The tomb many scholars have attributed to being the final (or perhaps not-so-final) resting place of Jesus Christ is currently being attended to by conservationists. The primary reason for this work is to make sure the Edicule – the tomb-like shrine within Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre – will remain structurally intact for the foreseeable future.
However, archaeologists were also given 60 hours to examine the tomb itself, including parts of it that haven’t seen the light of day for almost a millennium. As exclusively revealed by National Geographic (NG), the team led by the National Technical University of Athens have already uncovered a treasure trove of secrets that produces more questions than it answers.
It’s been known for some time that the tomb contains a limestone shelf, dating back to around the year 30, on which Christ is said to have been placed after his crucifixion. The church was built around it during the 4th century, and layers of marble were placed atop the shelf during the mid-16th century.
The team of researchers carefully removed these marble slabs for the first time in several hundred years. Underneath, they found a second slab adorned with an engraving of a cross dating back to the time of the Crusades. The team did not think that it was the original surface of the limestone shelf, and continued to work.
Just hours before their time was up, they managed to find the buried original layer of limestone – the ancient “deathbed” at the heart of the holiest site in all of Christendom.
“I'm absolutely amazed. My knees are shaking a little bit because I wasn't expecting this,” Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic's archaeologist-in-residence, told NG. “We can't say 100 percent, 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.”
Ground-penetrating radar was also used to confirm that the original limestone cave from which the shelf was hewn is contained within the walls of the Edicule.
Jerusalem's Old City. Ivoha/Shutterstock
As it turns out, there are more than a thousand rock-cut tombs in and around Jerusalem. Although all the religious paraphernalia associated with this particular burial site seems to indicate that this was indeed the resting place of Jesus Christ – if he was in fact real – it’s actually difficult to say for sure.
The site has had a chaotic history. Ruler after ruler built church upon church over the site, and many were destroyed over the centuries. Perhaps the original identifier of the tomb was mistaken all along, and this is a 2,000-year-old wild goose chase. Then again, perhaps they were right.
Either way, it’s a fairly extraordinary tale – one that is still being written today.
[H/T: National Geographic]