History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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View of the Christ Pantocrator in the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is one of the oldest prominent Christian churches in current use and has undergone a number of different buildings and changes in control by different denominations.

Construction[edit]

In the early 2nd century AD, the site of the present Church had been a temple of Aphrodite; several ancient writers alternatively describe it as a temple to Venus, the Roman equivalent to Aphrodite. Eusebius claims, in his Life of Constantine (written ~200 years later),[1] that the site of the Church had originally been a Christian place of veneration, but that Hadrian had deliberately covered these Christian sites with earth, and built his own temple on top, due to his hatred for Christianity.[2] Although Eusebius does not say as much, the temple of Aphrodite was probably built as part of Hadrian's reconstruction of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina in 135 AD, following the destruction of the Jewish Revolt of 70 AD and the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132–135 AD.[citation needed]

A diagram of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre showing traditional site of Calvary and the Tomb of Jesus

Emperor Constantine I ordered in about 325/326 that the temple be demolished and the soil - which had provided a flat surface for the temple - be removed, instructing Macarius of Jerusalem, the local Bishop, to build a church on the site. The Pilgrim of Bordeaux reports in 333: "There, at present, by the command of the Emperor Constantine, has been built a basilica, that is to say, a church of wondrous beauty".[3] Constantine directed his mother, Helena, to build churches upon sites which commemorated the life of Jesus Christ; she was present in 326 at the construction of the church on the site, and involved herself in the excavations and construction.[citation needed]

During the excavation, Helena is alleged to have rediscovered the True Cross, and a tomb, though Eusebius's account makes no mention of Helena's presence at the excavation, nor of the finding of the cross but only the tomb. According to Eusebius, the tomb exhibited "a clear and visible proof" that it was the tomb of Jesus.[4][5] Socrates Scholasticus (born c. 380), in his Ecclesiastical History, gives a full description of the discovery[6] (that was repeated later by Sozomen and by Theodoret) which emphasizes the role played in the excavations and construction by Helena; just as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (also founded by Constantine and Helena) commemorated the birth of Jesus, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre would commemorate his death and resurrection.[citation needed]

Golgotha altar

Constantine's church was built as two connected churches over the two different holy sites, including a great basilica (the Martyrium visited by Egeria in the 380s), an enclosed colonnaded atrium (the Triportico) with the traditional site of Golgotha in one corner, and a rotunda, called the Anastasis ("Resurrection"), which contained the remains of a rock-cut room that Helena and Macarius identified as the burial site of Jesus. The rockface at the west end of the building was cut away, although it is unclear how much remained in Constantine's time, as archaeological investigation has revealed that the temple of Aphrodite reached far into the current rotunda area,[7] and the temple enclosure would therefore have reached even further to the west.[citation needed]

According to tradition, Constantine arranged for the rockface to be removed from around the tomb, without harming it, in order to isolate the tomb; in the centre of the rotunda is a small building called the Kouvouklion (Kουβούκλιον; Modern Greek for small compartment) or Aedicule[8] (from Latin: aediculum, small building), which supposedly encloses this tomb, although it is not currently possible to verify the claim, as the remains are completely enveloped by a marble sheath. However, there are several thick window wells extending through the marble sheath, from the interior to the exterior that are not marble clad. They appear to reveal an underlying limestone rock, which may be part of the original living rock of the tomb. The discovery of the kokhim tombs just beyond the west end of the Church, and more recent archaeological investigation of the rotunda floor, suggest that a narrow spur of at least ten yards length would have had to jut out from the rock face if the contents of the Aedicule were once inside it. The dome of the rotunda was completed by the end of the 4th century.[citation needed]

Each year, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the anniversary of the consecration of the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre) on September 13[9] (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian calendar, September 13 currently falls on September 26 of the modern Gregorian calendar).[citation needed]

Damage and destruction[edit]

This building was damaged by fire in 614 when the Persians, under Khosrau II, invaded Jerusalem and captured the Cross. In 630, Emperor Heraclius marched triumphantly into Jerusalem and restored the True Cross to the rebuilt Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Under the Muslims it remained a Christian church. The early Muslim rulers protected the city's Christian sites, prohibiting their destruction and their use as living quarters. In 966 the doors and roof were burnt during a riot.[citation needed]

On October 18, 1009, Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the complete destruction of the church. The measures against the church were part of a more general campaign against Christian places of worship in Palestine and Egypt, which involved a great deal of damage: Adémar de Chabannes recorded that the church of St George at Lydda 'with many other churches of the saints' had been attacked, and the 'basilica of the Lord's Sepulchre destroyed down to the ground'. ...The Christian writer Yahya ibn Sa'id reported that everything was razed 'except those parts which were impossible to destroy or would have been too difficult to carry away'."[10] The Church's foundations were hacked down to bedrock. The Edicule and the east and west walls and the roof of the cut-rock tomb it encased were destroyed or damaged (contemporary accounts vary), but the north and south walls were likely protected by rubble from further damage. The "mighty pillars resisted destruction up to the height of the gallery pavement, and are now effectively the only remnant of the fourth-century buildings."[10] Some minor repairs were done to the section believed to be the tomb of Jesus almost immediately after 1009, but a true attempt at restoration would have to wait for decades.[10]

European reaction was of shock and dismay, with far-reaching and intense consequences. For example, Cluniac monk Rodulfus Glaber blamed the Jews, with the result that Jews were expelled from Limoges and other French towns. Ultimately, this destruction provided an impetus to the later Crusades.[11]

Reconstruction[edit]

View of Holy Sepulchre courtyard

In wide ranging negotiations between the Fatimids and the Byzantine Empire in 1027-8 an agreement was reached whereby the new Caliph Ali az-Zahir (Al-Hakim's son) agreed to allowing the rebuilding and redecoration of the Church.[12] The rebuilding was finally completed with the financing of the huge expense by Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople in 1048.[13] As a concession, the mosque in Constantinople was re-opened and sermons were to be pronounced in az-Zahir's name.[12] Muslim sources say a by-product of the agreement was the recanting of Islam by many Christians who had been forced to convert under Al-Hakim's persecutions.[12] In addition the Byzantines, while releasing 5,000 Muslim prisoners, made demands for the restoration of other churches destroyed by Al-Hakim and the re-establishment of a Patriarch in Jerusalem.[12] Contemporary sources credit the emperor with spending vast sums in an effort to restore the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after this agreement was made.[12] Despite the Byzantines spending vast sums on the project, "a total replacement was far beyond available resources. The new construction was concentrated on the rotunda and its surrounding buildings: the great basilica remained in ruins."[10] The rebuilt church site consisted of "a court open to the sky, with five small chapels attached to it."[14] The chapels were "to the east of the court of resurrection, where the wall of the great church had been. They commemorated scenes from the passion, such as the location of the prison of Christ and of his flagellation, and presumably were so placed because of the difficulties for free movement among shrines in the streets of the city. The dedication of these chapels indicates the importance of the pilgrims' devotion to the suffering of Christ. They have been described as 'a sort of Via Dolorosa in miniature'... since little or no rebuilding took place on the site of the great basilica. Western pilgrims to Jerusalem during the eleventh century found much of the sacred site in ruins."[10] Control of Jerusalem, and thereby the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, continued to change hands several times between the Fatimids and the Seljuk Turks (loyal to the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad) until the arrival of the Crusaders in 1099.[15]

Crusader period[edit]

Many historians maintain that the main concern of Pope Urban II, when calling for the First Crusade, was the threat to Constantinople from the Turkish invasion of Asia Minor in response to the appeal of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos.[16] Historians agree that the fate of Jerusalem and thereby the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was of concern if not the immediate goal of papal policy in 1095. The idea of taking Jerusalem gained more focus as the Crusade was underway. The rebuilt church site was taken from the Fatimids (who had recently taken it from the Abassids) by the knights of the First Crusade on 15 July 1099.[10]

The capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders on 15 July 1099
1. The Holy Sepulchre
2. The Dome of the Rock
3. Ramparts

The First Crusade was envisioned as an armed pilgrimage, and no crusader could consider his journey complete unless he had prayed as a pilgrim at the Holy Sepulchre. Crusader Prince Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the first crusader monarch of Jerusalem, decided not to use the title "king" during his lifetime, and declared himself Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri (Protector (or Defender) of the Holy Sepulchre). By the crusader period, a cistern under the former basilica was rumoured to have been the location that Helena had found the True Cross, and began to be venerated as such; although the cistern later became the Chapel of the Invention of the Cross, there is no evidence for the rumour prior to the 11th century, and modern archaeological investigation has now dated the cistern to the 11th century repairs by Monomachos.[7]

Crusader graffiti in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

According to the German clergyman and orient pilgrim Ludolf von Sudheim, the keys of the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre were in hands of the "ancient Georgians" and the food, alms, candles and oil for lamps were given them by the pilgrims in the south door of the church.[17]

The chronicler William of Tyre reports on the renovation of the Church in the mid-12th century. The crusaders investigated the eastern ruins on the site, occasionally excavating through the rubble, and while attempting to reach the cistern, they discovered part of the original ground level of Hadrian's temple enclosure; they decided to transform this space into a chapel dedicated to Helena (the Chapel of Saint Helena), widening their original excavation tunnel into a proper staircase. The crusaders began to refurnish the church in a Romanesque style and added a bell tower. These renovations unified the small chapels on the site and were completed during the reign of Queen Melisende in 1149, placing all the Holy places under one roof for the first time. The church became the seat of the first Latin Patriarchs, and was also the site of the kingdom's scriptorium. The church was lost to Saladin, along with the rest of the city, in 1187, although the treaty established after the Third Crusade allowed for Christian pilgrims to visit the site. Emperor Frederick II regained the city and the church by treaty in the 13th century, while he himself was under a ban of excommunication, leading to the curious result of the holiest church in Christianity being laid under interdict. Both city and church were captured by the Khwarezmians in 1244.

Later periods[edit]

Church of the Holy Sepulchre (1885). Other than some restoration work, its appearance has essentially not changed since 1854. The Immovable Ladder, the small ladder below the top-right window, is also visible in recent photographs; this has remained in the same position since 1854 over a disagreement to move it.

The Franciscan friars renovated it further in 1555, as it had been neglected despite increased numbers of pilgrims. The Franciscans rebuilt the Aedicule, extending the structure to create an ante-chamber.[18] After the renovation of 1555, control of the church oscillated between the Franciscans and the Orthodox, depending on which community could obtain a favorable firman from the Sublime Porte at a particular time, often through outright bribery, and violent clashes were not uncommon. There was no agreement about this question, although it was talked about it at the negotiations to the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699.[19] In 1767, weary of the squabbling, the Porte issued a firman that divided the church among the claimants.

A fire severely damaged the structure again in 1808, causing the dome of the Rotunda to collapse and smashing the Edicule's exterior decoration. The Rotunda and the Edicule's exterior were rebuilt in 1809–1810 by architect Nikolaos Ch. Komnenos of Mytilene in the then current Ottoman Baroque style. The fire did not reach the interior of the Aedicule, and the marble decoration of the Tomb dates mainly to the 1555 restoration, although the interior of the ante-chamber, now known as the Chapel of the Angel, was partly re-built to a square ground-plan, in place of the previously semi-circular western end. Another decree in 1853 from the sultan solidified the existing territorial division among the communities and set a status quo for arrangements to "remain forever", caused differences of opinion about upkeep and even minor changes,[20] including disagreement on the removal of the "Immovable Ladder", an exterior ladder under one of the windows; this ladder has remained in the same position since then.

The church after its 1808 restoration

The cladding of red marble applied to the Aedicule by Komminos has deteriorated badly and is detaching from the underlying structure; since 1947 it has been held in place with an exterior scaffolding of iron girders installed by the British Mandate. No plans have been agreed upon for its renovation.

The current dome dates from 1870, although it was restored during 1994–1997, as part of extensive modern renovations to the church, which have been ongoing since 1959. During the 1970–1978 restoration works and excavations inside the building, and under the nearby Muristan, it was found that the area was originally a quarry, from which white meleke limestone was struck.[21] To the east of the Chapel of Saint Helena, the excavators discovered a void containing a 2nd-century drawing of a Roman ship, two low walls which supported the platform of Hadrian's 2nd-century temple, and a higher 4th-century wall built to support Constantine's basilica.[22][23] After the excavations of the early 1970s, the Armenian authorities converted this archaeological space into the Chapel of Saint Vartan, and created an artificial walkway over the quarry on the north of the chapel, so that the new Chapel could be accessed (by permission) from the Chapel of Saint Helena.[23]

There was some controversy in 2010, when the Jerusalem City Council threatened to cut off water to the site, due to disputed water bills.[24]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005-07-13. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  2. ^ Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 3:26
  3. ^ Itinerarium Burdigalense, page 594
  4. ^ Eusebius, Life of Constantine, Chapter 28
  5. ^ "NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005-07-13. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  6. ^ "NPNF2-02. Socrates and Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005-07-13. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  7. ^ a b Virgilio Corbo, The Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (1981)
  8. ^ Americans spell this as Edicule
  9. ^ "Commemoration of the Founding of the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre) at Jerusalem". Orthodox Church in America. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Morris 2005
  11. ^ Bokenkotter 2004
  12. ^ a b c d e Lev 1991
  13. ^ Foakes-Jackson 1921
  14. ^ Fergusson 1865
  15. ^ Gold 2007
  16. ^ "Council of Claremont". Famoushistoricalevents.net. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  17. ^ Venetian Adventurer: The Life and Times of Marco Polo, p88
  18. ^ Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Holy Land, (2008), page 56
  19. ^ Geschichte der europäischen Staaten, Geschichte des östreichischen Kaiserstaates, János Nepomuk Jozsef Mailáth (gróf), Band 4, Seite 262, F. Perthes, Hamburg 1848.
  20. ^ "The Church of the Holy Sepulchre:A Work in Progress". Bibleinterp.com. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  21. ^ Hesemann, Michael (1999). Die Jesus-Tafel (in German). Freiburg. p. 170. ISBN 3-451-27092-7.
  22. ^ Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Holy Land, (1998), page 59
  23. ^ a b Lancaster, James E. (1998). "Finding the Keys to the Chapel of St. Vartan". Jim Lancaster's Web Space. Retrieved 2 March 2012. the height difference can be easily seen; the yellowish wall on the left is the 4th century wall, the pinkish wall on the right is the 2nd century wall.
  24. ^ Cohen, Arieh (30 July 2010). "Israel threatens to cut off water supply to Church of the Holy Sepulchre". AsiaNews. Retrieved 3 March 2012.