The marble slab on which it is believed Jesus lay after his crucifixion is being studied as part of a $4m restoration project at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
According to the National Geographic, a partner in the project, the tomb, situated inside the Edicule in the Old City, has been exposed for the first time in centuries so that conservators from the National Technical University in Athens can continue their work.
Archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert told the magazine: “The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it.”
He added: “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 restoration project, involving about 50 experts, began earlier this year after funding was secured from donors including King Abdullah of Jordan and Mica Ertegun, the widow of Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun. The Christian denominations that jointly run the church also committed funds. The project is due to be completed next spring.
The conservators have been working mainly at night in order to allow pilgrims continued access to the shrine. The World Monuments Fund is overseeing the restoration.
Antonia Moropoulou, the team’s chief scientific supervisor, said the removal of the marble slab, which measures about 3ft by 5ft, was a “critical moment” in the restoration of the Edicule. “The techniques we’re using to document this unique monument will enable the world to study our findings as if they themselves were in the tomb of Christ.”