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Using new media, National Geographic tells the story of Christ's tomb

Hiebert, who had worked on a previous exhibition about ancient Greeks, joined a group of engineers, led by scientist and professor Antonia Moropoulou, who directed a team from the National Technical University of Athens, while they restored the small shrine to structural and physical glory.

“Monuments talk and the tomb of Christ was talking to us,” said Moropoulou, who spoke briefly at the opening night of the exhibition in Washington. “This was a place full of energy ... it was a tomb but it was alive.”

And the team from National Geographic captured part of that life, with images of pilgrims arriving, the work before and after the restoration, the opening of the tomb, the reopening of the Edicule and pilgrims crowding around the space once more.

J.J. Kelley, senior producer at National Geographic Explorer, had set up cameras inside the small shrine, hanging above the tomb to capture the moment when the slabs were lifted.

“I got chills, goose bumps being inside that space,” Kelley said during a panel at the museum on the opening night of the virtual “Tomb of Christ” exhibition. “It’s one of the most profound assignments you could ask for.”

Part of that journey will air in the Dec. 3 documentary. Some of it is featured in the exhibit, and other parts of it have been posted in news items on the National Geographic website,

“They were trusting of National Geographic, that we would get the story right,” said Keane, of the religious leaders who gave the organization an exclusive media agreement, meaning no other organizations would have access to the story, to cover the restoration. “They knew we would tell the story the right way and that we would share it with the world in a way that other media organizations wouldn’t.”

National Geographic staff writer Kristin Romey asked the opening night panel whether anyone had stopped to question why the organization, “known for our wildlife, adventure, mountain climbing, pandas, did anyone stop and ask, why Jesus?”

“National Geographic tells the stories of people,” said Kelley.

And a critical component of that includes faith and spirituality, Romey said.

“It is our job to document how people move,” including through journeys of faith, Romey said. “That is just as important as understanding farming in the desert. This is one of the most important pilgrimage sites, if not the most important in Christianity.”

Moropoulou shared during the opening evening of the exhibition her hopes for the journey of the small shrine, the tomb and a new life found in their restoration.

“When we opened tomb of Christ ... it opened a door, from Jerusalem to the world, that made the history of the restoration of the holy Edicule, a possible history,” she said. “Today this history is in front of you and has opened the doors of hope, the doors of the message of the Resurrection to the world. We hope the holy Edicule restored and the exhibition ... have their own trip, their autonomous voice, their own life to the world. Let's begin with it.”

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