Church of the Sepulchre

| October 17, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Church of the Holy Sepulchre – Golgotha

No Christian pilgrimage to Israel is complete without a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre  located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Almonroth  CC BY-SA 3.0 Priest Reading Outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Almonroth  CC BY-SA 3.0
Priest Reading Outside Church

According to one of Christianity’s earliest traditions, this church, built during the 12th century, located at Golgotha, is believed to be the spot where the Christian Savior was crucified and buried. Golgotha is also known as Calvary and by tradition was thought to be just outside the walls of early 1st century CE Jerusalem.

Basilica of Constantine

The original church site was chosen by the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Queen Helena visited Jerusalem in 326 CE and designated this spot as the site of the crucifixion, based on various pieces of evidence, including a garden, recorded memories of the location as a place where executions took place, old tombs, and bits and pieces of antiquated wooden planks. The original church was known as the Basilica of Constantine and was consecrated in 333 CE.

Deror Avi  CC BY-SA 3.0 Holy Sepulchre Church

Deror Avi  CC BY-SA 3.0
Façade of Church

The basilica was leveled during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 and rebuilt not long afterward. However in 1009, Egyptian Caliph al-Hakim had the church destroyed, even to the point of having the tomb believed to be that of the Christian Savior hacked to smithereens. As a result, no traces remain of the original Constantine Basilica or its replacement.

Madaba Map 

However, there is an illustration of the original basilica as seen in a 6th century mosaic. It was found in 1884 in a church in Madaba, Jordan. The Madaba map depicts the Holy Land with 30 some illustrations of cities and important sites. According to the map, the basilica’s entrance had three doors. A section of one of these doors is included in the current structure.

The Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 638 CE meant that the basilica could be at least somewhat restored, if on a smaller scale. The Arab conquerors respected Jesus as a prophet and thought the burial place deserving of honor. But as the Islamic faith of the Arabs strengthened, it was decided that a site holy to Christians could not remain standing while the city remained under Islamic domain. The rebuilt structure was once again leveled, this time by the ruling Arab powers in 1009 CE.

St. Sepulchre

adriatikus  CC BY-SA 3.0 Stairway to Calgary

adriatikus  CC BY-SA 3.0
Stairway to Calgary

The Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 and stayed in power until 1187. Under their Christian rule, the basilica was once again restored and inaugurated as St. Sepulchre in 1149. After Saladin captured the city, he upheld the honor of the church but the key to the church was held by various Arab families.  The Crusaders tried to recapture Jerusalem and regain control of the church, but failed in six efforts before giving up completely.

Visiting the Church of Holy Sepulchre

While the key to the main door is still held by two Muslim families, the everyday workings of the Holy Sepulchre church are divided among the various Christian denominations including Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox. Open to the public, it is estimated that 5,000 visitors tour the church each day, from every nation and from every walk of life.

The church’s rich history is evident in the many architectural styles seen from Byzantine, medieval, exterior and interior Crusader renovations, and even modern.

Deror Avi  CC BY-SA 3.0 Greek Orthodox Catholicon

Deror Avi  CC BY-SA 3.0
Greek Orthodox Catholicon

In 1959, 32 years after the 1927 earthquake that caused the church extensive damage, the Greeks, Armenians and Roman Catholics proceeded with major renovations that included replicating the 11th century style of stone for the Rotunda which preserves the original 4th century church area and 12th century stone for the church areas renovated at that time by the Crusaders.

The church is open to visitors from 5:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. in summertime, and 7:00 p.m. in winter. The least crowded times for a visit are early in the morning or late afternoon.

Church of the Sepulchre: Did You Know?

In July 1927, an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale damaged the Holy Sepulchre Church.

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Category: Christianity

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