A short account of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, given by your Israel & Jerusalem private tour guide

Not a big building, certainly old and not the most attractive of churches, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is still one of the holiest places for the majority of Christians. It stands in the middle of the Christian Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City and attracts thousands of visitors every day. The church tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. In addition, it tells the story of the building and the groups who share it.

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At Jesus’ time
From excavations, we know that in this area (being outside of the city walls 2,000 years ago), there was a large quarry before the time of Jesus, probably for the purpose of the construction of the Temple Mount. We can assume that a large rock (later named Golgotha) was left for executions, and the sides of the quarry were sold to people to dig family burial caves into the rock. Jesus died on the rock Golgotha, his body was then cleansed and laid in one of these caves, known as Joseph of Arimathea's cave.

The Roman pagan city (established in place of the Jewish one in the 2nd century CE) used this area for the Temple of Aphrodite, guardian goddess of this new city, standing next to the main avenue, the cardo. When Christianity was legalized in the 4th century, Aphrodite’s temple was taken down, some caves were exposed and one of them was dedicated as Jesus’ grave. In 335 CE, the new basilica was dedicated in honor of Jesus’ resurrection.

This church did not survive later Muslim attacks. During the time of the Crusades, in 1149 CE, a smaller church was built, containing three important events of the death of Jesus – the places of crucifixion, anointing of the body and the burial, all under one roof.

The Crusader Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the one we see here. Today, there are six Christian denominations, who have rights over specific areas and rituals in the church – a fact that makes the story of the building extremely interesting. The major areas are held by the Greek Orthodox, Armenians and Catholics.

Visiting the church

There are three areas in the church:

  • On the right side from the entrance, there is an elevated area around the top of Golgotha, and the spot where, allegedly, the cross stood and Jesus died.

  • Opposite the entrance, there is a flat rock commemorating the cleansing and anointing of Jesus’ body.

  • On the left side, in the rotunda and under a large dome, stands a building, which replaces the original burial cave (destroyed by Muslims in the 11th century).

  • An original burial cave from Jesus’ time.
  • On the right side, there are steps leading down to St. Helen’s Chapel, dedicated to Emperor Constantine’s mother who found the grave and “the real cross”. Above the chapel you can visit the Ethiopian courtyard with their 2 chapels.

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