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Christ's Burial Slab Revealed For First Time Since 1555 (Photos)

For perhaps the first time in nearly half a millennia, scientists have uncovered the burial slab at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which many believe once held Jesus Christ's body.

"What happened here 2,000 years ago completely changed the history of the world," said David Grenier, secretary of a group that oversees Roman Catholic Church properties in the Holy Land, ABC News reports. "To be able to dig, let's say, to the rock where the body of Jesus was laid. It's overwhelming joy."

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Experts say marble has covered the slab since roughly 1555 and possibly even centuries before that.

"The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back, and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it," said National Geographic Society’s archaeologist-in-residence, Fredrik Hiebert. "It will be a long scientific analysis, but we will finally be able to see the original rock surface on which, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid."

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The efforts are a part of the larger restoration project to preserve the Edicule, a chamber housing the cave where Jesus was buried and Christians believe resurrected from.

"We are at the critical moment for rehabilitating the Edicule," said Antonia Moropoulou, an architect at the National Technical University of Athens. "The techniques we're using to document this unique monument will enable the world to study our findings as if they themselves were in the tomb of Christ."

In addition to its historical and spiritual significance, for some, the uncovering also represents another, more earthly kind of transcendence.

For many years, tensions have grown between the various Christian denominations owning different sections of the area, the Daily Mail reports.

To pilgrims, like Italian Claudio Pardini, the restoration efforts represents the various denominations transcending their divides.

"It's good to take care of our churches so that we can leave the next generations a sign, something to visit," he said. "Because Christ isn't an idea. He's a story."

For centuries, the site has been a source of conflict among various religious and ethnic groups.

"There is a hidden joy," said Thephilos III, the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem. "Here we have Franciscans, Armenians, Greeks, Muslim guards and Jewish police officers. We hope and we pray that this will be a real message that the impossible can become the possible. We all need peace and mutual respect."

Sources: ABC News, National Geographic, Daily Mail / Photo credit: Godot12/Wikimedia Commons, National Geographic via Daily Mail, Antoine Taveneux/Wikimedia Commons

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