Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The church of the holy sepulcher is one of the most eminent and ancient Christian pilgrimage sites, and was founded as early as the 4th century by command of Constantine the great and his mother Saint Helena. The church, located in the Christian quarter of the old city of Jerusalem, is venerated as the site of crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and is held by six different Christian sects. The physical structure is multi-layered and complex, and reflects different historical periods as well as countless Christian traditions.
Summer: until 20:00 Winter: until 19:00
The Byzantine period
The Golgotha (Calvary), the traditional site of crucifixion, was identified by Saint Helena since the Roman Emperor Adrian previously ordered there construction of a large pagan temple. Between the years 326-335, as the Empire gradually accepted Christianity, a magnificent church was erected on the ruins of the temple, including a 5o meter dome and an expansive basilica. The edifice suffered heavy damage during the Persian invasion (614) as well as in 1009, by the hands of the Fatimid emperor El Hakim and was re-constructed in a modest manner in 1018; byzantine capitals from this renovation can be seen in the northern part of the church.
The Golgotha (Calvary)
Presumably the most sacred Christian site in the world, this is according to Christian tradition where the suffering (the "passion") of Jesus on behalf of humanity ended, as his cross was fixed on the rock of Golgotha. The Golgotha is divided between Greek orthodox and Catholic churches and is rich in artistic detail – a crusader mosaic on the ceiling, a statue of Mary and her stance in agony ("Stabat Mater"), as well as many icons and paintings. In 1882, the late British general Charles Gordon identified the Golgotha with a different site in northern Jerusalem called the "garden tomb" that is nowadays popular with protestant pilgrims.
Finding of the cross
The Chapel of Saint Helena and the Chapel of the finding of the cross, both built in the crusader period, refer to a famous tradition regarding the true cross. Saint Helena, the first pilgrim to walk the footsteps of Jesus, has encountered Jerusalem 3 centuries after the crucifixion and had according to tradition found in this site 3 wooden crosses. A caravan with a sick woman in agony went nearby, and Helena used all crosses in order to reveal which was the true cross. Only one cross, with the divine touch of the lord, could cure the woman's agony.
A small staircase leads down from the Golgotha to the stone of anointing, where Jesus's body was prepared for burial by Joseph Arimathea, as Jewish custom required. Upon permission from Pontius Pilate, Joseph was allowed to bury Jesus in a burial cave carved in stone which is known as the 14th station of the cross. The tomb, held by all three major Christian churches, is in the center of the rotunda under the massive dome. The significance of the tomb lies not only in the death of Christ, but perhaps even more importantly in the Anastasis and resurrection, occurring at the same place.
Miracle of the holy fire
Also referred to as "The Saturday of light". According to Christian orthodox communities it is a miracle that occurs once every year, on the Saturday preceding Easter, in the church of the holy sepulcher. A magical fire is said to light a torch held by the Greek orthodox patriarch, who in turn passes the fire on to the bishops and members of the community, who pass the light to all orthodox communities of the world. This tradition has been recorded as early as the 9th century AD and has been reported continuously until modern day.
The status Quo
Six different Christian sects have custody over different parts of the complex, and coexist in an intricate equilibrium that is seldom breached. The Historical "status quo" agreement is an outcome of 1300 years of Christian existence under Muslim rule. Its outlines were defined in 1852, by means of a Turkish decree, re-establishing previous divisions between Christian groups, and physically dividing the space and ritual rights within it. The British mandate and in turn the state of Israel, "inherited" the agreement and have served as mediators upon need. Most of the property and ritual rights are owned by the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian apostolic and the Roman Catholic Church.
The notorious ladder
The most famous symbol of the delicate status quo is the crumbling ladder on the second floor of the façade. Until 1831, the large doors of the church were locked to pilgrims and food was brought to the monks through a ladder. Thus, the ladder became an object that is part of the status quo agreement between the Christian groups, mustn't be moved and has to be replaced every now and then once it falls apart. Disputes occasionally arise in the church regarding ownership, mostly around everyday matters such as maintenance and renovation. However, the historical legal framework, perhaps with a touch of divine intervention, is still functioning. Stations of the Cross
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