At the original street level, in the interior of the Church of the Sisters of Zion, is the pavement of one of the courtyards in the Antonia fortress (built under the rule of Mark Antony), the lithostrotos of the gospel, bearing scratches made on it by Roman soldiers, playing the game basileus. This may have been the pavement on which Jesus stood before Pilate, when he was judged, mocked and crowned with thorns.
The Coptic Orthodox Church's clergy is headed by the Pope of Alexandria, Pope Shenouda III. For hundreds of years Alexandria, the second city of Egypt, was the home of the Pope but today his Cathedral is in Cairo.
St Augustine (354-430) dismissed pilgrimages to the original sites of Christianity as having no relevance to one's belief. However St Jerome, his contemporary and Vulgate Bible translator, considered that praying at the place where Christ has been, was an act of faith and should be strongly encouraged. It is this opinion which prevailed.
Jesus was flogged and condemned to death in the upper city, in the area of the big still visible Herodian tower, popularly known as David's Tower (next to Jaffa Gate) and not in the Antonia Tower.
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. It is under much discussion if the site is genuine (the Bible says these events took place outside of the walls), but the site has been a place of pilgrimage from about the year 350.
Entrance to the basilica after restoration (1997)
Pilgrimages have come to be recognised as a form of penance by the Catholic Church. Christian pilgrims from the various denominations are part of the scene in the holy places. But even those who have no religious motive for visiting Israel, will still find in this country special insights into spiritual experience.
Down the steps under the ambulatory, is the Armenian Chapel of St Helena. The rock wall on the right is covered with small crosses scratched by pilgrims at the time of the Crusades. To the right of the main apse is a recess from which Empress Helena is said to have directed the search for the Roman cistern in which the true Cross was found. More steps lead down to what was once the cistern but is now the unpretentious Catholic CHAPEL OF THE FINDING OF THE CROSS. There is a statue commemorating St Helena which, together with the altar, was a gift from the ill-fated Maximilian of Habsburg (husband of princess Charlotte, daughter of Leopold I, king of the Belgians), who later became Emperor of Mexico and was captured and shot by nationalists insurgents in 1867.
All the Synoptic Gospels mention this event. There is a small Franciscan chapel at the corner where the Tyropeon Valley turns toward the Market Road. This chapel marks the devotion of the Cyrenian helping Jesus to carry the Cross.
The spur of Calvary today lies within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When you enter the main door of the church, a stairway on your right takes you to the spot where Jesus faced the death sentence. A great part of the platform of Calvary rests on an infrastructure. Only the eastern part rests directly onto the rock. The Tenth Station is located at the beginning of the nave on the right.
The Frankish Chapel in the Façade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
HERE Jesus is stripped of his garments. The commemoration of the Stripping of the Garments has only appeared in Jerusalem at a late period. In fact, the stripping mentioned by the Anglo-Saxon pilgrim Saewulf in 1102-1103 must have been associated with the scene of the insults and the crowning with thorns commemorated in those days at the foot of Calvary.
The burial site: After Christ was taken down from the cross, Joseph of Arimathea buried him in a tomb that he had donated. When the church was built on that spot 300 years later, the hill around the tomb was removed, so only a small structure remains, on a flat surface. A rotunda was built around the tomb's structure, with a large dome.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest Christian site in Jerusalem and Israel. The Church contains the Chapel of Golgotha and three Stations of the Cross, as well as the place of Jesus Christ's burial and resurrection. Today's Church stands in the place where a temple dedicated to Aphrodite (Venus) used to stand. This temple was built by the Emperor Hadrian on the location where Christ was crucified and buried, so that its memory would be forgotten. Ironically, the building of the temple actually preserved the exact burial site location.
The most important element of the complex is the rotunda which contains the sepulchre itself. The sepulchre stands in an elaborate structure within the rotunda, surrounded by columns supporting an ornamented, domed roof. Some masonry remains were revealed below the floor and around the perimeter of the rotunda. Wherever bedrock was exposed, there were indications of stone-quarrying in earlier periods. The quarrying operation lowered the surface level around the sepulcher, which thus stood well above its surroundings.
An architectural survey of the outer wall of the rotunda - 35 m. in diameter and in some sections preserved to a height of 10 m. - shows that it maintains its original 4th century shape. The sepulchre itself is surrounded by a circle of twelve columns - groups of three columns between four pairs of square piers. It is possible that the columns for the 4th century rotunda were removed from their original location on the facade of the Roman temple. Renovation of the piers exposed evidence that the columns had originally been much higher and that the Crusaders cut them in half for use in the 12th century rotunda.
The renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is still in progress, but after generations of neglect, the building has already regained most of its former beauty.
And from under the "Light" coming through the transparent lantern of the Dome we cannot but look with renewed hope at the shabiness of "The Tomb" girdled by metal beams to protect it and avoid its crumbling under the weight of time. A hope to see even "The Tomb" freed from the accumulation of time's burdens. May this not be only a dream but a vision of a future which the living generations can partake in its inherent beauty. With this inauguration of the decoration on the Dome a new "Light" enters at the site from where the "Light of the World" came forth on Resurrection Sunday.
This structure preserves the location of Christ's tomb. Though the cave here was carved away by a Muslim ruler 1000 years ago, a clear history remains that this has been the revered location of the tomb. Al-Hakim's efforts to destroy the tomb (and Christianity) in 1009 were not the first.
Earlier the Roman emperor Hadrian erected a large platform of earth over the whole area for the construction of a temple to Venus. Jerome adds to Eusebius' statement that a statue of Jupiter was on the site for 180 years (140-320 A.D.) When Constantine converted the empire to Christianity, he had the pagan temples dismantled, the earth removed and a church built over the spot.
Here is Calvary, or Golgotha. Calvary is the word that translates Golgotha, meaning place of the skull, in the Latin Vulgate. It was first enclosed within the church under the Crusaders, 1099-1149. Entering and going up by the stairs nearest the door, on the right is the Latin, Roman Catholic, chapel, marking the tenth and eleventh stations of the Cross which we can see in the wall mosaics dating from 1937 (Jesus stripped of his garments for the sacrifice, and Jesus nailed to the cross).
Above, on the ceiling, is a mosaic of the Ascension surviving from the Crusader period. To the left is the Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Crucifixion, Calvary itself, which marks the twelfth Station (Jesus dies on the Cross). Between them is the thirteenth Station (Jesus is taken down from the Cross) with the Roman Catholic altar of the Pierced Heart of Mary, or Our Lady of Sorrows, recalling the 'Stabat Mater', with a statue from Portugal dating from 1778. The Chapel of the Crucifixion, presently held by the Greeks, was held by the Armenians at least from the time of Saladin in 1187 until 1422, and then by the Georgians until the early seventeenth century, when they gave it up to the Greeks because of Ottoman church taxes and declining numbers. Four times a year including Good Friday in the Western church calendar, the Roman Catholics are allowed to hold a Latin service at this Greek Orthodox altar (so long as they do not remove the Orthodox altar-cloth ! ). Beneath this altar, there is a silver disk with a hole through which one may touch the bedrock of Golgotha or Calvary. On the right under the glass, one may see the fissure in the rock said to have been caused by the earthquake at the time of the Lord's death (Matthew 27:51).
Golgotha (Calvary) Hill
The hill where Jesus Christ was crucified is named Golgotha (the place of the skull). This hill is situated inside the structure of the church. Actually, it looks like this hill is named so because of its form, the reminding of a person's skull. Other traditions tied to this place say that this is the burial site of the first man, and is also the place where the bounding of Isaac by Abraham.
There was a tradition current among the Jews that the skull of Adam, after having been confided by Noah to his son Shem, and by the latter to Melchisedech, was finally deposited at the place called, for that reason, Golgotha. The Talmudists and the Fathers of the Church were aware of this tradition, and it survives in the skulls and bones placed at the foot of the crucifix. The Evangelists are not opposed to it, inasmuch as they speak of one and not of many skulls. (Luke, Mark, John, loc. cit.)
Nowadays, there is a chapel on this hill, where tradition points to the exact place where Christ's cross was placed.
The stage reached today is very significant for this Holy Place, and it is also a significant sign of progress of all the works that the Three Christian Religious Communities (i.e. the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian Patriarchate), have undertaken in this universally accepted Christian Monument. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre keeps alive its liturgical identity as a Place of Worship, while maintaining its unique contribution to the world's cultural heritage.
On the floor under the cupola of the present 'Catholicon' is a reddish marble hemisphere known as the Omphalos, or compass, which has been regarded spiritually as being the center of the world. Cf. Psalm 74:12 and Ezekiel 5:5: "For God is my King of old, who works salvation in the middle of the earth . . . This is Jerusalem, which I have placed in the middle of the nations." (In the original Jewish story, however, the center of the world was Mount Moriah, and later in Islam it is located at the Kaaba in Mecca.)
The Restored dome of the Anastasis
On 2nd January 1997 the Church of the Holy Sepulchre "breathed" life again. The rays of sunlight came down again to illuminate the area where the tomb of the Lord stood. It was 10.00 am when the drapes that covered the newly restored dome where drawn to the awe of the faithful and personalities that took part in the simple but very significant ceremony. This is the latest achievement in the "recovery" of the monument on this Holy Shrine for Christendom. The signs of hope foreseen way back in the sixties are bearing fruit. All visitors to the Holy Sepulchre in recent years have never been able to see this dome as it was completely obscured by a scaffolding awaiting the agreement between the three major rites that officiate at the Holy Sepulchre.
Many pilgrims who visit the Holy Land and even the shrine of the Holy Sepulchre do not realize that even today the rigid "code of the status quo" describes exactly the times and modality in which the main door of the basilica is opened and closed. The keys of the basilica are kept by two Moslem families, the Judeh and the Nuseibeh. The door is in fact locked from the outside!
Wajeeh Nuseibeh is sitting on a bench in the shadow of a giant wooden door studded with iron. The door is so big that it seems to shrink Wajeeh to the size of a church mouse. A portly man of 55 years, Wajeeh has one of the world's more unusual jobs: his business card reads: "Custodian and Door-Keeper of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher." The Sepulcher, in Jerusalem, is Christianity's holiest shrine. Believers say it houses Golgotha, the site where Jesus Christ was crucified, the Stone of Unction on which Christ lay, and the tomb from which he rose again. Yet, for centuries, the guardianship of the Sepulcher has lain with a Muslim family whose latest representative is Wajeeh. "Nobody in the whole world," he says, "is allowed to open the church but me."
The practice of a Muslim guarding the Sepulcher began in A.D. 638, when the Islamic ruler Caliph Omar captured Jerusalem and placed one of his Arab warriors, an ancestor of the Nuseibehs, in charge. Since then, the Nuseibehs have not only guarded the church but acted as referees among seven warring Christian groups; the three most powerful—Roman Catholics, Greeks, and Armenians—own 70% of the property. Each group professes to be the rightful heir of the shrine. They loathe one another in a most un-Christian fashion, contesting every angel's hair-breadth of holy space inside the cavernous basilica. A few years ago, some 500 Greek and Franciscan monks brawled for hours, tossing benches and clubbing each other with giant candlestick holders, all because one sect might have trespassed on another's sacred property. Centuries of suspicion and envy have made it so only a Muslim can be trusted with the Sepulcher's keys. Says Wajeeh: "The Christians see me as neutral."
The original Byzantine church was destroyed by the Persians in 614 A.D. Rebuilt shortly thereafter, the Egyptian caliph al-Hakim destroyed the church in 1009 and had the tomb hacked down to bedrock. The Crusaders rebuilt the church and much of what is standing today is from that time period. The ladder in the upper right window has been there since at least 1860, a testimony to rivalries between the church's factions and the observance of the Statu quo imposed by the Arab rulers.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built by Constantine I the Great during the fourth century, after he became a Christian, and turned Christianity into the official religion of his Roman empire. In the year 326, Constantine sent his mother, Helena, to seek the Crucifixion location in Jerusalem. Helena found the place and also found the remains of the Cross itself. In that same place, 7 years later, Constantine had the Church built in the year 333. At the time of the Persian occupation of Jerusalem in the year 614, most of the structure of the Church was ruined. It was rebuilt in a more limited composition, but during the 11th century was facing demolition again at the hands of the Calif Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (meaning 'Ruler by God's Command'). This menace is what initiated the Crusades, the call of which was to return the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Jerusalem into Christian hands. When the Christian Crusaders occupied Jerusalem in 1099, they built a new church, that still stands today.
It commemorates the hill of the Crucifixion and the Tomb of Christ's burial. The most important element of this complex is the rotunda which contains the sepulchre itself. The sepulchre stands in an elaborate structure within the rotunda, surrounded by columns supporting an ornamented, domed roof which was finally restored in the nineties, ending in 1997 endless centuries of delays.
Christ opened his arms on the Cross
Today the Site of the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus lies amidst the buildings of the Old City of Jerusalem. Surrounded by markets, souvenir shops and minarets it invites pilgrims to meditate about the Mystery of Redemption that unfolded at this spot. Time and history have left their scars but it has managed to preserve its incomparable meaning.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (in Arabic Keniset el Kijame, "Church of the Resurrection") built on the site of the Crucifixion and the entombment, in one of the holiest places in Christendom. At the entrance, the façade is dominated by two portals with pointed arches erected during the Crusades. Saladin blocked up the right-hand one in 1187.