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Now a look at a historic renovation at one of the holiest places in Christianity, the building that tradition says houses the tomb of Jesus. It hadn't been restored in more than 200 years, and it was at risk of collapse. A team has just finished months of careful work. Here's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is one of the world's oldest churches. In a center of the church is a large, ornate monument called the Edicule. According to Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian belief, that monument houses the ancient cave were Jesus' body was entombed and then resurrected. The walls of the monument have been buckling outwards.
BONNIE BURNHAM: I would venture to say that if this intervention hadn't happened now, there was a very great risk that there could have been a collapse.
ESTRIN: Bonnie Burnham represents the World Monuments Fund which helped with fundraising for the $4 million project. A Greek restoration team from Athens spent almost a year removing parts of the tomb and putting them back together. Stone slabs were removed from the walls. Black candle soot and pigeon droppings were scrubbed off. Titanium mesh and grout were inserted in the building's core. And the hulking, unsightly iron cage built around the shrine in 1947 to reinforce it was removed.
ANTONIA MOROPOULOU: This monument today is free. It's emancipated from the iron grids. It is emancipated from what was keeping it in a jailed protection.
ESTRIN: That's the head of the Greek restoration team, Antonia Moropoulou. She described probably the most dramatic moment of the restorations last fall. Her team slid back all the marble layers covering the rock-hewn bench where believers say Jesus' body was placed. There is a layer from the late crusader era of the 14th century and an earlier layer from the fourth century when Constantine built the original church. Father Euginio Alliata got a peek at what was under all of that.
EUGINIO ALLIATA: It was really important to see the bench - very flat and almost complete from the right to the left, almost for the shape that one man can stay on it. So this was really something very important. And this - it is the first time that it has been documented as it is.
ESTRIN: The marble layers were put back in place, but one change was made in the shrine's inner sanctum. A small window was cut into one of the shrine's walls. So for the first time, visitors get a glimpse of what's behind the original rock wall of what tradition says is Jesus' tomb. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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