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    Christian Rivals Unite to Restore Holiest Jerusalem Church

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    The three Christian communities that share custody of the Holy Sepulchre set aside their rivalries to take on an extensive project of restoring Jerusalem’s holiest church.

    The two-year project will repair and restore the ancient stone floor of the Holy Edicule, the site where Jesus is believed to have been buried. The renovation project is estimated to cost $11 million and will be funded through donations, reports The Times of Israel.

    Since the mid-19th century, the Greek Orthodox, the Catholic, and the Armenian churches have had a delicate agreement of care and control over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For centuries, the three communities have been at odds over the ownership of the multi-level complex. Now, they put off their conflict to work together on the restoration project.

    “The cooperation among the three communities is the most important thing,” said Rev. Francesco Patton, the head of the Catholic Franciscan order. “It shows to the entire world that it is possible among Christians of different churches and communities to have a fraternal relationship.”

    The cooperation among the three communities is the most important thing. It shows to the entire world that it is possible among Christians of different churches and communities to have a fraternal relationship. —Rev. Francesco Patton, the head of the Catholic Franciscan order devoted to preserving Christian sites in the Holy Land

    After the renovation of the Holy Edicule in 2017, authorities discovered the need for further repairs on the floor of the basilica. Osama Hamdan, a Palestinian Muslim architect from Jerusalem, heads the project.

    “It’s a big part of the history of this territory, and we are the results of this accumulation of cultures,” Hamdan said. “Before [we were] Muslims, we were Christians, and before we were Jewish, and before we were pagans.”

    The project will be done in phases to allow worship services and normal visits to continue. The Franciscan priest explained that the pavement stones will be repaired and restored, reusing where possible and replacing broken ones with similar local stones.

    Daniela Russo from the La Venaria Reale Conservation and Restoration Center in Torino, Italy leads the restoration team. She revealed that working with historical stones is the first challenge the team will have to face as she maintained the importance of teamwork for the project.

    “I think we all have to face a lot of history,” she said. “We have to manage this and translate the history to the modern day and make it functional. We have to try to conserve the history as well as renew all of the apparatus while maintaining the status quo. We all have to work together.”

    The renovation project will also allow an archeological study of the floor under the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For the first time, experts will be able to discover the rich history of the site Christians believe to be where Jesus was crucified, died, and rose again.

    As the stones are removed, an archaeological excavation will be done in the exposed sections. Prof. Giorgio Piras, director of the Department of Ancient Sciences at the Sapienza University of Rome, will be responsible for the archaeological study of the entire floor area, 1,200 square meters, during the renovation, reports The Jerusalem Post.

    “We don’t know what is beneath the floor,” Piras said. “It has never been systematically excavated, so we don’t know what we shall find. But it should be at least some remains of [Roman Emperor] Constantine’s church.”

    The church has been in continuous use for nearly 1700 years and it has survived earthquakes, fires, invasions, and demolitions. In 1852, a decree was issued appointing the three Christian denominations to share the church. The rigid arrangement allowed small renovations on areas controlled by each custodian, but not on the common property which includes the Edicule.

    Inter-denominational relations among the three communities started to improve after Israeli authorities temporarily closed the Edicule in 2015 for being unsafe to the public. The first phase of the restoration of the small building in 2016-2017 helped the churches to find a common ground and reach a truce.

    “Dialogue is really facilitated when you are doing something together with the others,” Patton said. “Working together is something that helps people to know each other and to start a process of trusting.”

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