Church of the Holy Sepulchre

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (كنيسة القيامة) also called the Church of the Resurrection by Orthodox Christians is a church within the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. According to Christian beliefs this is the place where Isa As (Jesus) was crucified and also contains the place where Jesus is said to have been buried and resurrected.

See Subject Home > Middle East > Israel/Palestine > Jerusalem > Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Overview

The church contains, according to traditions dating back to at least the fourth century, the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, at a place known as "Calvary" or "Golgotha" and Jesus's empty tomb, where he was buried and resurrected.

Within the church proper are the last four (or, by some definitions, five) stations of the Via Dolorosa, representing the final episodes of the Passion of Jesus. The church has been a major Christian pilgrimage destination since its creation in the fourth century, as the traditional site of the resurrection of Christ, thus its original Greek name, Church of the Anastasis ('Resurrection').

The present Church of the Holy Sepulchre is primarily a result of earlier eleventh and twelfth century restorations, which incorporated minor traces of the earlier building stages as well as some recent additions and modifications made both within the complex and on the exterior.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre courtyard as seen after entering from Souq al-Dabbagh, the stairs to the left lead to the Saint Helena road. To the right is the Chapel of the Franks (10th station of Via Dolorosa).

Exterior

circa 330 CE

Parvis (Courtyard)
The courtyard facing the entrance to the church is known as the parvis. Located around the parvis are a few smaller structures. The current courtyard measures approximately 20 meters on each side and covers around 430 square meters of area. At one point in history the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre operated as a market place, where products and memorabilia were sold. Today it is used for the service of the "Washing of the Disciples' Feet" and on Holy Friday. This is one of the most liveliest places in the Old City of Jerusalem and almost always filled with the hustle and bustle of large swaths of people.

This courtyard, outside the present-day Church of the Holy Sepulcher, is partly supported by a large, vaulted cistern. The northern wall of this cistern is very impressive, consisting of large blocks with dressed margins, still standing several meters high. It has been suggested that this early wall served as the retaining wall of the second century Hadrianic raised platform (podium). This appears to support Eusebius’ statement that the Temple of Venus, which Hadrian erected on the site of Jesus’ tomb, stood here before the original church was built.

circa 330 CE

Bell Tower
The 12th century CE bell tower of the Holy Sepulcher Church is located to the left of the façade. It is currently almost half its original size. Its upper level was lost in a 1545 CE collapse. In 1719, another two storeys were lost. Subsequent interventions did not address the structural damage, until 2001, when the Israel Antiquities Authority and The Technical Office of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem implemented a project for the conservation of the Bell Tower. Originally it was built over and around the existing chapel of saint John the Evangelist on the south side of the Anastasis at a time when the south facade of the crusader south transept was already standing.

circa 330 CE

Southern Entrance
The entrance to the church is in the south transept, through the crusader façade, in the parvis of a larger courtyard. The wooden doors that compose the main entrance are the original, highly carved arched doors. Today, only the left-hand entrance is currently accessible, as the right doorway has long since been bricked up. Since the 7th century CE, the Muslim Nuseibeh family has been responsible for opening the door as an impartial party to the church's denominations.

circa 330 CE

Chapel of the Franks
The Chapel of the Franks is located where according to Christian tradition the clothes of Jesus were stripped by Roman soldiers. It is regarded as the tenth station of Via Dolorosa and there is no station marker at this location. It is a blue-domed Roman Catholic Crusader chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, which once provided exclusive access to Calvary. It is located directly above the Greek Orthodox oratory and chapel dedicated to the saint Mary of Egypt.

circa 330 CE

Chapels of St. John and St. Abraham
The Chapel of St John, Armenian Orthodox, (left) and the entrance to the Monastery of St Abraham (left), Greek Orthodox, located in the Parvis (courtyard) of the Church. The St. Abraham’s Monastery (right) is in the southeastern portion of the Holy Sepulchre Square. It used to be run by the Ethiopians but it was transferred to the Greeks in 1660 because they failed to settle their taxes to the Sultan. Now, the St. Abraham’sGreek Orthodox Monastery is a Christian guest-house for pilgrims visiting Jerusalem.

circa 330 CE

Greek Orthodox Monastery of Gethsemane Metochion
Entrance to the Gethsemane Metochion (left) a small Greek Orthodox monastery, located opposite the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre. The stairs to the right lead to the Saint Helena Street, the square tower in the top middle is the minaret of Masjid e Omar. The small chapel houses the icon of the Panagia, that is carried around the Holy Sepulchre during the procession for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15/18. The Dependency of Gethsemane with the icon of the Epitaph of Theotokos.

Interior

circa 330 CE

Stone of Anointing
The Stone of Anointing at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, according to tradition, the body of Jesus was laid on this stone after it was removed from the cross and prepared for burial in accordance with Jewish customs. The wall behind the stone is defined by its striking blue balconies and tau cross-bearing red banners (depicting the insignia of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre), and is decorated with lamps.

circa 330 CE

Aedicule
The Aedicule (Latin), is a small chapel called the Kouvouklion in Greek, encloses the Holy Sepulchre. The current Aedicule was built in 1810 CE by the Greek Orthodox community but preserves the interior marble cladding from the sixteenth century CE. The Aedicule has two rooms, the first holding the Angel's Stone, which is believed to be a fragment of the large stone that sealed the tomb; the second is the tomb itself. A marble plaque was placed in the fourteenth century on the tomb to prevent further damage to the tomb.

circa 330 CE

Catholicon
The Greek Orthodox Catholicon, the Crusader structure housing the main altar of the Church, is located in the central nave of the Crusader-era church, just east of the larger rotunda. Topped with a single dome set directly over the centre of the transept crossing of the choir where the compas is situated, an omphalos ("navel") stone once thought to be the center of the world and still venerated as such by Orthodox Christians (associated with the site of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus).

circa 330 CE

Chapel of Saint Helena
The entrance to the Chapel of Saint Helena is from a set of stairs that descend from the ground level on the norther side. These stairs are located between the Chapel of Division of Robes and the Greek Chapel of the Derision. It is a 12th-century CE Armenian church in the lower level of the Church, constructed during the Kingdom of Jerusalem. There are two apses in the church, one dedicated to Saint Helena and one to the penitent thief on the cross. The chapel is modestly adorned in memory of Saint Helena's simplicity.

circa 330 CE

Chapel of Adam
On the ground floor, underneath the Golgotha chapel proper, is the Chapel of Adam. According to tradition, Jesus was crucified over the place where Adam's skull was buried. According to some, at the crucifixion, the blood of Christ ran down the cross and through the rocks to fill the skull of Adam. The Rock of Calvary appears cracked through a window on the altar wall, with the crack traditionally claimed to be caused by the earthquake that occurred when Jesus died on the cross.

circa 330 CE

Greek Orthodox Calvary
The Golgotha (Greek Orthodox Calvary) and its chapels are just south of the main altar of the Catholicon. Just inside the church is a stairway climbing to Calvary (Golgotha), traditionally regarded as the site of Jesus' crucifixion and the most lavishly decorated part of the church. The exit is via another stairway opposite the first, leading down to the ambulatory.

circa 330 CE

Chapel of the Finding of the Holy Cross
Also known as the Chapel of the Invention of the Cross, another set of 22 stairs from the Chapel of Saint Helena leads down to the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Invention of the Holy Cross, believed to be the place where the True Cross and other instruments of the Passion and crucifixion were found. A statue behind the altar shows her holding the Cross. This rough-walled area has been built within part of the ancient quarry, apparently later converted into a cistern for water storage.

circa 330 CE

Franciscan Chapel of Mary Magdalene
The chapel of Mary indicates the place where Mary Magdalene met Jesus after his resurrection. Inside is an altar dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, then double bronze doors (donated by the people of Australia in 1982) leading to the Catholic Franciscan Chapel of the Apparition. It commemorates the ancient tradition that Jesus appeared to his mother after his Resurrection, an event not found in the Gospels. There is an organ fixed against the wall of the chapel said to be the one to which Jesus was tied when he was scourged.

circa 330 CE

Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament
Also known as the Franciscan Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament (or Chapel of the Apparition) – in memory of Jesus' meeting with his mother after the Resurrection. It commemorates the ancient tradition that Jesus appeared to his mother after his Resurrection, an event not found in the Gospels.

circa 330 CE

Greek Orthodox Chapel of Jesus' Prison
Entrance of the Greek Orthodox Chapel. According to tradition, this is one of the several purported locations where Jesus was imprisoned after being arrested from the Garden of Gethsemane. It is located in the north-east side of the complex, on the floor, in front of the chapel, is a mosaic figure of a double headed eagle - symbol of the Byzantine empire and the Greek Orthodox church.

circa 330 CE

Chapel of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
The Chapel of the Forty Martyrs (Greek Orthodox; at the base of the bell tower). This chapel is located today in the lowest story of the thirteenth century bell tower, and was formerly the monastery of the Trinity wherein were buried the patriarchs of Jerusalem. The present day chapel dates back to the restoration of the buildings under Constantine Monmachos in the eleventh century. The story below, however, further shows that there was a chapel dedicated to the Forty Martyrs.

circa 330 CE

Deir es-Sultan
The Deir es-Sultan (دير السلطان‎), literally meaning the Monastery of the Sultan, is a monastery located on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. According to the Coptic Church, the history of the monastery dates back to the reign of Sultan abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (684-705 CE), who granted it to the Copts, who named it after him: Deir Es-Sultan Monastery. The Coptic Orthodox Church’s ownership of the monastery is said to have been confirmed during the reign of Sultan Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, in the 12th century.

circa 330 CE

Chapel of Division of the Robes
It is an Armenian chapel located on the eastern side (ambulatory) of the church near the steps leading beneath ground level to the Chapel of Saint Helena. The chapel, also called the Chapel of the Division of the Raiment, marks the place where the Roman soldiers cast lots to divide Christ’s clothing between them. (John 19:23).

circa 330 CE

Greek Orthodox Chapel of Saint Longinus
The Orthodox Greek chapel is dedicated to Saint Longinus. Located on the Ambulatory (corridor) this Greek Chapel of St Longinus is dedicated to the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’ sidewith his spear and then accepted him as the Son of God (Matthew 27, 54). The Chapel of Saint Longinus is a simple enclave (apse) set into the stone. There is a rectangular altar, ornately painted with the legendary story of Saint Longinus. There is also a three paned mosaic hanging on the hewn wall.

The Gospel of Nicodemus (a pseudepigraphical work) is the only mention of the name Longinus. It wasn’t known to the Greeks until Germanus in 715 CE. This Gospel of Nicodemus was the sole source of the Roman soldier’s identification. The actual namesake for the Chapel of Saint Longinus is thought to have come from the Latinized version of the Greek word "longche" or spear. Longinus' body was twice found and lost, then finally found again in 1304 CE by Mantua. The body is now at the Church of Saint Agostino in the Vatican, Rome.

circa 1150 CE

Chapel of Saint Vartan
The main altar of the Armenian Chapel (left) and the framed DOMINE IVIMUS ship inscription to the right in the Chapel of Vartan. The quarry and chapel were excavated in 1970-71 under the direction of Archimandrite (now Bishop) Guregh Kapikian of the Armenian Orthodox Church. During the excavation parts of six ancient walls were found -- four dating to the Hadrianic period (2nd century CE) and two to the time of Emperor Constantine (4th century CE).

circa 30 CE

Syriac Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea
Behind the tomb of Jesus, on the western side of the Holy Sepulchre Rotunda walls, is the Jacobite (Syrian Orthodox) chapel. The chapel is located in the 4th Century CE Constantine church walls. During Antiquity walls and altar were damaged by fire. On the southern side of the chapel are typical first century CE Jewish tombs. According to Christian tradition, they are of Joseph of Arimathea and Nikodemus who took down and buried the body of Jesus (Luke 23: 50-56).

Tombs and Burials

circa 330 CE

Tomb of Philip d'Aubigny
is placed in front of, and between, the church's two original entrance doors, of which the eastern one is walled up. It is one of the few tombs of crusaders and other Europeans not removed from the Church after the Muslim recapture of Jerusalem in the 12th century CE. A stone marker was placed on his tomb in 1925, sheltered by a wooden trapdoor that hides it from view.

Others

circa 330 CE

Keys of the Holy Sepulchre
The keys to the main entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are entrusted to two of the Muslim families since Saladin era. It is a reminder of the long-term Muslim governance of Jerusalem, that the responsibility to open and lock the door of the Holy Sepulchre, Christianity's holiest place, rests in the hands of Muslims. The keys to the Church's main door are held by the Joudeh and Nuseibeh families, purportedly entrusted as custodians by Salah al-Din during the Ayyubid era. Another local tradition states the this arrangement emerged during the days of the second caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab, who hoped to avoid clashes among rival Christian sects for control over the church.

circa 330 CE

Immovable Ladder
Also known as the stationary ladder, it is a wooden ladder located above the entrance, under the window of the Church. Made of cedar wood, possibly from Lebanon, it was first mentioned in 1757 and has remained in that location since the 18th century, aside from being temporarily moved on two occasions. The ladder is referred to as "immovable" due to an understanding that no cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of the other five orders. This ladder is a visual reminder of this partition, leaning against a window ledge of the Church's facade. Except two occasions, the wooden ladder has remained in the same location since the eighteenth century CE.

circa 1150 CE

Stone Quarry
Beginning in about the seventh or eighth century BCE, the area where the church is now located was a large quarry, with the city of Jerusalem lying to the southeast. Traces of the quarry have been found not only in the church area, but also in excavations conducted nearby areas of Muristan and Jewish Quarter. East of St. Helena's Chapel in the Holy Sepulchre Church, the quarry was over 40 feet deep and the earth and ash therein contained Iron Age II pottery, from about the seventh century BCE.

Excavations conducted underneath the floors of the Holy Sepulchre Church and other buildings in its proximity have established that throughout most of the Iron Age, the site was used as a stone quarry. Towards the end of the Iron Age the area was abandoned and replaced by sporadic domestic construction. Several late Hellenistic and early Roman burials and chapels, but in to the walls of the former quarry remained outside the city walls until at least through the perid associated with the time of Jesus' Life.

Gallery

See Also

References

Let's bring some history to your inbox

Signup for our monthly newsletter / online magazine.
No spam, we promise.

Privacy Policy



Top