Many visitors to Israel are surprised to find that so many Biblical sites, like Golgotha, still exist. The Bible tells us that Christ was crucified on the Hill of Golgotha. Almost 2,000 years have passed and Golgotha no longer resembles a hill; it is now one of about 30 chapels within the 4th-century Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem's Old City. The site of Christ's crucifixion on Golgotha is the Twelfth Station of the Cross and one of 14 Stations marking the final events of Christ's life. Golgotha (Aramaic) or Calvary (Latin) means "Skull" and is mentioned in all of the New Testament Gospels. It may have been named "the Place of the Skull" because of the shape of the hill or because it was the site of many crucifixions. Jewish tradition holds that the skull of Adam was passed down by Noah to his son Shem and then to Melchisedech who deposited the skull at the foot of Golgotha. Golgotha may also have been where the binding of Isaac took place.
Brief History of Golgotha
Early Christians venerated Golgotha as the site of the crucifixion. In 325AD Queen Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine I identified the Biblical sites that now lie within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre including Christ's Tomb and Golgotha. Constantine I commissioned construction of the Sepulchre Church, replacing a pagan temple. Constantine's church was destroyed by Persians in 614 and rebuilt only to be destroyed again under Muslim rule in 1009. The church structure we see today is mainly from the Crusader reconstruction in 1149.
Was Christ Really Crucified on Golgotha?
Early Christians believed this to be the site of the crucifixion. Golgotha is mentioned in the writings of early pilgrims and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built to mark this location in AD326. Experts say that it is very likely that the site revered as Golgotha was in fact where Jesus was crucified. At the time of Christ's crucifixion, the hill of execution would have been outside the city, in accordance with Roman and Jewish customs of the time. Later new city walls were built bringing the hill, within the city.
The Sepulchre Church hums with activity, pilgrims, incense, hymns and religious ceremonies at all times of the day. The Chapel of Golgotha is located immediately to the right once you enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A flight of steep, narrow, stone stairs leads up 4.5 meters to the top of the "hill" of Calvary where Christ was crucified. Here there are two chapels – the Greek Orthodox Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows and the Catholic Chapel of the Crucifixion. The floor is covered with marble and mosaics while the walls and ceiling are heavily decorated with mosaics, icons, sanctuary lamps and liturgical riches. A Greek Orthodox altar marks the place where the cross stood. Beneath the altar is a circular opening where you can reach through to touch the rock where the cross stood. A glass cover protects the rock from endless visitors and you can see a crack in the rock which may have been caused by an earthquake at the moment of Christ's death. A small window looks down on the Chapel of the Franks and the Tenth Station of the Cross where Jesus was stripped of his clothes. Descending from Calvary via a second set of steps you will find yourself once again at the foot of Golgotha.