The tomb believed to be the place where Jesus was laid has been opened for the first time in centuries.
For decades, archaeologists and theologians have debated over whether the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is the site where Christ was supposedly buried and resurrected after being crucified.
The tomb has been sealed in marble since the 1500s in order to prevent visitors from stealing pieces as relics.
Over the preceding centuries, the famous church had been destroyed and rebuilt so many times that experts were left unsure about whether the tomb had been moved and what it might contain.
Lifting the tomb’s marble lid for the first time in 500 years, researchers discovered the limestone shelf where Jesus’s body was thought to have been placed, the Mirror reported.
Also discovered, was a second grey marble slab previously unknown to the researchers, engraved with a cross they believe was carved in the 12th century by the Crusaders.
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.”
According to Christian scripture, Jesus died on the cross and buried for three days before rising from the dead.
Upon opening the ancient tomb, religious leaders from the Greek and Armenian Orthodox churches and the Franciscan monks, who share responsibility for the church, were the first to enter the tomb.
Mr Hiebert added: They came out with big smiles on their face. Then the monks went in and they were all smiling.
“We were all getting really curious. Then we went in, looked into the tomb, and saw a lot of rubble. So it wasn’t empty, even though there were no artefacts or bones.”
Researchers have been involved in discussions as to whether or not the tomb could be opened for vital repairs since 1959, but the committee has faced difficulty in coming to an agreement.
Mr Hiebert said: “Everything has to be approved by the committee, so even changing a candle takes a long time.
”There is a ladder by the main entrance to the church that hasn’t moved in 240 years and they still haven’t reached a decision. It’s called the immovable ladder.
“So the fact we were finally allowed to carry out this work is a triumph of negotiation.”
Using ground penetrating radar and thermographic scanners, conservation experts gathered information on the insides of the tomb before unsealing it.
The data is so extensive it will take months to analyse, but the team hope to create a virtual reconstruction for public viewing.
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