Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Places of Interest
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
1. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located about 450 yards (415 m.) west of the Temple Mount.
2. It was located outside the city walls during the time of Christ.
3. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the believed place where Christ was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead.
4. It is the ending place to the Via Dolorosa path, and the last 5 stations are located at it.
5. It is visited by over a million people every year.
1. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the most important holy site in Christianity and is visited by over one million pilgrims every year.
2. The place of Calvary was once a stone quarry that supplied stone for the building of the temple and so forth. During the time of Christ, there was a gate to Jerusalem called the Gennath Gate, which means garden gate. This gate has been discovered in recent times. It is in a little different location than the Jerusalem model as the model was built before the gate was discovered. Josephus makes mention of this gate in his historical writings as well. There was a road that passed by the stone quarry for travelers entering and leaving Jerusalem. Because the quarry had fallen out of use many years before Christ, it slowly developed into a garden and had a cistern and pool of water close-by. Some of the rock was left, and upon it, the Romans crucified people. This rock can be seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today. It was an ideal place because it was just outside the city and located on a well-traveled road. The Romans crucified people in the most visible places as possible, so all would learn what would happen to them if they disobeyed Roman laws. There were also tombs in the rock faces that were used for burials.
Scripture states in John 19:20 that the place of crucifixion was near the city of Jerusalem, so this place fits the biblical narrative well: Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.
Substantial remains of the First Wall have been found in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. In these latter excavations, the remains of the Gennath (Garden) Gate and the beginning of what is believed to be the Second Wall have been found, just where Josephus described them as being (cf. War 5.146).
The name "Garden Gate" indicates that a garden must have been located nearby. Excavations below the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer show that this area used to be an ancient quarry, which was later abandoned. The excavators believe that the area was then filled with good soil, presumably to turn the ugly quarry remains into a beautiful garden.
An additional area by the rock quarry became a cistern as the city developed.
From the Gospels, we know that Jesus was crucified in a place called "Calvary," and buried in a garden that was in the same place as Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. The front wall of the tomb faced east so the early morning sun could illuminate it. According to Hebrews 13:12, Jesus was crucified outside the city.
Some people have a problem that the place of crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus are so close together in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, John 19:41 states that: Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So, Scripture clearly indicates that the crucifixion and tomb were close-by to each other.
3. According to tradition, the early Christian community of Jerusalem worshiped at this site of the crucifixion from the time of the resurrection until 135 AD, when Emperor Hadrian destroyed and rebuilt Jerusalem. Visiting the burial sites of rabbis was a common practice that is even done to this day by the Jews. So, there is no doubt the early Christians would have visited the place where Christ died and rose again as well. There was no one like Jesus, so His followers knew exactly where Golgotha was and venerated it. There is no way this spot would have been lost or forgotten by them.
For example, shortly after the resurrection of Christ, the Upper Room was converted into a church, and the apse (which is a half-round circle with a dome shape) pointed toward the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection place of Christ. This gives significant evidence that this place was venerated and visited early on after Christ's resurrection. Because this place was so important, the apse of the Upper Room Church pointed toward it and not the temple.
Another interesting fact is that there are also burial tombs in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that date to the time of Christ. They are of the type that were used from about 37 BC to around 70 AD. These tombs clearly indicate that this area had tombs and was outside the City of Jerusalem during the time of Christ as regular people were not buried within the city.
4. About 10 years after the crucifixion of Christ, a wall was built by King Agrippa I that enclosed the area of Christ's execution and burial within the city. This accounts for why the Holy Sepulchre is located inside the Old City walls of Jerusalem today.
5. The next major event that affected the site of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ was a major Jewish rebellion against the Romans called the Bar Kokhba revolt in around 132 AD. Because of the revolt, the Roman Emperor Hadrian destroyed much of Jerusalem and changed its orientation. He renamed the city Aelia Capitolina, and the county to Palestine, which was a Philistine name. His desire was to erase the Jewish connection to the land because of the Jew's continual rebellions and uprisings. He constructed a main street that ran north and south called the Cardo Maximus (which means heart, or center of). He also desecrated the place of the crucifixion and resurrection that had been venerated by the early Christians and in its place, he built a large platform that filled in the quarry and had upon it a large temple dedicated to Jupiter and Aphrodite, an ancient Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty, identified with Venus by the Romans. Hadrian was so intent on destroying any connection to the land by the Jews and the Christians that he buried all the evidence of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ under a platform that housed his large temple to Jupiter and Venus. Hadrian laid out the new City of Jerusalem so that the major streets led to his temple to Jupiter and Venus, which again, were over the remains of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ.
Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea, Israel, who lived from 260 to 339 AD, gave a chronological account of the development of Early Christianity from the 1st century to the 4th. He was an eyewitness to some of the events Hadrian did and wrote down what he saw. Regarding the desecration of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ, Eusebius says: "The Romans brought a quantity of earth from a distance with much labor and covered the entire spot and buried it. Then having raised this to a moderate height they paved it with stone." What he's describing is the raised platform Hadrian built, upon which he would erect his temple to Jupiter and Venus. This platform had retaining walls around it of which some can still be seen inside the Church today. Also, some of the stairs leading up to the temple of Hadrian can be seen today in the lower part of the church to the east.
Eusebius goes on to say that: "The monument of his most holy passions so long ago buried beneath the ground." Here he is describing the place of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ that were buried.
Hadrian also minted a coin depicting the temple he built upon Golgotha.
The temple of Hadrian would remain in place for another 200 years or so until the time of the Roman Emperor, Constantine.
6. In 313 AD, a major change happened in the Roman Empire when Constantine legalized Christianity. Later, because his mother was so passionate about Christ, she made a trip to the Holy Land to build churches over the main events of Christ’s life. She built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives (currently known as the Pater Noster Church), the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Roman Emperor Constantine had the temple Hadrian had erected to Jupiter and Venus demolished to make way for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the process of the demolition, the tomb and crucifixion site of Jesus were uncovered once again and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was erected. Additionally, Constantine's mother, Helena, is claimed to have discovered the relic of the Cross of Jesus at this time as well. The church was dedicated in 335 AD.
The church was laid out in three sections:
1: Leading up from the Cardo was the church venerating the crucifixion site, also known as the Basilica of the Martyrium (taken from the word, martyr). The apse of the church faced west.
2: The courtyard was called the triportico because it had three sides with covered walkways. Just outside the church and before the mausoleum (rotunda dome) was an open courtyard. Just to the left was the crucifixion site of Christ. Now I should mention that some believe the crucifixion site was located in the apse part of the Basilica of the Martyrium and not in the courtyard. However, both places are just a few feet away so it's not really that important. I should mention that part of the rock of Golgotha is still preserved today and is in the place where the courtyard was and not in the church where the apse is.
3: Just beyond the open courtyard was the large rotunda covering the tomb of Christ. This is also called a mausoleum, or anastasis. The tomb was initially carved out of the rock and preserved. You can see an example of this in Absalom's Monument in the Kidron Valley.
The crypt, or cistern of the crosses, was under the Basilica of the Martyrium venerating Golgotha.
Now let's see what Jerome says about the fact that Hadrian’s temple was located on the top of the crucifixion and tomb site of Christ. Jerome lived from 347 to 420 AD. In about 389 AD he established a monastery at Bethlehem and translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin. Bethlehem is very close to Jerusalem, so Jerome was an eyewitness to what he writes.
Here's what Jerome tells us: "From the time of Hadrian to the reign of Constantine, the spot which had witnessed the resurrection was occupied by a figure of Jupiter while on the rock where the cross had stood a marble statue of Venus was set up by the heathen and became an object of worship. The original persecutors indeed suppose that by polluting our holy places they would deprive us of our faith in the passion and in the resurrection." So Jerome confirms that from the time of Hadrian to Constantine, the temple Hadrian built was located on top of Golgotha.
So, in the place where Christ died for the sins of humanity, Hadrian set up a temple to false gods who promoted deep immoral sins. What a contrast.
Eusebius, whom we referred to earlier, describes the destruction of Hadrian's temple by Constantine: "As soon as his [meaning Constantine's commands were given] these engines of deceit were cast down from their proud eminence to very ground and the dwelling places of error with the statues and the evil spirits which they represented were overthrown and utterly destroyed. Nor did the Emperor's zeal stop here but he gave further orders that the materials of what was thus destroyed both stone and timber should be removed and thrown as far from the spot as possible and this command also was speedily executed."
Eusebius continues: "The emperor, however, was not satisfied with having proceeded thus far, once more fired with holy adjure he directed that the ground itself should be dug up to come to a considerable depth and the soil which had been polluted by the foul impurities of demon worship transported to a far distant place. This also was accomplished without delay, and as soon as the original surface of the ground beneath the covering of the earth appeared, immediately the venerable and Holy Monument of our Savior's resurrection was discovered. Then indeed did the most holy cave [referring to the tomb] present a faithful similitude of his return to life and that after lying buried in darkness it again emerged to light and afforded to all who came to witness a sight a clear and visible proof of the wonders of which that spot had once been seen, a testimony to the resurrection of the Savior clearer than any voice could give."
Eusebius then speaks about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that Constantine built: "Accordingly, on the very spot which witnessed the Savior's suffering, a new Jerusalem was constructed where at the side opposite to the Sepulcher [Jesus's tomb] which was the eastern side, the church itself was erected, a noble work rising to a vast height and a great extent in length and breadth."
Eusebius now describes the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Constantine: "Thereupon the Emperor issued sacred edicts and when he had provided an abundant supply of all the things required for the project, he gave orders that a House of Prayer worthy of God should be erected round about the cave of salvation [he is speaking about the tomb], and on a scale of rich and imperial costliness to be greater than anything else that had been built on earth." So Constantine built a large mausoleum over the place of the tomb. A mausoleum is a structure designed for burial or entombment above the ground.
Another eyewitness account that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was located on the site of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ comes from the Pilgrim of Bardot from 333AD: "On your left is a little hill of Golgotha where the Lord was crucified, about a stone's throw from it is the Crypt where they laid his body and from where he rose again on the third day. These are present by order of Constantine. There has been built a basilica that is a church of wondrous beauty."
A quote from another pilgrim's account of a worship service in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre comes from 380 AD: "I know you were eager to know about the services they have daily in the holy places, I shall tell you about them. When the first cock has crowed the bishop straightaway enters and goes into the tomb and the anastasis [anastasis means resurrection and is the round rotunda dome place in the church over the tomb of Christ] and the whole crowd streams into the Anastasis which is already ablaze with many lamps. Then the bishop standing inside the screen, takes the gospel and advances to the door of the tomb where he himself reads the account of the Lord's resurrection. When the gospel is finished the bishop comes out and is taken with hymns to the cross and they all go with him to the great church, the martyrium. The people assemble in the great church built by Constantine upon Golgotha."
Another amazing piece of evidence is found at the Basilica of Santa Pudenziana, which is recognized as the oldest place of Christian worship in Rome. In the apse of the building is a mosaic of Christ and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the background. So, we actually have a photo of what Constantine's Church of the Holy Sepulchre looked like. This is strong evidence for the authenticity of the church.
7. The next big change to the church took place during the Persian conquest in 614 AD, when the church was pillaged and suffered significant damage. However, it was restored by the monk, Modestus. According to tradition, it was during this time that the relic of the True Cross was also taken, and then recovered in 630 AD.
8. In 648 AD, Jerusalem came under Muslim rule, but Christians were still able to make pilgrimages to the church.
9. In 1009 AD, the Muslim Caliph al-Hakim gave orders for all churches to be destroyed. This proved fatal for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was singled out in particular and destroyed beyond recognition.
During the destruction of the church, the tomb of Christ was largely destroyed. However, some of the rock of the tomb and the location of it were still preserved.
10. The church was again restored at a large expense by Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople in 1048 AD.
11. The Crusaders renovated the church in 1112 and reconsecrated it in 1149.
Much of what is seen today of the church is from the Crusader renovations in around 1112 AD, although portions are part of the original church of Constantine.
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.
The church that the Crusaders built included the courtyard where Golgotha was believed to have been and enclosed everything under one roof within a magnificent cathedral.
The entrance to the church was changed from the east end and placed on the south side.
The Basilica of Helena, accessed from stairs leading downward, was built. This is the believed place where Helena found the true Cross of Christ. It was originally in a hole under the quarry.
The entrance to Calvary was from the outside of the church with stairs leading upwards to a platform where all the events of the crucifixion are located.
The Basilica of the Martyrium was changed, and everything was housed under the roof of the cathedral. The apse of the church Constantine built for the crucifixion site faced west, today it faces east. The sites of the crucifixion and tomb have remained in the same places since the time of Christ. Only the buildings around them have changed.
An Edicule was built over the tomb of Christ, and within it is the Chapel of the Angels, and what's left of Christ's tomb.
12. The right-hand door was blocked up after the Muslim reconquest of the city in 1187. Now the entrance consists of just one large single door.
13. The three primary custodians of the church were appointed when the Crusaders ruled Jerusalem. They are the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic churches. In the 19th century, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox, and the Syrian Orthodox also acquired responsibilities as well, but in a smaller way. Each church denomination agrees to times and places of worship.
14. A Muslim family has been given the key for opening and closing the church doors since 1187, when Muslims seized control of Jerusalem.
15. After a fire, the last major changes to the church took place in around 1808. The Edicule over the tomb was renovated. The central Catholicon was closed, which was at one time where part of the courtyard of Constantine’s church was located. New stairs leading up to Calvary were changed from outside the church to inside. Today you enter from just inside the church, turn right, and take steep stairs up to the platform of Calvary.
The Edicule, or tomb of Christ, has been renovated several times since the Crusaders. It suffered an earthquake in 1927 and was shored up, and then recently in 2016, underwent another renovation. As mentioned earlier, there is nothing but the floor and back edge of the tomb that is from the time of Christ.
16. Because of all the adornments and construction over the centuries, it is hard to imagine how the site would have looked like in the time of Christ. However, these 2,000 years of activity and tradition give greater weight to its authenticity. Some people have an adverse reaction to the atmosphere inside the church. However, this is what we should expect from a place that has been venerated for two millenniums.
Now in archaeology, one of the most important factors in locating an authentic site is having one thing built upon another. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has around 2,000 years of such history. For me personally, there is no doubt this is the genuine place where Christ was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead to pay for our sins. All of the evidence and historical writings from eyewitnesses provide overwhelming evidence that points to the authenticity of this site.
Places of Interest
1. The Chapel of the Franks (Station 10 of the Via Dolorosa) is located at the right of the entrance to the church.
2. A stairway on the right, just inside the entrance leads to Calvary (or Golgotha), the place where Jesus was crucified.
3. Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross (Station 11). It features a 12th-century mosaic of Jesus being nailed to the cross.
4. The Greek Orthodox Calvary contains the believed Rock of Calvary around which the church was built. The rock can be seen under a glass cover on either side of the main altar. Beneath the altar is a hole that permits people to touch the rock.
5. The Crucifixion Altar marks the place where Christ was crucified (Station 12). A silver disk with a central hole that lies underneath the altar marks the place where the Cross stood.
6. The Stone of Unction (Station 13), located just after entering the church, commemorates the preparation of Jesus' body for burial. Behind the Stone is a mosaic depicting Christ's anointing for burial.
7. Underneath the large dome of the church is the Tomb of Christ itself (Station 14). It is housed in a large shrine and is referred to as the Edicule. It is supported by scaffolding on the outside to protect it from possible earthquakes.
8. The Chapel of Adam enshrines a cracked slab of rock behind glass which is believed to have been caused by the earthquake after Christ died on the Cross.
9. The Catholicon (Greek Orthodox cathedral) area was the main part of the Crusader church.
10. Armenian Shrine and Chapel of the 3 Marys, also known as the Mourning place. It marks the place where they watched the crucifixion of Christ. John 19:25: Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
11. The heart of the Holy Sepulchre is a large round hall, otherwise known as the Rotunda. In the center of the Rotunda is the tomb of Jesus.
12. In 2016 an archaeological team was given permission to lift the marble slate covering the tomb and found under it an older marble slab with a carved cross on it and underneath it the original limestone burial bed.
13. The Coptic Chapel is located behind the tomb of Jesus.
14. The Jacobite (Syrian) Chapel is located in the original 4th century Constantine church walls. Within this chapel are burial tombs, one of which is believed to be that of Joseph of Arimathea.
15. Chapel of Mary Magdalene. Dedicated to the encounter Christ had with Mary after His resurrection.
16. Franciscan Church of the Aspiration of Mary. Dedicated to the meeting between Christ and His mother, Mary, at Christ’s crucifixion.
17. Arches of the Virgin Mary
18. Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Prison of Jesus
19. St Longinus Chapel. Longinus was the believed Roman Centurion who commanded the soldiers that stood watch at Golgotha. He was an eyewitness of the final moments of Jesus and proclaimed the Jesus was truly the Son of God.
20. Chapel of St. James
21. Chapel of John the Baptist
22. Division of the Holy Robes. The place commemorating the dividing of Christ’s clothing.
23. Derision chapel. This place commemorates how the mob derided Jesus by mocking and laughing at him while He hung on the Cross.
24. Armenian Chapel of St. Helena. Within this area is the Chapel of the Invention (discovery) of the Cross of Jesus.
25. Rock of Golgotha enclosed in glass.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Bible
1. Jesus arrives at Golgotha and is stripped of His garments (Station 10 of the Via Dolorosa, for all stations, see Via Dolorosa).
John 19:23–24: When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, "They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
2. Jesus is nailed to the Cross (Station 11).
John 19:17–18: And he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.
3. Jesus dies on the Cross (Station 12).
Luke 23:44–45: It was now about the sixth hour [12:00 pm], and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour [3:00 pm], 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last.”
4. Jesus' body is removed from the Cross (Station 13).
John 19:38–40: After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.
5. Jesus is placed in the tomb (Station 14).
John 19:41–42: Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Faith Lesson from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
1. While we might not agree with the decorations and atmosphere of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, do we appreciate all the devotion and sacrifice that has been made to remember and commemorate all Jesus did for us on the Cross?
2. The fact that this place, along with many others, have been preserved and set aside to honor Christ and the events of the Bible provide powerful evidence regarding the historicity of Christ and the truthfulness of the Bible. Do we truly believe the Bible, and everything written in it?