The period of the British Mandate

British soldiers in front of the Basilica

At the end of the long period of Ottoman control, most of the places of Christian worship were in a marked state of degradation.
Earthquakes, fires and the difficult management of the Status Quo had severely compromised the state of preservation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the other Christian Holy Places.

The British interest in overseeing Palestinian antiquities and their state of preservation took concrete form in 1920, when a regulation of the Antiquities Department established that execution of all works on ancient structures would be subject to the control and approval of an inspector. 

The Christian Holy Places were included among the properties to be protected, and the Department reserved for itself the task of approving and inspecting future repairs and additions that the religious communities might want to carry out on the structures.

 The report of Captain Mackay, the Inspector of Antiquities, had warned already in 1919 about the danger of collapse of the Edicule of the Tomb. 

After the fire of 1808, the Edicule had been reconstructed by the Greeks and until 1868 it had remained exposed to the degradations caused by rain entering through the open eye (oculus) of the dome of the Rotunda. The situation with regard to the Edicule was re-examined by the British in 1926, the year before the great earthquake, and despite the fact that the external covering of the Edicule made it appear unstable, the analysis confirmed the solidity of the internal structure.

But following the major earthquake in the summer of 1927 there were renewed concerns for the security of the entire church, which displayed cracks and fractures in the pillars and arcades. As a result, the Greek Orthodox community was forced to undertake a complete reconstruction of the dome above the Katholikon, which was carried out according to the design of the British architect William Harvey.

The British authorities, increasingly preoccupied with the instability of the church’s structure and all too aware of the innumerable controversies among the different religious communities that were delaying the needed restoration of the building, ordered the putting in place of a system of wooden supports and steel reinforcement. The result was to give the church for the ensuing thirty years the appearance of a forest of scaffolding. 

In 1929 a system of supports was also installed on the facade, and the two Crusader lintels that adorned the entrance doors were removed. They are now on exhibit at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.

The wish of the Latin community to restore dignity to the Tomb of Christ led Msgr. Gustavo Testa, Apostolic Delegate to Palestine, to entrust the illustrious architects Luigi Marangoni and Antonio Barluzzi with an ambitious, although never realized, project to construct an entirely new church, envisaged as a large sacred area capable of guaranteeing the presence of the different Christian denominations at the empty tomb of Christ.

The final intervention of the Mandatory Power in the church involved the Edicule which in 1947 was encased in a cradle of steel girders that still envelops it today.

Time Line

The period of the British Mandate

Work on the tomb of the crusader Philip d'Aubigny