Restoration work starts at Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre shrine

A worker welds scaffoldings at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City ahead of the restoration of the Tomb of Jesus.
A worker welds scaffoldings at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City ahead of the restoration of the Tomb of Jesus.PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - A major restoration project has begun at the shrine inside Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is said to have been buried before his resurrection.

A photographer visiting the church on Sunday saw scaffolding going up and workers welding steel supports.

Church officials had said in March that work was to be carried out by a team of Greek specialists.

They said the project was expected to be completed in early 2017 and that the site would remain open to visitors in the meantime.

Workers in the church erected a steel canopy over the entrance to the tomb structure, to protect visitors from possible debris.

The shrine, several metres tall and wide and standing under the church's dome, has for decades been held together by a metal frame.

Its marble slabs have weakened over the years, caused in part by daily visits from thousands of pilgrims and tourists.

The shrine was built in the early 19th century over the site of the cave where Jesus is believed to have been buried.

It will be painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt during eight months of restoration work, said the Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees Roman Catholic properties in the area.

Broken or fragile parts will be replaced while marble slabs that can be preserved will be cleaned, and the structure supporting them will be reinforced.

The work is being funded by the three main Christian denominations of the Holy Sepulchre - Greek Orthodox, Franciscans and Armenians - as well as from public and private contributions.