The shrine inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has been the subject of debate for hundreds of years, as to whether it is indeed the site where the Son of God was entombed following his crucifixion and from where he miraculously rose three days later.
But finally, more than 500 years since it was last sealed in 1550, the lid of the tomb was reopened – and what was found inside has stunned church leaders.
With just 60 hours to explore the venerated site, researchers at first appeared to be out of luck.
But on the final night, with just hours to go before the tomb was resealed, archaeologists found a marble slab, engraved with a cross.
Underneath they discovered a limestone burial bed – of similar description to the one where Christ’s body is believed to have been placed.
Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic’s archeologist-in-residence, said: “We can’t say 100 per cent, but it appears to be visible proof that the location of the tomb has not shifted through time, something that scientists and historians have wondered for decades.
“I’m absolutely amazed. My knees were shaking a little bit because I wasn’t expecting this.”
Without bones or artefacts it is impossible to determine whether the tomb is indeed the same one where Jesus of Nazareth was interred.
But the discovery is still hugely significant.
Mr Hiebert said: “This seems to be visible proof that the spot the pilgrims worship today really is the same tomb the Roman Emperor Constantine found in the 4th century and the Crusaders revered. It’s amazing.”
The earliest accounts of Jesus’ burial are published in the New Testament, which are believed to have been written about thirty years after Christ’s crucifixion.
They describe a rock-cut tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy Jew and follower of Jesus.
Thousands of similar sites have been found around the city of Jerusalem – Jewish tradition forbids burial within the city walls.
Jesus is believed to have been buried close to wear he was crucified, on Golgotha.
Representatives of Emperor Constantine arrived in Jerusalem searching for Christ’s tomb in about 325AD, and were said to have been pointed towards a temple built by Emperor Hadrian 200 years earlier.
In the early 20th century, excavations inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre revealed remains believed to be that of Hadrian’s original temple, suggesting the site is indeed the same place discovered by Constantine 1,700 years ago.
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