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The Church of the Holy Sepulchure in Pictures

Posted Friday, April 21, 2006 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Archaeology   

Since Sam just gave you all the arguments for and against the two main burial sites of Jesus, I thought I would pass along a few pictures and a few stories about them. I'm still a little unsure about how to do the picture thing in the blog, so it will be a fun experiment with this as well. Thanks to Brian for his help. This post will take a look (literally) at the Church of the Grave (as it is called in Hebrew).

First, a little background about the church. The church is in the heart of the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem (with an Arab shop nearby which sells some great cheese bread). There are six denominations that inhabit the church, making it a site of contention. And no, the Baptists are not one of the six denominations! The six include the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Syriac Orthodox, the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Ethiopian Orthodox. The first two have the majority of the space and the priviliges. The Ethiopians are confined to the roof, and the Coptic and the Syriac Orthodox have small chapels behind the tomb (the Coptic priest will let you reach through a hole and touch the tomb of Christ for a small fee).

As might be expected, the six groups do not get along. They have been fighting for hundreds of years. For the past 150 years or so, a status quo agreement has been observed. This came about when one day the Roman Catholic star marking the spot of the birth of Jesus disappeared: it had been stolen by the Greek Orthodox! A near war was averted when the Turkish authorities instituted a status quo: the way things were now, that was the way they would stay. So everything done today in both the Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem and the Church of the Grave all date back 150 years at least. Who gets to have a procession when, who gets to open the doors which day, who gets to clean each spot. Cleaning is especially contentious, since cleaning implies ownership. Fights have broken out when someone cleaned something they were not supposed to clean. Every year during Easter tensions run high, and the Israeli police have to come out to keep the peace. For example, a few years ago during the Greek Orthodox procession around the tomb the patriarch noticed a door was open leading to a Roman Catholic area. He demanded it be shut. The Roman priest refused. So several Greek priests came over to help him close it. Soon a major scuffle broke out and several priests and policemen ended up in the hospital and several Greeks in jail. And you think that church fights in America are bad! Unfortunately, this is the impression that many Israelis have of Christianity. A church is a tourist spot in Israel, not a gathering place for believers. Most evangelicals there avoid the use of the term church in favor of the word assembly. Well, here are a few pictures of the church. If you are interested, I have lots more pictures as well. This kind of journey through the church is much more pleasent than an actual visit: it is a very depressing place to visit, and my wife strongly disliked going there.

This is the outside of the Church. A lot of the architecture is Crusader. There is a detailed ritual for who gets to open the door every day (a Muslim family holds the key). Notice the ladder in the upper window as well.


Here is a detailed picture of the ladder. This ladder was put there by the Armenians (or the Greeks, I forget which) when the Turks ruled the land as a means to get food into the church (the Turks dislike both the Greeks and the Armenians). Then when the status quo agreement came into force, the ladder was present and has been there ever since.

These are the Jewish graves behind the tomb that date to the time of Christ.

This is the traditional Calvary, what is today a Greek Orthodox chapel. Just to the right is the Roman Catholic chapel where Jesus was supposedly put on the cross. Underneath Calvary is a room that a tradition from the Middle Ages identifies as the tomb of Adam, since the blood of the Second Adam could then drip down to touch the bones of First Adam.

This is the traditional tomb. This was actually built in the early 1800's after the previous one (which was itself the third or fourth tomb) burnt down. Notice the metal girders around it: the tomb was falling apart during the time the British ruled the land, and the groups could not agree on who would fix it, so the British (in the name of safety) put the girders up to stablize it, and now they are still there. They are stamped as coming from India.


Thanks for going on the journey!

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