Jesus' suspected tomb in Jerusalem was opened for the first time in centuries by scientists in an effort to restore it.
A team from the National Technical University of Athens in Greece realized during a conservation project to shore up a shrine surrounding the tomb that they would need to access the substructure of the shrine, Fredrik Hiebert, the archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, told National Geographic magazine.
The tomb, located at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, has been covered by marble cladding since at least 1555 A.D., and experts believe much earlier, wrote National Geographic.
Christians believe that after Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans in A.D. 30 or 33, his body was laid to rest on a "burial bed," or shelve, cut from the side of a limestone cave. According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ was resurrected after death, and women who came to anoint his body found no remains.
The burial bed is now enclosed by a small structure known as the Edicule.
According to Agence France-Presse, Rome's first Christian emperor, Constantine, had a shrine installed over the cave after sending his mother, Helena, to Jerusalem as a representative in 326. The cave's original top was removed so pilgrims could view the slab where Jesus Christ's body had reportedly rested, the news service noted.
"The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back, and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it," Hiebert told National Geographic. "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 Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Armenian Orthodox Church jointly manage the site and acknowledged in 1958 that conservation was needed, wrote AFP. The news agency said, though, it has taken the groups until now to secure the funding, which is costing about $4 million.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem invited the National Technical University of Athens to study the Edicule and the three managing faiths agreed to restore the structure in March 2016, National Geographic wrote.
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