A stone slab where many Christians believed the body of Jesus Christ held after his crucifixion has been unveiled for the first time in centuries.
National Geographic said the marble that encased the slab since at least 1555 was removed as part of the project. They are the one filming the restoration work at the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
“We were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it,” Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society.
“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.”
National Geographic reported that the tomb is a limestone shelf or burial bed hewn from the wall of a cave. An initial inspection by a team from the National Technical University of Athens revealed a layer of fill material beneath the marble cladding. According to National Geographic, additional work revealed another marble slab with a cross carved into its surface. The original limestone burial bed was found to be intact just hours before the tomb was re-sealed.
“I’m absolutely amazed. My knees are shaking a little bit because I wasn’t expecting this,” said Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic’s archaeologist-in-residence.
“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.”
In addition, experts confirmed the existence of the original limestone cave walls inside the 19th-century Edicule, which encloses the tomb. A transparent window has been cut into the Edicule’s interior wall to expose one of the cave walls, National Geographic reports.
Christ’s resurrection from the dead is a core belief of Christian tradition, where the gospel say that the tomb was found to be empty by those who visited it a few days after the crucifixion.
Archeologist and National Geographic grantee Jodi Magness said that archeologists identified more than a thousand rock-cut tombs in the area around Jerusalem and each one of these family tombs consisted of one or more burial chambers with long niches cut into the sides of the rock to accommodate individual bodies.
“All of this is perfectly consistent with what we know about how wealthy Jews disposed of their dead in the time of Jesus,” says Magness.
“This does not, of course, prove that the event was historical. But what it does suggest is that whatever the sources were for the gospel accounts, they were familiar with this tradition and these burial customs.”
The team from the National University of Athens will continue its restoration work on the Edicule. Where conservators will be reinforcing, cleaning and documenting every details of the shrine in time for another five months, as they will collect valuable information that scholars will study for years in an attempt to better understand the origin and history of one of the world’s most sacred sites.