A medieval altar, apparently long forgotten, has been rediscovered at the supposed site of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. Recent excavations on Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected, revealed a large stone slab, "pressed against a wall in a back corridor," which was covered in graffiti, per Reuters. It's become a tradition for pilgrims to sign the smooth slab, which is roughly 8 feet by 5 feet, per the Times of Israel. Unbeknownst to them and to researchers until recently, the other side of the slab bore circular engravings, which mesh with pilgrim accounts of the church altar dating back to the Crusader era.
The engravings would've been inlaid with colorful "pieces of glass, pieces of small, finely made marble," which would've produced a "shining" effect, Amit Re'em, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, tells Reuters. "This was a really amazing artifact," he adds. "All the eyes of the believers, of the pilgrims, [went] to this object." And the main liturgy of the church would've been carried out "on the table of this altar." The altar—decorated in the "Cosmatesque" style common in medieval Rome—would've stood at the apex of the Church under Catholic clergy before Muslims overtook Jerusalem in 1244. Re'em says it was also part of the church under Greek Orthodox control until a fire in 1808.
It's unclear when the slab was hidden from view. "It was forgotten in the mist of time for decades until we rediscovered it a few years ago," Re'em says in a Reuters video, per the Times. The rediscovery was only made public Wednesday, amid church rituals honoring the Christian Holy Week. "After two years of COVID, of restrictions, of closed churches ... it's a kind of resurrection," the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, told Reuters earlier this week. Re'em's research on the find, conducted with Ilya Berkovich of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, will be published later this year. (A stone bench on which Jesus' body may have laid after his death was also uncovered at the church in recent years.)