Thursday, August 8, 2013

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

According to Christian tradition, Jesus was executed in AD 33 just outside the walls of Jerusalem on a hill called Golgotha (Greek) or Calvary (Latin).

In 135 Hadrian, Roman ruler and devout Olympian that he was, had a temple dedicated to Jupiter built on the site of the old Jewish temple and a temple dedicated to Venus built on Golgotha. To provide an adequately strong and flat foundation for the temple on hilly Golgotha, and to thoroughly cover any visual reminders of Christian significance, Hadrian had tons of rock and dirt brought to the site.

Yet in 325 Constantine, sympathetic to Christianity, ordered the destruction of the temple built by Hadrian and removal of the debris that had been brought in. Tradition tells us that, as excavation of the site proceeded, Helena, Constantine's mother and a devout Christian, discovered both the cross upon which Jesus had died and the tomb (sepulchre) in which his friends had laid him.

By 335 a large rectangular church building had been constructed at the site. To the west of that building, a rotunda had been constructed over the location of Jesus' tomb. Between the two, a courtyard surrounded by an arcade had been built. The place where Jesus had been crucified was located in its southeast corner. Eusebius, Constantine's biographer, gave the sermon during ceremonies celebrating the completion of the whole complex.

When the Persians captured Jerusalem in 614, they burned part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and stole the cross of Jesus. Heraclius, ruling the Roman Empire from Constantinople, joyously returned the recovered cross to a restored church building in 630.

Muslims took control of Jerusalem in 637. Omar, ruler of the Islamic state, insisted that the church building remain intact and Christian worship in it be left undisturbed.

In the 900s an object was placed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre marking the place of Jesus' resurrection as the center of the world. Ancient Hellenians thought that center was the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Some Jews regard the Foundation Stone, now lying beneath the Dome of the Rock, as it.

In 966 anti-Christian rioters set fire to the doors and roof of the church.

In 1009 Carthaginia, Egypt, and most of Levantia (including Jerusalem) were controlled by the Islamic ruler al-Hakim who governed from the newly founded city of Cairo. He ordered the complete destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In 1028 Ali az-Zahir, son and successor of al-Hakim, agreed to allow the church building to be reconstructed. Constantine 9th, Roman emperor, spent great sums of money to do so but not enough. By 1048 only the rotunda with some small adjoining chapels had been rebuilt. The large rectangular church building which Constantine had constructed remained in ruins.

In 1099 Crusaders from Latin Christendom captured Jerusalem. By 1149, during the reign of Melisende, female ruler of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, much construction in the Romanesque style had occurred and for the first time the same roof covered all significant sites and smaller buildings. These included not only the places where Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead, but also those where he was imprisoned and later first appeared to Mary Magdalene. Within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the Crusaders also built a chapel honoring Helena whom they regarded as a saint.

In 1187 the conqueror Salah ad-Din restored Islamic control of Jerusalem. He allowed Christians to maintain their control of the church, to enjoy their worship in it, and to continue their pilgrimages to it.

In 1555 the Franciscans carried out significant renovations. One included placing a marble slab over the spot where friends had laid the body of Jesus.

In 1808 Armenians started a fire which caused the ceiling of the rotunda to collapse and damage the smaller shrine housing the tomb of Jesus. The damage was repaired by 1810.

The dome now covering the rotunda dates from 1870.

In 1927 an earthquake did great damage to the structure.

Recent renovations on the building, some extensive, have continued since 1959. In the 1960s a new dome was placed over the rotunda. It is 67 feet (20.5 m) in diameter and over 110 feet (34 m) above the floor.

Different Christian denominations control different sections of the church building. The Crusaders gave the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic churches primary control of the site. Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac Orthodox churches gained control of limited areas in the 1800s. Embarrassingly enough, each Christian community zealously maintains its control, sometimes violently, and changes to the status quo rarely happen despite badly needed repairs to common areas.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.