The Church of the Holy Sepulcher
or Sacred Tomb
The Holy Sepulcher is the most sacred, ancient, important, magnificent and celebrated monument of the Christian faith. The church of the Holy Sepulcher is in the center of Jerusalem, in the old city and on the hill of Golgotha. It is built on the site where Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.
Architecturally the shrine has no consistency but if we study its history we will understand the reason of its present complex pattern. It consists of main buildings linked between them and in the internal we see churches, chapels, pilgrimages, basements, stairs, courtyards, balconies, corridors and offices. The decor is a mixture of Byzantine wall-paintings and statues, sites of renaissance style and also modern mosaics and icons.
The same applies to the exterior. The church stands among houses, monasteries and mosques but its highlight is it’s the great dome.
The pilgrims who visit the Sacred Tomb come from different doctrines and tribes. All these contrasts are the result of its history and the battles for its survival.
The sacred grounds of the Calvary (Golgotha) and the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are on the genuine topographic places they took place.
Other pilgrimages are determined as contextual to the events of the crucifixion and the burial, other are located by symbolic and theological relation and others are devoted to a person or event.
History of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The Church was built on the site where according to the writings of the New Testament Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.
Titus in 135 AD rebuilds Jerusalem and in 137 AD the roman emperor Hadrian covers Golgotha and the Tomb of Christ with dirt and over them builds a temple dedicated to Venus thus trying to prevent Christians from coming and erase any traces of Christianity. He erected roman temples and public buildings and named the new town Aelia Capitolina.
In 326 AD St. Helena recovers The Cross. (the cross was among others in a cave where they used to throw them after the crucifixions and was distinguished because the minute they were taking it out of the crypt a miracle happened).
Constantine the Great and his mother St. Helena erected the first Church (326-335) after demolishing the roman buildings. This first church (Constantine’s Basilica) was the most grandly, worthy and magnificent and was built by architect Zenobius and under the supervision of priest Eustathius.
Over the Tomb a circular building was erected and was named “Rotunda”. The Rotunda communicated with a huge basilica where the crypt of The Cross was. The historian Eusebius in his book “Biography of Constantine” gives a detailed description of the shape, the rich decorations of marbles, mosaics, gold and silver. He speaks of the inauguration of the temple on September 13th 336 AD from the bishops who participated the Council in Tyre.
In 614 AD the temple is destroyed from the emperor of Persia Chosroes II who seizes The Cross as a plunder and captures Patriarch Zechariah.
During 617 and 626 AD the new patriarch Modestos reconstructs the church but not to its original majestic figure due to absence of economical funds.
In 629 the Byzantine emperor Heraclitus defeats the Persians and returns triumphantly The Cross and patriarch Zacharia. He erects the Cross on the Calvary on September 14 of the same year.
In 637 the Muslims conquer Jerusalem but the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Lands are protected due to the edict “Ahtiname” (Omar’s Treaty) of Caliph Omar Hatab to Patriarch Sofronius.
In 969 Muslims burn the dome, ravage the Temple and burn the Patriarch of Jerusalem John 4 to revenge the expedition of Byzantine emperor Nic. Fokas in the east.
In 1009 AD fanatic Muslims make big destruction’s.
Between 1024 and 1048 after a peace treaty between the Byzantine emperor Romanos III and Caliph Daher, the church is gradually rebuild with the help of the Byzantine emperors.
From 1099 until 1149 the church is gradually repaired form the crusaders.
In 1187-1190 Saladin after defeating the crusaders ravens the church brings down the Cross and turns it into a mosque. After an agreement with the Byzantine emperor Isaacios Aggelos he gives the church back to the Christians.
In 1390 new repairs are made.
Until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the orthodox patriarchs kept the keys of the church. Sultan Suleiman renews this treaty by law in 1517 by Patriarch Dorotheos. With a new law of Suleiman the keys are given to a Muslim family in 1545. The canopy of the Holy Sepulcher is repaired
In 1545 Patriarch Germanos adds a small dome.
In 1719-1720 the church is repaired from the orthodox and the Catholics.
In 30-9-1808 Armenians burn most of the church.
In 1810 the church is rebuild with collections of the orthodox people worldwide and from the Greek architect Comnenos Mitilineos.
In 1834 and 1836 earthquakes damage the church. The repairs begin with great delay in 1867-1869 and the big dome of the temple is renovated from Russia, France and Turkey.
In 1927 the small dome is destroyed from an earthquake and the situation is disappointing.
In 1931-1933 the church is rebuild with the help of the Greek state.
In 1948 the big dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is hit from two Jewish mortars and is repaired.
In 1958 after an agreement of the three churches of Jerusalem (the Greek, the Latin and the Armenian) the restoration of the church begins.
In 1978-1985 the big dome is rebuild.
1993-1994 begins the embellishment with mosaics of the pilgrimage of the Stone of Anointing and the dome of the Katholiko.
In 1995 the exterior of the dome of the Katholiko is repaired with copper.
The restoration works continue until today.
Pilgrimages in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The Holy Door
It is the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Next to it there is a second door which is sealed. Over the doors are relief representations. The keys of the door are kept by a Muslim family something that was established by Sultan Suleiman in 1520 AD because the doctrines had frictions.
The doors are surrounded with marble columns. On the left one of the columns is torn. This happened in 1549 when sultan Murat, after the interference of the Armenian patriarch closed the doors of the church and forbidden the orthodox patriarch Sofronios IV to go into the church and perform the ceremony of the Holy Light. Patriarch Sofronios with his clergies and the faithful people stood outside the door and began to chant and pray. Suddenly the column was torn and the light came out through it. The Armenian patriarch left embarrassed and the sultan issued a fireman that recognized the authority of the Greek orthodox patriarch.
The Holy Anointing
In this spot there is a rock, dressed with marble. Jesus’ body was placed on this marble when He was removed from the cross. Here Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus (secret disciples of Jesus), laid Jesus body and anointed it with myrrh and aloes then wrapped it in a clean linen cloth for the burial (Matthew 27: 57-59, John 19:39-40). Over the marble are lamps and candlesticks.
The shrine of the Holy Sepulcher
The Holy shrine is inside a rotunda with a leaden dome which Comninos Mitilineos built in 1810. The shrine has rich internal and external decoration and consists of two parts: the first is a chamber the Chapel of the Archangel with the Holy Rock. Here we see a fragment of the Rock that was placed in front of the entrance of Jesus Christ tomb and we read the Greek sign “the angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door” (Matthew 28:2).
The second is the main chamber of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where Jesus disciples buried Him. In the internal are carved verses from the gospels and carvings of the event. Over the door is a relief depiction of the resurrection. Out of here comes out the Holy Light on Easter Eve. The orthodox conduct liturgies here every day.
Is the main church of the orthodox and it’s a basilica with dome. In the middle of the church is the “navel of the earth”, that symbolizes the spiritual centre of the earth (Ezekiel 38:12).
The Calvary (Golgotha)
This rock is the authentic topographical place of the martyrdom. In the north chapel which is the actual place of the crucifixion under the altar is a rock with a silver ring that indicates the place where the cross was placed. Behind the altar is the Crucified and on His right are the Virgin Mary and St. John. Next there is rent on the rock that happened the moment Jesus was dying (Matthew 27:50-51).
In the south chapel that belongs to the Catholics is the place where Jesus was laid down so as to nail Him on the cross. Here is a door from which in 629 AD emperor Heraclius entered victoriously carrying on his back the Cross which the Persians had taken. According to tradition while he was passing the door his crown fall down and it was considered as a sign of divine interference. Since then the patriarchs and the other clergies conduct their ceremonies here uncovered.
The spot where the fragrant stood
On the left of the Holy Anointing is a broken marble. Here is believed that John and the women stood and watched the crucifixion (Luke 23:49). The pilgrim belongs to the Armenians.
The Chapel of Adam or the Chapel of the Baptist
It is in the area of Golgotha. In Hebrew Golgotha means “place of a skull” (John 19:17) and according to tradition under here was Adam’s skull. From a crack that was made on the ground when The Cross was erected, rolled the blood of Christ and purified the original sin. This is why in the Byzantine representations of the Crucified in the basis of the cross the skull of Adam was depicted.
Chapel of the Crown of thorns
There is fragment of the column where the soldiers put on Jesus a purple rob and a crown of thorns (John 19:2). It was brought here from the Prison of Christ.
Chapel of St. Helena and the crypt of the finding of the Cross
Descending 29 stairs we reach the chapel of St. Helena. Here is her throne and the pilgrim of the good thief. Descending another 3 steps we are led in the crypt where the Cross, the nails and the crosses of the two thieves were found.
Chapel “Parted my raiment”
Here the soldiers parted His raiment among them and casted lots for His vesture (John 19:24). The pilgrimage belongs to the Armenians.
Chapel of centurion Logginos
Centurion Logginos was the head of the escort that led Jesus to the place of the martyrdom and he was in charge of the crucifixion. When he saw these events he believed in God (Matthew 27:54).
A stone with two holes where they put Jesus feet before His crossing to torture Him.
Prison of Christ
A small dark place where the Jews put Jesus temporarily before the crucifixion.
Column of the lashing or Chapel of the Appearance
Part of the column upon which they tied and scourged Jesus is saved (Matthew 27, 26). Jesus was brought here from the house of Caiaphas. It is also called chapel of the Appearance because here Jesus appeared to Virgin Mary after His resurrection. The pilgrim belongs to the Catholics.
Chapel “Touch me not”
A circular marble where due to the Latin tradition, Jesus showed himself to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection (John 20:11-17). It belongs to the Catholics.
The tombs of Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus
Joseph buried Jesus in the first tomb he had for him and his family and so he was buried here. This pilgrim belongs to the Syrians. Chapel of the Copts – a pilgrim that belongs to the Copts.