Three years after the restoration of the tomb of Christ, in the heart of the Holy Sepulcher, it is the turn of the paved ground of the basilica to begin a rejuvenation treatment. It is work being done under the direction of the Custody of the Holy Land and which should last two years.
The photograph taken at the Holy Sepulcher on March 14, 2022 is surprising: the leaders of the different Christian denominations in charge of the basilica, each armed with a pickaxe, working together to lift one of the heavy cobblestones that make up the floor of the sanctuary.
A cliché that alone sums up the complexity of the management of Christian holy places built on the land trodden by Christ. Thus, the Holy Sepulcher, for its part, is in co-ownership, along with the common and private spaces, between Catholics – represented by the Franciscans – and other Christian confessions separated from Rome: Greeks, Armenians, Syriacs, Copts, and Ethiopians .
Note that the co-ownership is also shared with two Muslim families, in charge of opening and closing the doors of the Holy Sepulcher, and the authority in place, namely Israel since 1967. On the other hand, only the Orthodox, the Franciscans, and the Armenians possess co-ownership titles to the private spaces.
An imbroglio which has not benefited the conservation of the floor of the Holy Sepulcher: over the centuries, the countless footsteps of pilgrims, the smoke of candles, and the dampness have left their mark on the stony ground, to the point that the latter needed to recover some color and a less rugged shape.
This is the whole objective of the work which has finally just begun under the direction of the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land, assisted by a team of archaeologists from the Sapienza University in Rome, as well as scientists from the La Veneria Reale Center of Conservation and Restoration.
The latter will take care of the restoration of the floor, of which a meticulous photograph of which was taken by the Polytechnic Institute of Milan, which visited the site in September 2021.
Before symbolically lifting one of the stones from the ground of the Holy Sepulcher, Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, recalled that although the restoration project – common to Catholics, Greeks, and Armenians not united in Rome – was launched two years ago, it was delayed due to Covid-19.
“Now we are ready to begin,” because “in this time of pandemic and war, cooperation between us takes on a different meaning, especially here, where Jesus Christ manifested Himself as the true cornerstone of the Church,” said the Franciscan religious.
Even during the work, the basilica will always remain open to pilgrims, who, since Israel reopened its borders, after two years of closure due to the pandemic are gradually returning.
Thus, the celebrations of Holy Week – which will take place this year from April 13 to 17 for Catholics and from April 20 to 24 for the Orthodox confessions – should not be disturbed: “We will allow passage through the area and we will concentrate our efforts on other aspects of the works,” assures Osama Hamdan, the architect who depends on the Custody of the Holy Land.