The Church of the Holy Sepulchre includes Golgotha (the place of the crucifixion), the Tomb where the body was laid, the Stone of the Anointing, the Church of St. Helena, the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross and the Chapel of the Apparition.

The Church is in the middle of the bustling Christian quarter of the Old City. In the nineteenth century, aware that crucifixion and burial in the time of Jesus had to have taken place outside city walls some Christians searched outside the present walls for such a site. The Garden Tomb seemed to be more appropriate.

They did not know that the present city walls are a mere five hundred years old and enclose a very different city than that of the time of Jesus, over two thousand years ago. Then these sites were outside the walls of the city beyond what the Roman historian describes as ‘the second wall.’

The first church was built by Queen Helena, mother of the Byzantine emperor Constantine, in the early fourth century. The entrance, which can be seen in the basement of the nearby Alexander Nievsky and on the Medba map, was from the east.. The westernmost section was a circular church built over the place of the tomb which had been removed to make a level floor.

Twice destroyed and rebuilt on a more modest scale it had deteriorated to such a degree during the Moslem rule that it became one of the factors leading to the Crusades. The present entrance from the south is part of the Crusader restoration but after their departure on door was sealed.

Over the next few  centuries the church was under the control of the Moslems who usually demanded exorbitant payment from Christian pilgrims wishing to enter. Since the mid nineteenth century the Nusseibeh family have traditionally held the key to open and close the church in a daily ceremony.

On entering the church one’s eyes are drawn to a large mosaic depiction of the ancient city wall on the right and in front of it Golgotha and the cross. In the centre the stone on which the body would have been prepared for burial and on the left, the tomb.

Immediately to the right, and up a steep stairway, are two chapels. The Latin on the right shows the removal of the clothes and Jesus being nailed to the cross. A glass case over the Orthodox altar covers the top of Golgotha, the place of the cross. Down the opposite stairway is the Chapel of Adam.

Past the Stone of the Anointing and through the Byzantine columns is the large rotunda and in its center a two  chambered edicule. The first is the Chamber of the Angel, where the angel proclaimed “He is risen” (Mark 16:5). In the second is a stone slab representing the tomb.

Continuing clockwise is the Copt chapel adjoining the edicule and through the columns the Assyrian-Jacobean chapel and a burial cave. On the northern side of the rotunda is the Franciscan Chapel of the Apparition where Jesus appeared before Mary. Passing a  number of small chapels is a stairway leading down to the Armenian Chapel of St. Helena and finally to the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross.

The Ottoman “Status Quo” decree issued after the Crimean War in 1856 regulates the daily administration of the Church which is shared by the Orthodox, Armenian, Catholic, Coptic, Assyrian-Jacobean and Ethiopian churches. The Ethiopian have a monastery on the roof and a disputed chapel leading from the roof to the courtyard. They are the only ones who do not have any section in the church itself.

Text content copyrights: Bein Harim Ltd., Beryl Ratzer (

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