The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem is situated off Nablus Road, just outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate. It is a tranquil garden of olive trees, and flower beds with benches along quiet paths. At the heart of the garden is an ancient rock-hewn tomb. The Garden Tomb is a place of Christian worship, and some traditions believe it to be the site of Christ’s burial. The tomb is a valid pilgrimage site, yet most experts agree that the Garden Tomb is not where Christ was buried and rose from the dead.
Where was Jesus Buried?
The Gospels do not say specifically where Jesus was buried, which has caused experts to disagree about the location of Christ’s tomb. The Bible tells us that Christ was crucified outside the city, near a well-traveled road, in a new rock-hewn tomb, in a garden (John 19:41). Since the 4th century, most Christians have held the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to be the site of Golgotha and Christ’s burial tomb. Two thousand years ago the site was outside the city walls.
Since Christ’s burial new walls have been built, bringing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher within the present-day Old City. Both the Holy Sepulcher Church and the Garden Tomb would have been outside the city walls at the time of Christ’s burial. And both have ancient rock-hewn tombs. However, the Garden Tomb dates back to the 7th-9th-century BC. Reusing burial tombs was common practice, but this would contradict the Biblical passage that says Christ’s tomb was new.
History of the Garden Tomb
In the 19th century, many scholars began doubting the traditional site of Jesus’ burial within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In 1842, German scholar Otto Thenius first proposed the garden as the burial site of Christ. He believed that the skull-faced cliff overlooking the garden was where Christ was crucified on the hill of Golgotha (or Skull Hill). In 1867, the rock-hewn tomb was discovered nearby.
This all fitted with the Biblical reference to the place of Christ’s crucifixion being close to his burial cave. In the 1800s, there were several other scholarly supporters of the new tomb location, including British Major-General Charles Gordon. Gordon visited Jerusalem and concurred that the cliff was the site of Christ’s crucifixion.
The cliff became known as Gordon’s Calvary. In 1894, The Garden Tomb Association bought the land to maintain it as a pilgrimage site. Volunteers come from around the world to help care for the garden and tomb. The tomb is visited mainly by Evangelical Anglicans, Protestants, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“In the Garden a new Sepulcher, wherein was Never Man Yet Laid.” (John 19:41)
Inside the Garden Tomb are two chambers with stone benches along the walls. Directly outside the tomb entrance is a groove in the ground. This was thought to be where a stone was rolled into place to seal the tomb. But the groove is not deep enough, and the stone would not have stayed in place. Although historically, it is unlikely that the Garden Tomb was Christ’s burial site, St. George’s Anglican Cathedral was built alongside the tomb for visiting pilgrims. The church was built in 1899 and is the seat of the Bishop of Jerusalem of the Episcopal Church in the Middle East.
Why the Garden Tomb is Sacred
With little solid evidence of the Garden Tomb being Christ’s burial site, it remains a traditional pilgrimage destination. It is a peaceful garden, where visitors can pray and meditate in the calm surroundings without being disturbed. This is in sharp contrast to the atmosphere in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is always full of tourists. Visitors can walk along the garden’s gravel paths, among the flower beds and trees. It is possible to enter the tomb and enjoy a moment of reflection. The garden may not be Christ’s burial site, but it is evocative of the Biblical description.