Archaeologist Tells Of Awe At Discovery In Christ's Tomb: 'My Knees Were Shaking'

Members of the Catholic clergy hold candles during a Holy Week procession around the Aedicule, the supposed location of the tomb of Jesus inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem.Reuters

Discoveries inside the tomb revered as the place where the body of Jesus was laid prove the site is original, according to researchers.

Repair work undertaken on the Aedicule, which was collapsing, has revealed previously unknown details of the tomb which archaeologists say prove it is the site believed to be Jesus' tomb since the 4th century.

Between then and the 1500s, when the site was sealed in marble to stop visitors taking relics away, the church was destroyed and rebuilt several times.

However, researchers opening the tomb for the first time in 500 years found the limestone shelf where Jesus's body was thought to have been placed. A second marble slab carved with a cross, believed to be from the 12th century, was also found.

Archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert of National Geographic, a partner in the project, said: "The most amazing thing for me was when we removed the first layer of dust and found a second piece of marble.

"This one was grey, not creamy white like the exterior, and right in the middle of it was a beautifully inscribed cross. We had no idea that was there.

"The shrine has been destroyed many times by fire, earthquakes, and invasions over the centuries. We didn't really know if they had built it in exactly the same place every time.

"But this seems to be visible proof that the spot the pilgrims worship today really is the same tomb the Roman Emperor Constantine found in the 4th century and the Crusaders revered. It's amazing.

"When we realised what we had found my knees were shaking a little bit."

The archaeologists took around 60 hours to remove dirt and rubble in the tomb. They found the limestone slab hours before it was to be resealed.

The tomb was opened in the presence of leaders from the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic Churches, who share responsibility for the building and frequently struggle to agree.

Hiebert added: "They let the patriarchs of the three Churches go in first. They came out with big smiles on their face. Then the monks went in and they were all smiling."