In recent weeks, scaffolding has gone up a few feet from the shrine in the gloomy shadows of the Arches of the Virgin, the first step in a rare agreement by the various Christian communities to save the dilapidated shrine, also called the Aedicule, from falling down.
The March 22 agreement calls for a $3.4 million renovation to begin next month, after Orthodox Easter celebrations.
So after a year of much study and negotiation, monument conservation experts plan to first remove the iron cage that Jerusalem’s colonial British rulers built in 1947 in a prior effort to keep the Aedicule from collapsing, after a 1927 earthquake and rain left the structure cracked, its marble slabs flaking.
They will take apart, slab by slab, the ornate marble shell built in 1810, during Ottoman rule of Jerusalem. The conservationists will then tackle the remains of the 12th-century Crusader shrine that lies underneath. That was erected after the Shiite ruler of Egypt, al-Hakim, destroyed the first Aedicule in 1009. The original was built by Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, the Christian Roman emperor who did much to elevate the status of Christianity through the empire.
Finally, the workers will repair cracks in the remains of the rock-hewed tomb underneath, where most Christians believe Jesus was placed after he was crucified.