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Celebrating St. George in the Holy Land

By Greg Friedman, OFM and Daniel Koski

The saint often portrayed fighting a dragon is in reality one of the most popular saints in both the East and West. He is particularly venerated by Palestinians in the Holy Land.

On May 5, 2016, I caught the Arab bus in Jerusalem, headed for the West Bank. My destination was the town of Beit Jala, where I would meet up with my friend, Dan Koski. Dan serves as communications director at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, and is also involved in the Orthodox Christian community in the Holy Land. His Palestinian wife was baptized at Saint George Church in Al Khader as a baby, and has spent almost her entire life in Beit Jala. Each year they attend the feast of Saint George in Al Khader without fail.

Anyone who visits the Holy Land soon discovers that many Christian homes and businesses have stone icons of St. George over the entrance. In the Orthodox and Melkite churches, he is one of the most common saints to have a church named after him. Even the Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem is named “St. George the Great Martyr.”

On this May morning, Dan had invited me to join him and his wife for the celebration. Over coffee before we headed for the town of Al Khader, Dan began to unfold the story of this popular saint.

– Father Greg Friedman, OFM

St. George’s story begins at the end of the third century, or the beginning of the fourth century. Here in the Holy Land, we believe that St. George is a Palestinian saint, in the sense that he was born in this land. Georgios in Greek means “Helper of the Land.”  Here we call him George. We also call him al-Khidr, which is the Arabic word for “The Green.” Sometimes, we call him Mar Jiries as well. George (or a version of it) is one of the most common names in Bethlehem district.

His mother, Polychronia, was born in Palestine, most likely of Greek heritage. His father Gerontonios was a Cappadocian soldier from the region within present-day Turkey. It appears that St. George followed in his footsteps as a soldier. He must have been extremely well-placed because the hagiography [saintly biography] tells that he went to the Roman Emperor after he was given an edict to persecute Christians. George refused, telling the Emperor Diocletian, “I am not going to carry out your orders to persecute Christians, because I am a Christian.”

He was put through an arduous amount of torture. He was cast into a lime pit for three days, given poison and eventually, he’s put to the wheel, and finally beheaded.

All this happened right at the end of the persecution of Christians by Pagan Rome before the Edict of Milan (313). From there, St. George became one of the first saints in the life of the Christian faith. He’s venerated in both West and East.

When the Crusaders came in the 11th to 13th centuries, St. George apparently gained a spurt of popularity in the West with returning Crusaders who identified with him. He survived in the Anglican Church during the Puritan and Protestant reformations, to become the patron saint of England. He’s also venerated in Russia, where St. George can be found on the seal of the city of Moscow and is also revered in Ukraine, Georgia, Greece, Romania and the Balkans.

His relics were brought back to what is today the town of Lod here in Israel (Lydda in Byzantine Greek and Ludd in Arabic) where they are in a church which was formerly one of the major hubs of the Christian community within pre-state of Israel, Mandate Palestine.

What is the history of St. George in the Holy Land?
We say he’s the “hometown boy.” An historic road ran through here in the Roman period. St. George’s mother had property and residence here, and St. George basically grew up in this area as a child.

One of the ways Romans typically would take care of the officer class is to give them land. It is possible that St. George’s family, either because of his father or because of his mother, may have received land here to guard the road, as a gift or his compensation as an officer. The Byzantine monastery that was here in Al Khader was probably built to venerate him near where he grew up.

In Beit Jala, Dan showed me the Church of St. Nicholas, the city’s oldest church. It has a chapel dedicated to St. George.
The people of Beit Jala, along with the people of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, consider St. George one of their own. Beit Jala was identified as a place of pilgrimage on many ancient maps. Its connection to St. Nicholas of Myra dates to the early fourth century when he is believed to have stayed in a cave in the Beit Jala while on pilgrimage for quite some time. The Church of Saint Nicholas, built over that very cave, includes a lower chapel of St. George that was reconstructed around an ancient monastery dedicated to St. George that was still functioning at the start of the Ottoman era, but eventually fell into ruin.

Today there’s a neighborhood just to the north of us that we call Hosh Mar Jiries, which includes another section of the ruins of the monastery dedicated to St. George.  A centuries-old tradition in which people suffering from mental illnesses were chained to a surviving wall of the ruins of the monastery on the eve of the feast of Saint George in the hopes that they would be cured is still remembered in local folklore.

On the way to Al Khader, I asked Dan to explain the connection between the town and the saint.
The village of Al Khader, as we know it, today didn’t exist until the Ottoman Era, when Palestinian Muslim families moved into the area that is today known as Al Khader from one of the villages nearby and started building their homes around the monastery. Over time, they too began to identify with the story of St. George.

In Al Khader, the streets were crowded with pilgrims. One woman, barefoot, was making her way to the monastery.
We know this woman is a Christian from Beit Jala because of the way she is dressed. There’s only one reason why she would be coming here today walking and  barefoot – she’s obviously looking for some help from St. George.

Today, there are several thousand Muslim families in this village. Yesterday, you would have seen them inside the church asking for oil, lighting candles, and while not venerating in Christian style, still obviously having a strong connection, because they believe that Al Khader, in more classic Arabic, Al Khidr, George the Green, is the protector of the village.

There are no Christian families living in the city of Al Khader. The Christians that come here are mostly from the neighboring cities of Beit Jala, Bethlehem and Beit Sahour.

The caretakers of the church are a Muslim family. They were here before the present abbot of the monastery, and the family will very likely take care of it after the present abbot has moved onto another position, or has fallen asleep in the Lord.

Before we entered the church, Dan explained the iconography which I would see – including the familiar image of St. George and the dragon.
There’s a great amount of debate as to where the story of the dragon comes in. Some of it seems to be romantic.

The church will accept icons of St. George as hagiographically correct, because the dragon personifies evil. In the icon, the tail of the dragon is around one of the back legs of the horse. This personifies the beastly nature of man, i.e., the horse being conquered by the dragon, but George is always slaying the dragon, which means that George, as a man of God, conquers over evil.

The service was about to begin, with Archbishop Theodosius “Atallah Hanna,” senior and one of the very few ranking Arab Orthodox clergy in the Jerusalem Orthodox Patriarchate, presiding. In an interview some days after the feast, he summed up the significance of St. George today, declaring is that he is “a symbol of a persecuted person that tried to resist in his daily life. He’s an inspiration to many Christians in the Middle East. And today, in the period where many Christians are being persecuted, Saint George is a kind of an example of how we have to follow. They learn from him, because he teaches of a Christian that has to keep strong in his faith and not renounce it and die a martyr if God wills it.”

The service lasted for several hours, with prayer in Greek and Arabic, accompanied by almost continuous chanting, and the celebration of the Eucharist. The church was packed with people, many of whom stayed throughout, joined in prayer. It was a part of the Holy Land pilgrims do not often get to experience – but which captures a devotion which is an important part of Christian life in the land of Jesus.

Jerusalem’s largest and most beautiful gate

By Father Eugenio Alliata, OFM
Archaeologist, Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Jerusalem

The Damascus Gate, Jerusalem’s most beautiful (and perhaps the best known), is today one of the city’s principal gates, just as in ancient times. There is no pilgrim or traveler who doesn’t remain impressed by its imposing architecture. It is undeniably one of the most recognized symbols of the Holy City.

Its name says this opening in the wall marks the beginning of the road to Syria. It is characterized by two towers with slightly inclined walls. The current Turkish wall recaptured an ancient Roman element.

Seen to the right of the current access bridge to the gate is the wall built by Agrippa (37-41 A.D.). Flavius Josephus said that Agrippa built a third wall for the defense of the city (The Jewish War, V, 147). A cistern is at the same site, but it is still debated if the existing wall is the third or second wall.
The foundation is crosswise. The stones used are huge (perhaps coming from the so-called Nea, the Basilica of Holy Mary, Mother of God, built during Justinian’s reign following the Council of Ephesus in 431). The level of the current lower pavement could be the level of the gate during the Crusader era.

Its design, predating the Crusader era, is rustic. The Crusaders, upon arriving, found walls from the Muslim Shiite Fatimid dynasty and perhaps reinforced them. On the site, the Crusaders also built a church dedicated to St. Abraham, a sign that pilgrims were being welcomed. Along with this they may have built a system of roadways for access to the city.

To the left of the current gate is the Roman gate of the Aelia Capitolina (the Roman name for Jerusalem), built by Hadrian in 135 in Old Jerusalem. The trend today is to think that the Jewish rebellion came after, and not before, the building of the new city. According to Roman tradition, Hadrian may have plowed under the perimeter of the new city, including the sacred spot of the temple and this could have provoked the rebellion.

The gate must have been triple in size and grandiosity. The remains of the columns – only the pedestals are left – are valuable for calculating the height of the columns. According to classical tradition, the height is nine times the diameter of the columns. There were three entrances. The central one was the biggest and the two side ones, smaller. One is still conserved. Notable are the molded bases and the stones coming from Herod’s temple. The interior stones are from ruins while the exterior ones are prettier.

The Madaba Map shows a semicircular plaza surrounding the Damascus Gate, at the start of the important roadways of Cardo and Tyropeion. The fact that it was a gate doesn’t prove the existence of walls during the time of the Aelia Capitolina; the gate was a pure symbol. The walls were built only in case of real danger. If the Legion was enough to defend the city, there was no need for walls.

As we already said, the gate was called the Damascus Gate by Westerners, but its traditional name is the Shechem Gate. In more ancient documents it is called the Neapolis Gate because it led from Palestine to Flavius Neapolis, “the new city of the Emperor Flavius,” today’s Nablus. The Arabs call it Bab el-Amud, gate of the column. In fact, seen in the Madaba mosaic is the presence of a large column in the center of the semicircular plaza. Also, the drawing of the pilgrim Arculfus shows, in front of the main gate, a column crowned by the bust of Christ, where before there was a statue of Hadrian.

Interview with the Minister General

Egypt, Syria and a New Presence in the Holy Land

Interview by Giuseppe Caffulli

Franciscan Father Michael A. Perry, minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, OFM, was in Lebanon and Syria in April, visiting the Franciscans and the local Christian communities. On his return from Syria, Pope Francis received Father Michael.

Pope Francis, who recently traveled to Egypt, said that it is the time for Christians to stay united and to come together. He encouraged Christians to hope in the capacity to find new paths to say no to war and violence and recover the dignity of every human being.

Egypt was the place of the historic meeting in Damietta, Egypt between St. Francis and the Sultan Malik al-Kamil. And this year marks 800 years of the presence of Franciscans in the Holy Land.
Yes, 1217 marks the start of the presence of the Friars Minor in the Middle East. Our International Commission for Dialogue has been working for six months on a program. We want to involve the whole Franciscan family in a common project. It must not be a look back at the past, but a moment to help us look ahead. Essentially, we have to start again from the teaching of Damietta: our vocation for dialogue.

A topic that is certainly very close to the heart of Pope Francis.
We have informed the pope of these projects and he remarked on this specific Franciscan vocation. In view of the double anniversary of 1217-1219, he may want to write something addressing the Custody of the Holy Land. In speaking about his imminent visit to Egypt, we asked him to emphasize this dimension of the meeting in memory of the visit by Francis to the Sultan of Egypt.

You certainly have spoken to the Holy Father at length about Syria.
It could not have been otherwise. I made the visit to Syria with the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton, and the Minister of the St. Paul Region, Father Rachid Mistrih. We left from Beirut, where we had the chance to meet the friars and see what they are doing for the Iraqi and Syrian refugees, who number well over one million. We also spoke to the nuncio in Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia.

Then from Beirut, we went to Damascus, where we met the friars of our two communities and parishes. We saw the marvelous service that they are doing. I am really amazed by their commitment and the service, in dialogue with the Christians of all the churches. Then there is the service for the Muslim families: food, water, health care. It is not only material assistance: for everyone there is a spiritual space, for listening and welcome, so very necessary in that context of violence.

How did you find the situation in Damascus?
Every 20 minutes, day and night, we heard explosions very close by… It is a sign that the war continues and that people are living constantly in insecurity. There is a psychologically very difficult climate. I admire the courage and the determination of the Christians who do not want to leave their country. This is a strong Christian testimony. Then we took the road for Homs, to reach Aleppo. We crossed the country, village after village, in total destruction.

It appears that there is no longer any fighting in the city, but according to the humanitarian agencies, a large part of the population does not have basic necessities.
In Aleppo the situation is shocking. In my lifetime I have visited other war zones, especially in Africa, but what I saw in Aleppo exceeds anything you can imagine. I have never seen anything like it. The eastern part is completely destroyed and empty. Streets, houses, buildings: everything has been destroyed and razed to the ground. Many people are in serious difficulty: the elementary things are lacking: water, food, fuel. In this, the Latin parish tries to offer help, as far as possible.

How are the friars that have remained in Syria?
In both Damascus and Aleppo I wanted to spend time with the friars and to listen to and understand the burdens they carry on their shoulders. The spiritual burden and the psychological weight of a war, which has lasted for six years and does not seem to have an end. I was able to see that the friars are united, they pray together and work together, although they are tired and worn out by the daily situation. This is already a great testimony of hope, a visible sign that it is possible to build up brotherhood between men.

Then I listened to the local Christians, who spoke to us of the presence of the friars in their midst, like real men of God, people capable of love and welcome. Thanks to this spiritual aid, many have been able to withstand great ordeals and suffering.

What does Syria need today?
The first urgency is that the violence has to stop and safe spaces for the people need to be created. Then, a more lasting political solution has to be found. There are too many tensions inside Syria and outside Syria.

As Franciscans, we are trying to apply pressure at the international level so that the UN takes on the Syrian situation. The people cannot wait any longer. In the next few days I will go to the Secretary of State’s office in the Vatican to communicate what I saw and what the friars and the representatives of the local Churches told me. I think these elements can help to stimulate an effective search for peace – which is what Syria needs the most.

In these years of war, crimes have been carried out against civilians by both sides. There is undoubtedly a responsibility of the Christians and of the Church in relation to the truth.
On the part of the local Christians, there is a real thirst for the truth. But in this climate of confusion in the country – Islamic State, Turkey, Russia, Iran, loyalists, rebels, mercenary jihadists and Kurds  – the truth is obscured by the interests at stake. Tension is high and it is difficult for those in the country to have a precise picture. But the truth will have to come out. We have to listen to the witnesses who live in Syria or who have left the country and who have seen the horror of this war. Procedures will also be needed to understand what happened; who committed war crimes and how. In this sense, the International Court of Justice will have to take steps.

What is most important today is stopping the violence and reconstructing a minimum of security in the country. A real truce, not a time to let them rearm themselves, is needed. I am thinking of a space to create the conditions of dialogue.

Before Christmas, together with the Custos, an official appeal was made by the Holy Land Franciscans, for peace in Syria. Are you thinking of repeating this initiative?
We had a great reaction in various parts of the world, from the Christian churches. The appeal was also taken to the UN Security Council. We received hundreds of emails from religious communities that took our appeal for peace seriously and made a commitment, first of all with prayer. Returning from this trip, however, we have given ourselves a period of reflection, to see what can be useful now and to see which message to share with the world.

Regarding sharing and testimony, there is the project of a new presence in the Holy Land.

Yes. There are various initiatives under study by the Franciscans. I can mention, for example, the imminent birth of an inter-obediential fraternity in the Holy Land. Between September and October, some Friars Minor and Friars Conventual will start this new community, which will be based in Emmaus. There, in a context of tension and difficulty in the occupied Palestinian territories, Franciscan friars want to put ourselves at the service of the poorest in a dimension of listening, to offer above all a testimony of unity and fraternity.

On pilgrimage at the Sea of Galilee

By Claire Burkel and Greg Friedman, OFM

Contemporary pilgrims are drawn to the Sea of Galilee. It is a setting for many of the stories of Jesus’ ministry with his disciples.

The pilgrim to the Holy Land responds to the message heard by the women at the tomb on the first Easter morning: “tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you (Mark 16:7). Although today modern agriculture has transformed the region, pilgrims can still meet Jesus in Galilee – especially in and around the Lake of Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee.

Located in the Ghor (Jordan Valley), within the depression formed by the separation of two layers of the Earth’s crust – the Arabian and African plates, the lake lies almost 700 feet (212 meters below sea level).

It is ringed by hills: to the east is the Golan Heights; to the west, the rocky escarpment of the hills of Hattin; and to the north, the mountains of the Galilee which rise as high as 9, 225 feet (2,812 meters) at Mount Hermon (out of which descends the Jordan River). Only along the path of the river, to the south, does the land open onto a plain called Jezreel: a name that means “that which has been sowed.”

Stretching a little over 13 miles (21 kilometers) from north to south and not quite seven-and-a-half miles (12 kilometers) from east to west, the lake has a depth of only 164 feet (50 meters). In the time of Jesus, the lake was deeper and larger. The remains of ports and villages found under the water at Magdala and Kursi attest to this.

And today, its level continues to drop, since its principal source of water, the Jordan River, is syphoned by both Jordan and Israel. Streams trickling down from the surrounding mountains, and underground hot springs, replenish the lake’s water.

Throughout the pages of the Old and New Testaments, the lake has had different names:

  • “Kinneret” (Numbers 34:11; Joshua 13:27), since in ancient times – as seen from the hills which tower over the lake – the narrowed area to the south and the widening to the north form a kind of “kinnor,” the musical instrument known to us as the lyre.
  • “Gennessar” (1 Maccabees 11:67); or “Gennesaret” (Luke 5:1-11) – two names which are a deformation of “Kinneret.”
  • “Galilee,” found in the three Gospels (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; and John 6:1).

On the waters of the lake
The scenes of fishing and abundance, the calling of the first disciples, the calming of the tempest, healing of bodies and spirits and the strengthening of the faith – all these center on the calm and blue waters of the lake, its grayish storms and its tempestuous waves.

It’s important for every pilgrim to venture out on its waters. When the shore recedes into haze or is shadowed by sunset, Gospel stories come alive. Here, the lake becomes a character in its own right, as in the story of the storm calmed by Jesus:

On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, “Let us cross to the other side. Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” (Mark 4:35-41)

A little later, having disembarked in the country of the Gerasenes, he drives demons into the unclean swine, who rush headlong into the lake, drowning in one fell swoop the panic-stricken demons as well as the uncleanness itself (Mark 5:1-20). Kursi, at the base of the Golan Heights, is suggested by tradition as a location for this story.

It’s good to read such stories in the middle of the lake, and ask, with the disciples: “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?

The place of calling
The lake itself has a special place in the vocation of the Twelve. According to Mark’s Gospel, after his Baptism by John and tempting in the desert, Jesus came to Galilee (Mark 1:14-20) and called his first disciples:

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

This same event was retold differently by Luke since – in his account – Jesus and Peter already knew each other. After listening to the master speak to the crowds from his boat, and following Jesus’ command to cast their nets, his word confirmed by an astonishingly large catch of fish, Peter decided to follow Jesus (Luke 5:1-17).

“Fishers of men” may not have sounded strange to those familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophet Jeremiah in the seventh century before Christ had used the image to express God’s desire that the people, dispersed at the time, be gathered together like fish in the same net. “I will lead them onto the land that I had given to their fathers. I am going to send them a large number of fishermen who will fish them” (Jeremiah 16:15-16).

The headquarters for Jesus’ ministry
Mark follows the account of the call of the disciples with a description of what might be a stylized “first day of ministry” in Capernaum. It was there, in the 1960s, that Franciscan archaeologists uncovered a first-century house beneath two early Christian churches.

The friars believe that Jesus made his “headquarters” here – “Jesus of Nazareth,” became “Jesus of Capernaum.” With his fisherman-disciples providing transportation, Jesus could “go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also” (Mark 1:38).

At Ginnosar, a kibbutz on the west side of the lake, a museum boasts a wooden boat of the first century made from cedar and cypress, 29 feet (nearly nine meters) long. Found underwater, not far from the present-day shoreline, it has been carefully restored and shows visitors the kind of boat used at the time of Jesus for fishing or transport.

Recognizing the Risen Lord
To compare Peter’s catch of fish at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke (chapter 5) with that at the end of John (chapter 21) is illuminating. It is always an abundance – but in different circumstances that allow the pilgrim to recognize Jesus as Lord. The Primacy of Peter is a beautiful Franciscan shrine, a fitting place to tell the post-Resurrection encounter with Jesus and his request to Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21).

When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish… And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. (John 21:4-8, 12)

Our questions can only be answered by the fully recognized identity of the Risen One who appeared to the disciples on the shore (John 21), and comes to reestablish all things and make things new. We can then allow him to reveal to us on our own vocation and our mission as disciples. Let us not hesitate to attempt the experience. Let us climb into the boat, set out for the deep and allow ourselves to be allured by the Word of God, the voice of Jesus calling us out of the silence.

Editor’s note: Around the lake are many more well-known pilgrimage sites. Some are traditional places suggested by Gospel stories or chosen by tradition to commemorate them; others have been excavated by archaeologists. In future issues of The Holy Land Review, we will offer an “armchair” pilgrimage experience to such sites as Magdala and Tabgha.

The restored Edicule

Second phase of restoration envisioned

Wednesday, March 22, 2017, was an historic day in the long history of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. That morning, an ecumenical celebration marked the end of the restoration work on the Edicule that encloses the remains of the tomb of the Risen Jesus.

The celebration came exactly one year after the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Custody of the Holy Land on behalf of the Catholic Church and the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem (the entities responsible for the church) signed an agreement to stabilize, clean and restore the more than two-centuries-old structure.

The Rotunda of the Anastasis (the area surrounding the Edicule) was crowded with ecclesiastical, civil authorities, diplomats and numerous invited religious and lay people. Among the guests of honor were the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I; the Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (the Greek Government was one of the main funders of the project).

Representing the three communities responsible for this most holy of sites were the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III; Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land Father Francesco Patton; and the Armenian Patriarch, Nourhan Manoughian. Also present was Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the former Custos of the Holy Land, now Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who served as Custos when the original agreement was made.

A festive air marked the service, perhaps matching the satisfaction of many of the participants at the completion of a project many once considered unlikely or very remote in time. In a place known for occasional conflict among some in the Christian communities present there, a significant sign of harmony was apparent around the restored Edicule.

That harmony echoed as the celebration began with the singing of three choirs of male voices: Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian. Remarks by each of the major leaders present followed.

The restored shrine is “the physical place that preserves the memory of the burial of our Lord Jesus Christ and testifies that the Incarnation of the Son of God is so real and complete.”

In his speech, Father Francesco emphasized that the restored shrine is “the physical place that preserves the memory of the burial of our Lord Jesus Christ and testifies that the Incarnation of the Son of God is so real and complete. But the Holy Sepulchre is the place of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the basis of our faith and our Christian hope.”

Father Francesco emphasized that “to have been able to achieve the conservation, restoration and rehabilitation of the Holy Sepulchre Edicule thanks to the cooperation of our three communities has an added value: It is the sign of an important growth of fraternal relations between us and between our communities, characterized by mutual trust and cooperation.”

The cost of the restoration was estimated at $3.5 million.

The project was financed by the three main Christian denominations that serve in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: the Greek Orthodox, the Franciscans and the Armenians. In addition to their contributions, the Greek government and private benefactors also provided funding. In addition, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) has been a major player in meeting the necessary costs. In the region, King Abdullah II of Jordan made a makruma, a royal donation of benevolence. The Palestinian authority did not want to be outdone and so it also participated.

The Custody of the Holy Land announced in March that the Holy See has offered a contribution of $500,000 for the restoration. This contribution was jointly granted by the Secretary of State and the Congregation for the Eastern Churches and will be made available through the Custody of the Holy Land.

As the work on the Edicule was being completed, it was confirmed that the communities represented in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are considering an agreement that would authorize a second phase of restoration, requested by Professor Antonia Moropoulou, director of the Greek restoration team, in order to ensure the continuity of the first phase.

While the Edicule has been consolidated, repaired, stabilized and cleaned, not all of the causes of its deterioration have been eliminated – specifically the issue of chronic moisture. In the Rotunda where the Edicule is located – as throughout the Old City of Jerusalem – water collects beneath more modern structures, and either stagnates, rises by capillary action or evaporates, generating a high level of humidity. Additional moisture is caused by the ruins of previous construction or by aging pipes. Despite the work that was completed on the Edicule, water and moisture will slowly but surely continue to undermine the structure.

The second phase of work has already been estimated at a cost of $6 million. As proposed, it would temporarily remove the pavement around the Edicule, rebuild all the drainage pipes below the structure, restore or replace all of the pavers, consolidate the foundations of the shrine and guarantee the seismic stability of the structure’s floor.

Archaeologists are hopeful that this might also be an opportunity for archaeological investigation, which might follow upon excavations already carried out by Franciscan Father Virgilio Corbo, in the 1960s, when the Rotunda itself was restored.

More coverage of the Restoration of the Edicule can be found in the Summer 2017 issue of The Holy Land Review.


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