The tomb in which Jesus’ body is believed to have been laid after his crucifixion has been exposed by conservationists for the first time in centuries.
The restoration workers will now be able to examine the original rock shelf or “burial bed” on which Jesus' body is thought to have rested.
“The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it,” archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert told National Geographic, which is a partner in the project.
“It will be a long scientific analysis, but we will finally be able to see the original rock surface on which, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid.”
The tomb is situated inside a structure known as the Edicule, which is being restored by a team of Greek conservationists from the National Technical University in Athens. The team previously worked on the Acropolis in the Greek capital and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
Antonia Moropoulou, the team’s chief scientific supervisor, said the removal of the marble slab, which measures about one metre by 1.5 metres, was a “critical moment” in the restoration of the Edicule. “The techniques we’re using to document this unique monument will enable the world to study our findings as if they themselves were in the tomb of Christ.”
The church – a huge draw for pilgrims and tourists – was closed for the slab’s removal, with the inside of the Edicule lit by powerful industrial lighting instead of the customary flickering candles.