New renovations began in Israel at the spot where Christians believe Jesus was buried. While there are some tensions between the different Christian denominations regarding the historic site, they decided to join together and make the necessary repairs.
This time, the clergymen put aside their differences — a reflection of the dire need for the repairs. Last year, Israeli police briefly shut down the building after Israel's Antiquities Authority deemed it unsafe, prompting the Christian denominations to join forces.
"We equally decided the required renovation was necessary to be done, so we agreed upon it", said the Rev. Samuel Aghoyan, the top Armenian official at the church.
An Associated Press team had exclusive access to the site as the work began late Monday, carried out by a team of nine Greek experts who have done similar restoration work on the Acropolis as well as to Byzantine churches throughout the Mediterranean.
While a group of nuns looked on, the sound of clanking tools filled the vast arched space where conservators and restoration experts began chipping away at mortar between marble slabs. Using cotton swabs dipped into a solution of liquid soap and water, one expert scrubbed away centuries-old layers of wax and carbon dioxide. Another airbrushed the dirt as the work progressed.
Antonia Moropoulou, an architect at the National Technical University of Athens, which is supervising the renovation, noted the intricacy of the historic effort.
"Nobody envies this responsibility and challenge," she said. "Because, it is a challenge to work here in this ambient of an open monument visited by thousands of people daily."