As the New Year begins, a new phase of work at the Holy Sepulcher opens after the completion of that around the Rotunda of the Edicule. On December 21 in Jerusalem at St. Savior’s Convent, updates on the ongoing archaeological excavations at the basilica were presented to the leaders of the Christian communities that guard the Holy Sepulcher. The excavations were conducted by the Department of Ancient Sciences at Sapienza University of Rome. Professor Francesca Romana Stasolla, head of research, outlined the extraordinary progress in the year 2023 in an official statement.
Professor Francesca Romana Stasolla, Department of Sciences of Antiquity, Sapienza University of Rome, says: “We were able first of all to close off the rotunda area and this allowed us to begin to understand the constitution of this particularly sensitive area. First of all we were able to understand this double architectural phase. That is, the presence of an initial monumentalization of the tomb area with the constitution of a first phase of the early fourth century and then a second phase with the rotunda itself. So it’s been an extraordinarily fruitful year because the various pieces of the puzzle of this excavation, which is kind of done in pieces, are beginning to come together. Most importantly, we are offered the whole history of this extraordinary place, starting from the quarry, so from a very ancient age, and reaching up to the contemporary age. For His Beatitude Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, all those in charge are very happy with the progress of the work.”
His Beatitude Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, says: “It is very, very important. First of all for the church itself, for the Holy Sepulcher complex, but also for the Christian communities and the people of Jerusalem. We say this because today the Holy Sepulcher is the heart of Christianity, of the Christian faith, and therefore it is a point of reference for thousands, if not millions, of people. All of them would love to visit it and take some spiritual food, some strength and some energy, because today the world is upside down. And what we’re doing today, the three congregations, is really something, it’s a great blessing for all of us. Our mission here as churches, towards those communities that we serve, towards all of Christendom is to maintain, to guard and to promote the values of the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament.”
Samuel Aghoyan, Armenian Superior of the Holy Sepulcher, says: “What I would like to say is that the place we are restoring is a holy place. And it is a very old building. It has old parts. It needs renovation and restoration work so that it can last. And we are happy that the three communities have come to understand and realize that it is important to restore the church for the benefit of the life of the building and for the enjoyment of the faithful who come to visit here in Jerusalem. For Brother Dobromir Jasztal, the work in 2023 has developed very well and in accordance with the different phases of the project: The first phase of the archaeological work is the longest phase, because it obviously involves a huge amount of excavation work, study. This year a good level has already been reached regarding this aspect. In the coming months, as planned, the excavation in the other areas will continue. Then the next phase will be infrastructure and paving.”
Br. Dobromir Jasztal, ofm Project Manager, says: “Certainly this year went very well. In the beginning, the agenda of the work also took into account the difficulties of the crowding of the Church by pilgrims, the various services. So the work was organized in such a way as not to disturb the visits, the prayers and to proceed with the work. The goal has been achieved. We are well on our way and hope to continue in the coming months to finish. This is an important project. It is the first time it has been done in hundreds of years.”
Negib Nasser, Architect local project manager, says: “And at the end of the day, what the pilgrims will see will be tiles, tiles should look good, because they will appear and should match the historical and give the historical value of the church. For Brother Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, the work done by both the archaeologists, the restorers, and also those who follow the whole issue of infrastructure, has been great. In about a year’s time we will also be able to see the new floor of the basilica, after finishing the archaeological excavation and after finally arranging all the infrastructure.”
Br. Francesco Patton, ofm Custos of the Holy Land, says: “And then it will be very interesting in the coming years to see the studies that will be published, the studies that will synthesize the work of these archaeologists and restorers who have been working. I think in the end it will be very interesting what they will be able to tell us and offer as a synthesis of a great work. Also to show us how this place, which is the most important place for us as Christians, because it is the place that tells us about the burial and the resurrection of Jesus, is a place that along the centuries we can say slowly evolved. But starting from the certainty of that rock-cut tomb that the Gospels speak of.”