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The Edicule in 1810 at its last restorationHallo again to all.

We are not archaeologists and so can make no claims of authenticity ourselves, but a consensus of Christians since the second century has identified specific sites in Jerusalem as the original locations of Golgotha and the Tomb, Jesus' 'three-day prison'. They are both contained today within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a superstructure of a building whose governance has long been considered a microcosm of the problems of Christian disunion.

The three principal communities who worship in the space—Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, and Franciscan Roman Catholic—join Copts who have access to an altar attached to the back of the Edicule (the structure above the sepulchre itself—on which more below), Syrian Orthodox Christians at the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus behind the Tomb, and a small but ancient Ethiopian community resident in cells on the roof of the building. Israeli police have been called upon to break up brawls among the groups, and YouTube features videos of especial outbreaks of violence from time to time.

So tenuous have been the relations between the six major communities who inhabit the Holy Sepulchre that two Muslim families—the Joudehs and the Nuseibehs—have been entrusted for centuries with custody of the keys to the building, and the duty of opening and closing its doors each day. For some time, the Christians have attempted to muddle along using a patchwork of agreements and charters from the Ottoman occupation of the Holy Land, and the result was a group of religious structures with leaks, instability, and of possible danger to the pilgrims visiting them.

The story of the decay of the Holy Sepulchre, long weakened by age, dirt, stress fractures from traffic, and the loosening of mortar last set in 1810 after a disastrous fire, took a turn for the better over the last year in a restoration effort that culminated on Wednesday. A Greek-led team from the University of Athens undertook the cleaning, reinforcement, and general restoration of the Edicule, the interior shrine immediately above the site of the Tomb. With funding from private donors as well as King Abdullah of Jordan and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, the US$4 million restoration makes the Church of the Holy Sepulchre safe—in time for both western and eastern Easter—for the throngs who travel there from around the world. The photographs we have seen are impressive.

The restoration offers a counter-narrative to the received story of Christians who refuse to collaborate with one another while the very house of the Lord becomes structurally unsound around them. The kind care of Muslims for the building, too, gives us a cause for our own joy in Jerusalem's rejoicing on this Laetare Sunday, when we are bid

Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow!

We sang today with Percy Dearmer's words in our mouths and the vision of the restored Holy Sepulchre in our mind's eye:

To bow the head in sackcloth and in ashes,
Or rend the soul,
Such grief is not our goal;
But to be led to where God's glory flashes,
His beauty to come nigh, to fly, to fly,
To fly where truth and light do lie.

See you next week.

Our Signatures

Richard Mammana

All of us at Anglicans Online

26 March 2017

A thin blue line
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