Restoration work on the shrine built around the likely spot of Christ’s tomb has been completed. (See this and this and this.) But researchers have found that the shrine and the surrounding complex have been built on unstable ground. Without more work, there could someday be a “catastrophic” collapse.
The “edicule,” the small building around the tomb that has been restored, preserves the remnants of a cave. It was once part of a quarry that had been turned into grave sites for wealthy Jews. (Note the confirmation of what the Bible says about Joseph of Arimathea, who offered the grave that he owned for the body of Jesus.) A number of those other grave sites have also been discovered on the property. The quarry is also thought to have been the site of “the Place of the Skull,” the Golgotha where criminals were executed. This is why the Church of the Holy Sepulchre complex also includes the reported site of the crucifixion.
The site over the ancient quarry is honeycombed with other caves and tunnels from the mining. The current structure is also built on top of tons of rubble, not only from the quarry but from layers of building and rebuilding over the centuries. Plus, the graves were dug into a slope. Drainage problems and damage from so many visitors are compounding the problem.
Researchers are proposing a six million euro project to shore up the buildings and to stabilize the foundations. The construction work would be accompanied with more archaeological excavation.
From Kristin Romey, Tomb of Christ at Risk of ‘Catastrophic’ Collapse, National Geographic:
Scientists have discovered that there is a “very real risk” that the holiest site in Christianity may collapse if nothing is done to shore up its unstable foundations.
A scientific team from the National Technical University of Athens(NTUA), which has just completed the restoration of what is traditionally believed to be the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, warns that additional work is needed to prevent the shrine and surrounding complex from experiencing significant structural failure.
“When it fails, the failure will not be a slow process, but catastrophic,” says Antonia Moropoulou, NTUA’s chief scientific supervisor.
The Edicule (from the Latin aedicule, or “little house”), a small structure within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, encloses the remains of a cave that has been venerated since at least the fourth century A.D. as the tomb of Jesus Christ.
Restoration of the Edicule reveals that much of the 19th-century shrine and its surrounding rotunda, which host millions of annual visitors, appear to be built largely on an unstable foundation of crumbled remnants of earlier structures and is honeycombed with extensive tunnels and channels.
Photo of Domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by israeltourism from Israel [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons