A team of experts began a historic renovation on Monday at the spot where Christians believe Jesus was buried, overcoming longstanding religious rivalries to carry out the first repairs at the site in more than 200 years, the AP reports. The project is focused on repairing, reinforcing, and preserving the Edicule—the ancient chamber housing Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is the first such work at the tomb since 1810, when the shrine was restored and given its current shape following a fire. An ornate structure with hanging oil lamps, columns, and oversize candlesticks, the Edicule was erected above the spot where Christian tradition says Jesus' body was anointed, wrapped in cloth, and buried before his resurrection. It stands a few hundred yards from the site of Jesus' crucifixion.
With its stone staircases, gilded ornamentation and many dark chambers, the church is one of Christianity's holiest shrines. But that hasn't stopped clerics from engaging in turf rivalries over the years. The Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian churches are responsible for maintaining separate sections, and each denomination jealously guards its domain. While the clergymen who work and pray at the church generally get along, tensions can rise to the surface. In 2008, an argument between Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks erupted into a brawl. (A similar brawl took place at Christ's birthplace three years later.) This time, though, the clergymen put aside their differences—a reflection of the dire need for the repairs. Last year, Israeli police briefly shut down the building after Israel's Antiquities Authority deemed it unsafe, prompting the Christian denominations to join forces. Click for the AP's exclusive look at the work being done. (Read more Jerusalem stories.)