Church of the Holy Sepulcher
“Then they led him away to crucify him…. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots…. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock.” (Matthew 27:31b, 33-35, 59-60)
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
As narrated in the Scripture, Jesus was crucified at a place called Golgotha and after his death was laid in a rock-hewn tomb. Today the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands above what is believed to be the site of both of these events. The church has a long and difficult history which led to control of it being shared among several denominations: Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, (and to a lesser degree) Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syrian Orthodox. Since 1853 statutes and regulations have governed the property and the roles of the different denominations. From the Immovable Ladder on a window ledge to the Tomb of Christ under the dome, these five must-see locations of the church provide examples of this shared ownership.
1. The Immovable Ladder
On a window ledge over the church’s entrance stands a ladder which has been in the same position since sometime prior to 1852. The reason it has not been moved is the doors and window ledges are “common ground.” Therefore, with no single denomination having control over it, no one can move it. Photographs and engravings dating to as early as 1839 show the ladder in the same position as today.
2. The Stone of Unction
The first thing one sees upon entering the church is the Stone of Unction. This limestone slab dating to 1808 commemorates the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial. The distinct decorations of the four denominations sharing ownership of it—Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic—adorn the area surrounding the stone.
As Golgotha was on a hill so that passersby could see those being crucified, it makes sense that this part of the church is accessed by a stairway. At the top of the stairway are two chapels, one a Catholic Franciscan chapel and the other a Greek Orthodox chapel. The Catholic chapel is known as the Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross, while the Greek Orthodox chapel adjacent to the Catholic chapel contains the Rock of Calvary.
4. The Rotunda
In 326 AD Constantine commissioned the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As the name implies, the church was built around the tomb of Christ. The Rotunda preserves the location and shape of Constantine’s building.
5. The Tomb of Christ
The shrine of the Tomb of Christ known as the Edicule is located under the dome. The shrine contains the Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Angel and the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, which one enters through a low door. Every day Greeks, Armenians and Roman Catholics hold liturgy here.
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