April 3, 2015

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection

John F. FinkThe Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is the most sacred shrine in all of Christendom because it was built over the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

The present church was completed in 1149. Control over the inside is divided among five Christian communities: Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Copts and Syrian Orthodox. Ethiopian monks have a monastery and chapel on the church’s roof.

After entering the church, in order to get to Calvary, one must make a sharp right turn and walk up uneven steps to the second level. Straight ahead is the Roman Catholic altar, which is over the area where Jesus was nailed to the cross. A mosaic over the altar shows Mary watching as Jesus is nailed to the cross.

To the left of the Altar of the Nails is a small altar dedicated to Mary as the Mother of Sorrows. The actual rock of Calvary can be seen under this altar.

Again moving left, we come to the Greek Orthodox altar, with life-size icons of Jesus on the cross, his mother and St. John beneath the cross. Under the altar again is the rock of Calvary with a silver marker where it is believed the cross stood, and where Jesus died.

Pilgrims then descend another flight of stairs to the Anointing Stone. It is a large flat stone that is traditionally believed to be where Jesus was laid while his body was sprinkled with a mixture of myrrh and aloe before being laid in the tomb.

Jesus’ tomb was originally meant for Joseph of Arimathea, so it was the type of tomb constructed for rich Jews at the time. It had two chambers, the first serving as a meeting place for mourners and the second the place where the body was laid on a slab cut into the rock. Today an artificial structure simulates this two-chamber tomb.

The first room, called the Chapel of the Angel, is considered to be the place where the angel announced to the women that Jesus had been raised from the dead. In the second room, a white marble slab about two yards long covers the tomb.

I should point out that this is the site of Jesus’ burial, but not the actual tomb. The actual tomb existed until 1009, but was totally destroyed by the caliph El-Hakim. The present monument, including the cupola over it, was built over the site in 1810 by the Greek Orthodox and the Russians.

Behind the tomb is a small Coptic chapel that allows the pilgrim to get as close as possible to the tomb if there is a long line of people waiting to get into the front entrance.

Near the tomb is the Altar of Mary Magdalene, the traditional place where Jesus appeared to her. And behind the tomb is an entrance to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where pilgrims can see exactly what a first-century tomb looked like.

There are many other things to see in this church. †

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