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Jesus Christ's tomb restored at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

The limestone and marble structure is at the centre of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, one of the world's oldest churches – a 12th-century building standing on 4th-century remains. The shrine needed urgent attention after years of exposure to factors like water, humidity and candle smoke.

Gone is the unsightly iron cage built around the shrine by British authorities in 1947 to shore up the walls. Gone is the black soot on the shrine's stone façade from decades of pilgrims lighting candles. And gone are fears about the stability of the old shrine, which hadn't been restored in more than 200 years.

Three main Christian denominations jealously guard separate sections of the church, but they put aside their long-standing religious rivalries to give their blessing for the restoration. In 2015, Israeli police briefly shut down the building after Israel's Antiquities Authority deemed it unsafe, and repairs began in June 2016.

A restoration team from the National Technical University of Athens stripped the stone slabs from the shrine's façade and patched up the internal masonry of the shrine, injecting it with tubes of grout for reinforcement. Each stone slab was cleaned of candle soot and pigeon droppings, then put back in place. Titanium bolts were inserted into the structure for reinforcement, and frescos and the shrine's painted dome were given a facelift.

In October 2016, the team entered the inner sanctum of the shrine, the burial chamber of Jesus, and temporarily slid open an old marble layer covering the bedrock where Jesus' body is said to have been placed. Below the outer marble layer was a white rose marble slab engraved with a cross, which the team dated to the late Crusader period of the 14th century. Beneath that marble slab was an even older, grey marble slab protecting the bedrock, and mortar on the slab dates to the 4th century, when Roman Emperor Constantine ordered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre be built. The restorers have cut a small window from the shrine's marble walls for pilgrims to see  for the first time  the bare stone of the ancient burial cave.

If this intervention hadn't happened now, there is a very great risk that there could have been a collapse," Bonnie Burnham of the World Monuments Fund said. "This is a complete transformation of the monument."

The fund provided an initial $1.4m (£1.12m) for the $4m restoration, thanks to a donation by the widow of the founder of Atlantic Records. Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also chipped in about €150,000 (£130,000) each, along with other private and church donations, Burnham said.

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