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"I am always with you till the end of time" (Mt 28,20)

Perhaps never in its history had the church of the Holy Sepulchre reached the bottom of the humiliation the way it did in the nineteenth century. The remedy was worse than the disease. When on l3th of September 1810 Komninos of Mitylene presented his restored work, one realized that nothing was left or was at least visible of the basilica built in the XIIth century by the Crusader architects. Big pillars had taken the place of the columns, the windows had been closed, plain walls had covered the beautiful ogival arches of the central transept, the shrine on the tomb appeared completely rebuilt in a dubious style. The tombs of Godfrey de Bouillon and of Baldwin I were removed to make way to two steep stairways that led to Calvary. The marble at the Stone of Unction (which carried the Franciscan Coat of Arms) was replaced by a plain one. One entered a place without beauty and without light and air, which with time changed into a dark recess.

The Image of Christ on the Aedicula
medium sized image (88k) - detail (177k)

The situation became worse after a strong earthquakes in 1867 which shook the central dome which had to be pulled down and replaced with a metal structure. Another earthquake shook Palestine in 1927 and the whole edifice was in danger of collapse. In 1934 the British Authority, administering Palestine since the end of World War I, decided to reinforce the whole building (inside and outside) with iron girdles and wooden structures, as suggested by architect Harvey. This completely disfigured the monument.

Iron beams girdling the Aedicula

In 1949 the Apostolic Delegate of Jerusalem, Mons. Testa, wrote in a richly documented volume, prepared in collaboration with the Custody of the Holy Land, on the need for restoration of this monument:

"This is a project which we are offering to men of goodwill. If there are others who can prepare a better one let them come forth. Christians of the world we must show compassion toward those old stones which probably will fall, for those unsafe and propped walls , for that building which has become miserable during the centuries....."

At last, after protests and public appeals, things started to move in the right direction. In 1954 the three major communities, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate entered into an agreement to find a permanent solution for the problem. After many preliminary meetings, on May 16th, they decided that before undertaking any work they needed a detailed expert report on the effective state of the structures of the monument. The three designated architects produced a common report on July 11 of the same year which they presented to the communities and the Jordanian Government. In this report they insisted on the immediate need to intervene on the façade, the transept and the dome of the rotunda. These suggestions were also accepted by the architect of the Jordanian government.

The upper part of the Aedicula

In 1955 the Custody of the Holy Land, attempted to accelerate the time table and to involve the Christian nations of the world, by inviting to Jerusalem an expert commission made up of seven architects coming from France, Spain, Belgium, United States of America, Britain and Holland. Each architect prepared his separate report and on August 24 they prepared a common report in which they confirmed the need for the restoration of the façade, transept and dome. Furthermore they agreed also on some main lines of intervention as architect Forlati of Venice says:

"in order to give back to the par excellence sanctuary of Christianity that security and that dignity which every believer invokes with faith and a moved heart, we need to use all the systems of modern technology".

A top view of the entrance to the Aedicula on the tomb

A technical office manned by the three architects of the three communities was set up and restoration work started on 3rd July 1961. On January 4th 1964 Pope Paul VI visited the shrine and he spoke of the restoration project with the Greek Orthodox patriarch, Benedictos:

"it is very symbolic that notwithstanding the weight of history and the numerous difficulties, the Christians, unfortunately separated, work together to restore this temple which they themselves had built in unity and which their divisions had left to decay"

Thus the Church of the Holy Sepulchre became again a sign of hope for a resurrection which finally can unite all the Christians of the world around the Tomb of Christ.

  

 

© Text prepared by John Abela ofm based on articles and research by Virgilio Corbo ofm, Michele Piccirillo ofm and Eugenio Alliata ofm
Hi-Res pictures prepared by Michael Olteanu - Other pictures prepared by John Abela ofm and Michael Olteanu
B&W pictures courtesy of SBF-Jerusalem Archives - A joint project betweeen the Franciscans and Christusrex

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Created / Updated Wednesday, December 26, 2001 at 20:31:22 by John Abela ofm
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