Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Jerusalem, Israel

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, a few steps away from the Muristan. 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 is said to have been buried and resurrected. The tomb is enclosed by the 18th-century shrine, called the Aedicule. The Status Quo, a 250-year old understanding between religious communities, applies to the site.

Within the church proper are the last four Stations of the Via Dolorosa, representing the final episodes of Jesus' Passion. 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.

Today, the wider complex accumulated during the centuries around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre also serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, while control of the church itself is shared between several Christian denominations and secular entities in complicated arrangements essentially unchanged for over 160 years, and some for much longer.

Despite the mutilations of the centuries, the Holy Sepulchre remains a fascinating complex of structures and is of key importance for several phases of medieval architectural history, imitations being built all over Europe. Today, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of Jerusalem’s main landmarks and continues to draw many pilgrims and visitors.

History

The early Christian community of Jerusalem appears to have held liturgical celebrations at Christ's tomb from the time of the resurrection until the city was taken by the Romans in 66 AD. The site remained buried beneath the pagan temple until Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in 312 AD. He soon showed an interest in the holy places associated with his new faith, and commissioned numerous churches to be built throughout the Holy Land. The most important of these, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was begun in 326 AD. The Constantinian church was much larger than the one that stands today, but had a simpler layout. It consisted of an atrium, a covered basilica, an open courtyard with the stone of Golgotha in the southeast corner, and the tomb of Christ, enshrined in a small, circular edifice.

In 614, a Persian army destroyed the church and the True Cross was taken away, but in 631 the Byzantine emperor Heraclius negotiated its return. In 638, the Christians were forced to surrender Jerusalem to Muslim control under caliph Omar. The church continued to function as a Christian church under the protection of Omar and the early Muslim rulers, but this changed in 1009, when the 'mad' Fatimid caliph Hakim brutally and systematically destroyed the great church. The Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus (1042–1055) funded its rebuilding, but on a different plan, with the entrance on the south side.

 

The conquest of the holy places, the foremost of which was the Holy Sepulchre, was an important motivation for the First Crusade between 1096 and 1099. During the next half-century, the church of Constantine IX Monomachus was largely reconstructed. The new church was reconsecrated on in 1149 and this is the church we essentially see today.

Some features of the medieval church can no longer be seen — for example, the tombs of the first rulers, Godfrey of Bouillon and Baldwin I, which were removed in the early 19th century when the Greeks were carrying out restoration work. All of the kings of Jerusalem up to 1187 (except Queen Melisende) were buried in the Calvary Chapel.

As 12th-century maps reveal, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was the spiritual focus of Christendom and its most important pilgrimage center. The church was laid out to enable pilgrims to move from chapel to chapel, their visit culminating in the Holy Sepulchre itself.

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Details

Founded: 335 CE
Category: Religious sites in Israel

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

anja habshush (5 months ago)
Loved it. Went with Alice our tour guide. She is amazing as the places she showed and explained to us
Adam R (5 months ago)
Stunning church filled with history. Very peaceful and due to covid hardly tourists, basically had the place to myself. Clear why it's a top attraction in the Old City.
Timothy Kelly (5 months ago)
I had the opportunity to visit with no other visitors other than the small group I was with. Our guide provided insights which were amazing.
DANIEL ADJETEY ANNANG (6 months ago)
It's amazing to find trees planted by all popes that visited Jerusalem still alive. Jerusalem is full of rich history.
Dan Podrazhansky (16 months ago)
Pretty empty this days.
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