Page 2 of 2

image Click for more images

The large Greek Byzantine altar on the far left is the place of the Crucifixion. Underneath the altar is a niche where one may kneel and place a hand through a circular opening. Feeling carefully to the side of the mounds of wax drippings from countless candles, one may touch the top of the column of rock left when Constantine cut away the surrounding terrain when he built his basilica. Here is the actual place of the Crucifixion, the very rock of infamy and glory.

The tomb is found down on the main floor, beyond the Stone of Unction, in the middle of the great Rotunda. The entry and facade are nearly obscured by dozens of large candles and hanging oil lamps. The two small rooms which comprise the tomb are enclosed in a marble chapel-like edifice called the edicule. Its anteroom, the Room of the Angel, contains a piece of rock believed to be part of the original closing stone. Through a low doorway is the final chamber – the place of burial. Illuminated by the flickering glow of wax tapers is a niche running along the right wall. Covered with a marble slab, it is the place where Jesus’ body was laid.

The changes of nearly 2000 years can easily obstruct the approach of devout pilgrims to the holiest of Christian shrines. Even though the empty tomb may create a welter of emotion on a first visit, the good news of the angel who greeted the first visitors to the empty tomb speak to us across the centuries: “He is not here. He is risen.”

Generations of dispute within the Church made these sacred sites objects of competitions and jealousy among various rites. Meanwhile, necessary maintenance of the church’s structure was neglected. In the 1930s, it nearly collapsed from neglect. Fortunately, the British administration in Palestine shored up the Rotunda with external steel columns, saving the building until the many rotted supporting columns could be replaced. The outer supports were removed in the early 1970s. Since then, ancient rivalries are being put aside as the Christian community comes together to develop a coordinated plan of renovation. Much work remains to be done.

In spite of wars, jealousies, and neglect, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre still stands as witness to the spot where the history of the world changed forever. Perhaps someday all Christians will join in a joyous ecumenical effort to restore this ancient shrine to the structural soundness and aesthetic beauty that it deserves.

Post a Comment | Comments(0)

Dr. William J. Doyle is a Knight Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, an order originally founded to protect and defend the Holy Sepulchre, but which is now a major support group for the poor Christians in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

1 | 2 |

Tags: Jerusalem Christianity Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Sepulchre