Day 5 (3) Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Finally we walked into the Church of Holy Sepulcher. The church is not so impressive from outside. This church stands on a site that encompasses both Golgotha, or Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and the tomb (sepulchre) where he was buried.

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.

Constantine's builders dug away the hillside to leave the rock-hewn tomb of Christ isolated and with enough room to built a church around it. They also cleared away Hadrian's temple and the material with which an old quarry had been filled to provide the temple's foundations. In the process, according to contemporary Christian historians, the Rock of Golgotha was found. The Church was formally dedicated in 335.

In the course of the excavations, Constantine's mother St. Helena is believed to have discovered the True Cross near the tomb. She actually discovered three - 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 miraculous healed by one of them. This is a relatively early legend.

As we entered the church, we could see the The Stone of Anointing, also known as the The Stone of Unction, which commemorates the preparation of Jesus' body for burial. Many pilgrims were seen kissing the stone.

To the left, or west, is The Rotunda of the Anastasis beneath the larger of the church's two domes, in the center of which is The Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre itself. The Edicule has two rooms. The first one, the Chapel of the Angel, holds The Angel's Stone, a fragment of the stone believed to have sealed the tomb after Jesus' burial. The second one, the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, is the tomb itself.

We stood in a queue for a while to enter the tomb. There were some believers from Russia and Japan in the queue with us. I was really surprised by the demonstrative faith of these believers. They were chanting the Way of the Cross and many of them were seen crying. The three of us together entered the chamber housing the tomb. The entry to the Chapel of the Angel is so narrow that you have bend down to enter it. The Greek Orthodox Priest inside the first chamber showed our palms over candles burning there and said some prayer. Then we were let to enter the tomb.

The room of the tomb is 2M by 93cm. A marble lid covers the tomb. A marble slab covers the place where the body of Christ was laid and from which he rose from the dead. A vase with candles marks the spot where his head rested.

Then we walked up a narrow stairway leading to Golgotha, the traditional site of crucifixion.

A stairway on the right just inside the entrance leads to Calvary (or Golgotha), the place where Jesus was crucified. The first chapel is the Catholic (Franciscan) Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross, which is Station 11 on the Via Dolorosa. It features a 12th-century mosaic of Jesus being nailed to the cross on the vault and a Medici altar from Florence. Through a window in the south wall the Chapel of the Agony of the Virgin can be seen. Just to the left of the altar is a statue of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, which is Station 13 (Jesus' body removed from the cross and given to Mary).

Adjacent to the Catholic chapel is the Greek Orthodox Calvary, which contains the actual Rock of Calvary (Station 12) around which the church was built. The rock can be seen under glass on either side of the main altar, and beneath the altar there is a hole that allows you to touch the rock itself. Pilgrims kneel and kiss the spot. The slot cut for the cross is shown in the east apse along with those of the two thieves. The alter has silver icons of Virgin Mary and St John on Jesus side.

Directly beneath Calvary on the main floor (entered through a door next to the Stone of Unction) is the Chapel of Adam, which enshrines a cracked slab of rock behind glass. This identification with Adam is based on the ancient tradition (noted by Origen in the 2nd century) that Christ was crucified over the place where Adam was buried. The crack in the rock is said to be caused by the earthquake that occurred during the Crucifixion.

A stairway descends to the large Chapel of St. Helena. On the stairway walls are many small crosses carved by medieval pilgrims. The chapel has three aisles and two apses: the north apse is dedicated to the penitent thief; the south apse to St. Helena, mother of Constantine. A seat in the southeast corner of the chapel is said to have been occupied by Helena as she searched for the True Cross, a story first mentioned around 351.

From this corner, 13 more steps descend into the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross. The left side is owned by the Catholics, whose altar features a life-sized statue of St. Helena holding a cross.

The Church of Holy Sepulcher also has many other small churches and chapels inside. Due to lack of time we could not visit all of them. With heavy hearts we walked out of the Church after spending nearly two hours.

Also See

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre

2. http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/Sepulcher.html

3. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jerusalem-church-of-holy-sepulchre.htm

4. http://www.christusrex.org/www2/baram/B-sepulchre.html

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