The Rock of Calvary (also called Golgotha) is where the crucifixion of Christ is believed to have occurred. During Christ's lifetime, the hill stood outside the Jerusalem city walls and was the site of regular executions and crucifixions, including Christ's. As the position of the city walls changed over the years the site ended up within the city. Today the Rock is in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City. The church was built in the 4th century to encompass the Tomb of Christ and the Hill of Golgotha. Tradition also holds that Adam, the first man was buried at the foot of Golgotha. The Garden Tomb on Skull Hill, about 500m north of the Damascus Gate has been suggested as an alternate site for the Rock of Calvary.
History of Calvary
The site of Calvary was identified by St. Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in 325AD. Early pilgrims revered this location as the site of Christ's crucifixion and described it as a skull-shaped rock near one of the city gates. The word Calvary in Latin and Golgotha in Aramaic both mean the Place of the Skull. Early Christian pilgrims would pass through a Holy Garden where the rock stood in order to reach the Holy Sepulchre. Later a structure was built to protect the Rock of Calvary from the elements. The Persians destroyed the church in 614AD followed by a succession of destruction and reconstruction. During reconstruction by the Crusades in the 11th century, the church acquired many western features and the Rock of Golgotha was given its own chapel. Excavations in the 1970s found that the rock may have been part of an unused ridge in an ancient quarry.
Visiting the Rock of Calvary
The Hill of Calvary is directly to your right as you enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. All that remains of the Rock of Calvary is a huge bolder 7m long, 3m wide and 4.8m high. Today the rock is part of the elaborately decorated chapels and shrines of the church. About half a meter of the rock is visible in the Calvary Chapel and the remainder is in the Chapel of Adam below. Stairs lead up to the "top of the hill" and the 12th Station of the Cross where Jesus died on the cross. Here the raw natural rock can be seen beneath the Greek Orthodox Crucifixion Altar. A silver disc marks the spot where Christ's cross would have been hammered into the rock. It is possible to touch the Rock through an opening in the glass beneath the altar. At the foot of the "hill," is Adam's Chapel where the Rock of Calvary can be seen behind a piece of glass. This is where Adam's remains are believed to be buried. This mass of rock has a clear crack or fissure running vertically. In Matthew 27:51 it says that the earth shook and the rocks split when Jesus died. Some believe the fissure was caused by an earthquake when Christ died although it could have been a result of quarry work. Alongside the Chapel of Adam is a third opportunity to see the Rock of Calvary. This section is protected behind a glass window.