Armenian Jerusalem
for the first time in 200 years
aster in Jerusalem in 2016 is bound to go down in history as one of the most memorable the Holy Land has experienced in decades, following the momentous announcement of plans to renovate the tomb of Jesus, located in the Holy Sepulchre Church, after a 200-year hiatus. The news has been greeted with widespread acclaim throughout the Christian world, troubled as it is by the prevalent feeling of insecurity and spiritual anguish in the wake of the horrendous wave of terrorism gripping our planet. "About time," one Facebook subscriber commented. "Our congregations need regular such shots in the arm to rekindle their faith, and arm them against the evils of the world," one priest confided. "Hallelujah Jerusalem!" proclaimed another believer. The announcement by the three Guardians of the Holy Places, the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchates and the Franciscan Custodia, indicated a welcome breach in the unending impasse that has hampered restoration work at dangerously crumbling portions of the Holy Sepulchre, centre of pilgrimage for thousands of Christians every year. The new development reinforces the conviction that the three Guardians have succeeded in burying their differences sufficiently to assert they are ready to begin the restoration work at the tomb at the earliest opportunity. The tomb of Jesus lies within an enclosure, the Edicule, that sports a number of long openings in its wall: it is from one of these holes that the miraculous holy fire bursts out into the world on the Saturday before Easter. Work is scheduled to start within weeks with completion expected by the end of the year. Armenian renovation experts will be in the vanguard of the team that will undertake the painstaking work. The University of Florence is also expected to field its own experts. This will be the first time in over two centuries that the Edicule is being refurbished. The last time such an enterprise had been launched was in 1810, following a destructive fire two years earlier. According to the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem the decision to embark on the restoration project was based on the recommendation of a team of specialists from the National Technical University of Athens who arrived at their conclusion following a technical examination of the structure. The action has been spurred by reports from the architects who are also to take part in the work, of structural damage to the building caused by condensation from the breath of the thousands of pilgrims who visit the church every year. This is leading to a deterioration in the fabric of the mortars. The report also cited the use of lighted candles that cause a great deal of thermal stress on the marble used in building the Edicule. It is understood that the Edicule will be dismantled piece by piece so the damaged parts can be replaced. The church, one of the most venerated spiritual edifice for the whole of the Christian world, will remain open for worship as the restoration progresses. While no estimate of the cost of the repairs is available, it is understood that the three Guardians will bear the major load with contributions from other denominations that share custody of the church. The announcement is of particular ecumenical significance because it puts an end to the inertia gripping the Guardians and breaks the impasse that has prevented them, for years, from moving ahead with vital restoration works within the church. "Things have not been made easy with each of the various churches placing a sometimes conflicting interpretation of the 1853 status quo" that governs relations among them all and sets down in minute detail the principles and parameters of demarcation, responsibilities and jurisdiction over the holy sites in the Holy Land, according to a local historian. The status quo came into force following the issue of a "firman" (decree) by the Ottoman overlords grown weary of the unending turf battles among the various Christian denominations, that often resulted in physical violence. However, the fact that the keys to the only entrance to the church have been entrusted for safekeeping to two non-Christian families, the Nusseibehs and Judehs, has somewhat helped ease further tension. The practice is said to stem back to a decision made by the Caliph Omar who, after entering Jerusalem in 638, had rejected his generals' entreaty to pray inside the Holy Sepulchre, as would have been their right as conquerors. Instead, Omar had picked up a stone and flung it as far as he could, telling his men to pray where it landed.