Church of the Holy Sepulchre
In the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem stands a church of incredible religious significance to Roman Catholic, Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Christians. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is perched on the Golgotha hill, its modest size and unassuming exterior belying what lies within its walls.
Since the 4th century, the site has been recognized as the place where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
A tumultuous history
In 312, Constantine the Great sent his mother Helena to the site to seek out Christ’s tomb, who upon locating the True Cross of Christ’s crucifixion, commissioned a shrine here. As a homage, the Crusaders built the Chapel of St. Helena, and beneath it lies the Chapel of the Finding of the True Cross, where the relic was supposedly discovered.
After the church’s consecration in 335, it was destroyed by fire and earthquake, and rebuilt by Emperor Heraclius, and protected by early Muslim rulers, until 1009 when Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah felled it, causing extensive damage. Subsequent rulers reconstructed the church, and since the 11th century, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has stood the test of time and faith, being renovated and preserved to receive the hundreds of devotees that throng its premises every day.
Head west to pass the Stone of Unction, which marks the spot where Christ’s body was prepared for burial. Make your way up the steps to the Calvary, the site housing The Rock of Calvary, the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross and a statue of Mary. From here, head to the Rotunda where you will find the beautiful Aedicule containing Christ’s tomb. The rotunda’s exterior is built in Turkish Rococo style. A big candelabra greets you at the entrance, and 43 lamps representing the aforementioned faiths hang over the doorway.
Also observe the Angel’s Stone, the stone on which the angel announced Christ’s resurrection. The Aedicule’s room is decorated with medieval marble and stunning artwork. The Coptic Orthodox Altar is located behind the Aedicule while the Chapel of Apparition in the Roman Catholic section of the church is present on the south-eastern side of the Rotunda.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses many chapels. The Latin quarter is to the north, symbolized by the Chapel of Franciscans and Altar of Mary Magdalene. On the eastern side lies the Prison of Christ, which has no historical basis.
What to note
The crowd of pilgrims and tourists can swell considerably, so it is best to arrive early. Modest dressing is advised to ensure hassle-free entry into the holy premises.