"There was a moment in which you could see on the faces of the important people of the church, a certain happiness that this has actually happened," Hiebert said of the conservation.
Shoring up history
A grid of iron bars installed in the 1940s held the Edicule structure upright until the project started. Now, Hiebert said, the Greek team - with years of experience under their belts of shoring up ancient structures like the Parthenon - will inject mortar around the marble slabs that make up the Edicule.
"This will permanently restore them, and it won't need supports," Hiebert said.
The conservation team was surprised at how much of the original cave structure remains, he said. They've peeled back marble slabs from the 19th century that were in turn covering slabs from the 15th century, covering slabs from the 12th century, which themselves shield the original bedrock.
As to whether the tomb ever contained the remains of the historical Jesus, "it's a matter of faith," Hiebert said. There are no remains to analyze or DNA evidence to exhume. There is scholarly debate over whether Jesus even existed, said Robert Cargill, an archaeologist and author of "The Cities that Built the Bible" (HarperOne, 2016). A minority of historians think Jesus was a literary construct, said Cargill, who was not involved in the new tomb project, while others think a real person named Jesus existed but that little is known about him.