holiest shrines. But that hasn’t stopped clerics from engaging in turf rivalries over the years.
The Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches are responsible for maintaining separate sections, and each denomination jealously guards its domain. While the clergymen who work and pray at the church generally get along, tensions can rise to the surface. In 2008, an argument between Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks erupted into a brawl.
This time, the clergymen put aside their differences — a reflection of the dire need for the repairs. Last year, Israeli police briefly shut down the building after Israel’s Antiquities Authority deemed it unsafe, prompting the Christian denominations to join forces.
“We equally decided the required renovation was necessary to be done, so we agreed upon it”, said the Rev. Samuel Aghoyan, the top Armenian official at the church.
An Associated Press team had exclusive access to the site as the work began late Monday, carried out by a team of nine Greek experts who have done similar restoration work on the Acropolis as well as to Byzantine churches throughout the Mediterranean.
The project will cost about $3.3 million (3 million euros), said Theophilos III, the Greek-Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem. Each church is contributing funds. In addition, Jordan’s King Abdullah made a personal donation. Jordan controlled Jerusalem’s Old City until the 1967 Mideast war, and the kingdom continues to play a role safeguarding Muslim and Christian holy sites.
Despite the sometimes tense relations between the denominations, the tomb served as a potent symbol of Christian unity when Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, prayed together there in May 2014.
Likewise, today’s restoration is bridging centuries-old divisions by being carried out in the name of all three major denominations that share possession.
In a show of unity, on May 20 clerics from the three denominations posed and shook hands in front of the scaffolding erected around the tomb ahead of the work.
The church, one of the world’s oldest, was built in 325 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Constantine. That structure was destroyed in 1009 by Muslim Caliph al-Hakim. A 12th-century restoration by the Crusaders gave the Holy Sepulchre its current appearance, while in 1808 a fire all but destroyed the Edicule.
In 1852, the Ottoman authorities then governing the Holy Land provided a framework for resolving disputes inside the church. They put into effect the “status quo,” a set of historic laws and power-sharing arrangements that rigidly regulates the denominations’ activities inside the Holy Sepulchre.