HOUSTON - The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is one of the holiest sites in the world for Christians.
“It's the actual shrine that is covering the tomb of Christ,” explained University of St. Thomas art history professor Charles Stewart. “Now, the tomb of Christ is famous for being the place not only where the dead body of Christ was placed, but also the place where Jesus was resurrected from the dead.”
The church is home to 2,000 years of history. Millions of pilgrims have gone there.
“You can see the ancient Roman edifice of the building," Stewart said. "The stones that built the first church that was constructed by the Emperor Constantine,” Stewart explained. “And then you can see all the layers of building over the past 1,700 years, of structures being built at that site."Stewart has been to the church and said building on top of building and centuries of foot traffic have taken their toll. Structures at the site are crumbling.
The church has undergone renovations before, but infighting among the six Christian denominations responsible for the site has delayed significant reconstruction for the last 200 years.
Now, major work is finally moving forward.
"There are layers of history, of human constructions and reconstruction. And what we are expecting to do is to document and monitor all these layers of history," project supervisor Antonia Moropoulou said.
Moropoulou and her team from Greece are working on the project to repair, reinforce and conserve the structure. Crews will slowly remove rotten plaster and stone. They'll drill support rods into the walls surrounding the church.
"So, we will open only this marble stones slabs, which will permit us to enter and then to repair the mortars and readjust the stone slabs with Titanium bolts," Moropoulou said.
Stewart is serving as an international monitor for the project.
“It's important to have outsiders monitor and to critique and make sure that the project is actually up to international standards, so that is what I'm doing as an outsider,” Stewart said.
Preserving one of humanity's most important historical sites is an important effort in its own right, but Stewart said it has an even greater meaning for the future.
“The restoration of the Holy Supulchre today indicates a spirit of brotherhood amongst all the different Christians communities around the world. The fact that they could put down their disagreements and come together in a spirit of working together on a project like this indicates a time of peace. And it actually harkens to a future, a more hopeful future,” Stewart said.
Watch an extended interview with Stewart as he takes you from ancient Jerusalem 2,000 years ago to present day: