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Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I thought this post was a little longish, so I decided to make it so that you all have to click on "Read More" if you want to read this post...provided that this feature works...

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, known as the Church of the Resurrection (Anastasis) to Eastern Orthodox Christians, is a church in the Old City of Jerusalem that is the holiest Christian site in the world. It stands on a site that is believed to encompass both Golgotha, or Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and the tomb (sepulchre) where he was buried. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been an important pilgrimage destination since the 4th century.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre from above


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. Less than a century later, in 135 AD, Emperor Hadrian filled in the quarry to provide a level foundation for a temple to Aphrodite.

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.

Ambulatory around the edicule containing the tomb

In the course of the excavations, Constantine's mother St. Helena is said to have discovered the True Cross near the tomb. This is a relatively early legend, but was unknown by Eusebius, the historian and contemporary of Constantine. The legend says St. Helena actually discovered three crosses - those of the two thieves and that of Christ. To discern the one belonging to Christ, a sick man was brought to touch to each one, and he was miraculously healed by one of them.

The Constantinian church was much larger than the one that stands today, but had a simpler layout. It consisted of an atrium (which reused part of Hadrian's temenos wall), 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. The tomb of Christ was not completed until 384 AD, well after the dedication of the church, because of the immense labor involved in cutting away the rock cliff in order to isolate the tomb.

This building was severely damaged by fire in 614 AD when the Persians invaded Jerusalem. They also captured the True Cross, but in 630, Emperor Heraclius marched triumphantly into Jerusalem and restored the True Cross to the rebuilt Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church was reconstructed under the patriarch Modestus with no major changes to the original plan.

Crusader facade and entrance today

In 638, the Christians were forced to surrender Jerusalem to Muslim control under caliph Omar. In 1009, the "mad" Fatimid caliph Hakim brutally and systematically destroyed the great church.

The Christian community of Jerusalem could not afford repairs, but in 1048 Emperor Constantine Monomachos provided money for reconstruction, subject to stringent conditions imposed by the caliphate.

This was the church to which the knights of the First Crusade arrived to sing their Te Deum after capturing Jerusalem on July 15, 1099.

The Chapel of the Franks

The three primary custodians of the church, first appointed when Crusaders held Jerusalem, are the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic churches.

Subsequent centuries were not altogether kind to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It suffered from damage, desecration, and neglect, and attempts at repair (a significant renovation was conducted by the Franciscans in 1555) often did more damage than good. In recent times, a fire (1808) and an earthquake (1927) did extensive damage.

Stairway to Calvary

Not until 1959 did the three major communities (Latins, Greeks, Armenians) agree on a major renovation plan.

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