Sacred Spaces: Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem)

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One of Jerusalem’s most popular sites for pilgrims, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre sits on one of Christianity’s most important sites – the site where Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead.

The Church is located “[…]in the northwest quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.”  “Archaeological excavations have demonstrated that this site was outside the city but close to one of its gates and thus would have been a good location for a crucifixion.” 

The Chapel of St. Helen. Photo by zvonimir atletic. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Constantine the Great first built a church on this site.  This church was to encompass both the site of the cross and Jesus’ tomb and was dedicated around 336.  Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, is said to have discovered the True Cross at this site during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Chapel of St. Helena was thus built as part of the Church and, below it, the Chapel of the Finding of the True Cross.

“As emperor, Constantine is credited with converting the Roman Empire to Christianity. He ended the persecution of Christians and, with Eastern Roman Emperor Licinius, signed the Edict of Milan. The edict ensured tolerance for Christianity and granted freedom of worship to people of all faiths.” 

Unfortunately, this first church was destroyed in 614 by the Persians, but later restored.

Again, unfortunately, the restored church was destroyed around 1009 but later “[…] restored by the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus.”  During the 12th century, Crusaders had the church rebuilt and it was reconsecrated on July 15, 1149 (50 years after the capture of Jerusalem by the First Crusade).

The Altar of the Crucifixion. Photo by Иерей Максим Массалитин. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Though the original church’s footprint was preserved in this latest rebuilding, the church did acquire some Western design elements.  “The holy garden became the basilica of the crusaders’ church, and the rock of Golgotha was given its own chapel.”

“Despite the mutilations of the centuries, the Holy Sepulchre remains a fascinating complex of structures and is of key importance for several phases of medieval architectural history, ‘imitations’ being built all over Europe.”

The church is laid out to allow visitors to move from chapel to chapel, ending their visit in the Holy Sepulchre:

“At Golgotha, to mark the completion of their pilgrimage they would leave the crosses they had carried on the journey, and a great pile of these would be burnt on Easter Eve.

On Holy Saturday, the ceremony of the Holy Fire took place. The patriarch entered the edicule, where the Easter Fire was kindled and then passed from hand to hand.”

Today, various Christian denominational groups each control parts of the church.  They each conduct regular services at the site as well.  “In 2016 the shrine that encloses the tomb, known as the Edicule, underwent a significant restoration, and the tomb itself was opened for the first time in centuries.”  The most-visited area within the church is the Altar of the Crucifixion where the Rock of Calvary (where the Crucifixion is thought to have occurred) is kept.

Tour the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The video below offers a marvelous tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and insight into its fascinating history. (Click here to view directly on YouTube).

Sacred Spaces Blog Series

Want to learn more about the world’s most unique and fascinating sacred spaces? Follow the links below to other pieces from our Sacred Spaces blog series!

Basilica di San Marco (Venice) | St. Issac’s Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Monastery of the Kiev Caves (Kiev) | St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | The Duomo (Florence) | The Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) | Cathedral of St. Sophia (Novgorod) | Church of Our Savior on  Spilled Blood (St. Petersburg) | The Church of the Ascension (Kolomenskoye) | St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow) |The Churches of Kizhi Pogost | Monastery of Panagia Elona | Smolny Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Agios Stefanos (Syros Island) | Church of the Intercession on the Nerl | The Rock Churches of Matera | The Monastery of St. John the Theologian (Patmos) | Durham Cathedral | Church of the Sign (Dubrovitsy)

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