The church of the holy sepulcher is a church in the holy city of Jerusalem. The church contains, according to Christian tradition, two of the holiest site in Christendom; the site was Jesus Christ was crucified and Jesus’ empty tomb. The new testament tells us that Jesus was crucified at a place called Golgotha (Matthew 27;33-35). Originally this place, at the time of the death of Jesus, was outside the old city of Jerusalem. But a few years after the death of Christ, a third wall was added to the old city which enclosed the site of Golgotha. This explains how the church, containing the site where Jesus was killed, is within the Old City of Jerusalem.
The church is within a 19th-century shrine called the aedicule. The status quo, a 250-year-old political arrangement over the administration of some shared religious sites, applies to the church. The entities with these shared understanding are the Roman Catholic church, the Greek Orthodox church, the Armenian Apostolic church, The Syriac Orthodox church, The comic orthodox church, and the Ethiopian Orthodox church.
As expected for such an important site, the church has been an important tourist attraction and pilgrimage site since the fourth century when it was built. The area accumulated by the church for hundreds of years of its existence now serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem church.
Constantine I, a very powerful emperor who was also a Christian, had a temple to pagan gods in Jerusalem demolished to make way for a church to be built. During the demolition, a tomb was discovered which was believed to be the tomb of Jesus Christ. Thus, the church was built on the site.
In the year 326, Saint Helena, who doubled as Constantine’s mother, after a pilgrimage, discovered a holy relic; the cross of Jesus (also known as the true cross).
The Conquest of Jerusalem by the Arabs in 628 initially proved to be not disruptive, as Christians were more or less tolerated. The situation, however, changed roughly 300 years later when the entrance to the Basilica was turned into a mosque by the Arabs. In 1009, things got worse and the church was destroyed under the orders of Al-Hakim.
Constantine XI, a Byzantine emperor, in 1042 decided to rebuild the church and he proceeded to fund the whole project. However, the capture of Jerusalem in 1077 by Seljuk Turks put the church in danger once more. Rumors began to circulate that the Turks wanted to destroy the church and/or kill Christian pilgrims. In fact, the liberation of the church from the hands of unbelievers was one of the major reasons why the crusades were embarked upon. The church of the holy sepulcher was reconsecrated to God on July 15, 1149, exactly fifty years after the Crusaders took control.
Despite its long and sometimes immensely difficult history, the church remains an incredible religious complex that is a testament to the faithful nature of God. The church, like Christianity, is still standing despite a lot of tribulations.
IMPORTANCE OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE CHURCH
- It houses one of the holiest sites in the history of Christianity. Golgotha, or Calvary, as the case may be, is a very important site in Christianity. It’s the place where the ultimate sacrifice was made and our sins were paid for. It is, therefore, a constant reminder of the life that Jesus gave to have us saved.
- Apart from just being a holy site, it is also a site of pilgrimage. Every year, hundreds of people troop to the holy church of the sepulcher to offer prayers and do the pilgrimage. To the host country, it offers a lot of revenue in terms of tourism earnings.
- The site is also important as the place where St Helena, mother of Constantine I, found the “true cross”. The chapel of Helena was built there as an edifice to her honor and under the chapel is yet another chapel called the chapel of the finding of the True Cross. The holy relic was reportedly discovered here.
FACTS ABOUT THE CHURCH
There are a lot of facts that distinguish the Holy church of the sepulcher from other churches.
- Before the church was built, the site it is standing on now hosted a temple dedicated to Aphrodite.
- When Muslims took Jerusalem, they decided not to burn down the church and they, in fact, protected it.
- Most of what is now the church was built by the crusader kings. The original church was burnt down in 1009
- The fabled “rock of Calvary”, the rock that Jesus was reportedly crucified on is in the church. It is encased in glass and it is the most visited point in the church.
- According to some traditions, the skull of the first man, Adam, was buried beneath the place that Jesus was crucified.
- The dome of the church has a 12 pointed star. This signifies the reach of the 12 apostles.
- The church also contains the ” Prison of Christ”, a place where some Christians believe that Christ was held before the crucifixion.
THE CRUSADER KINGS AND THEIR BURIALS IN THE HOLY CHURCH OF THE SEPULCHRE
For a very long while (from around 1099 to 1244), the sepulcher and indeed Jerusalem was under the rulership of the Crusader kings. The Crusader kings insisted on being buried in the church. The kings buried there are;
- Godfrey of Bouillion, a Frankish knight and one of the leaders of the first crusade, died in Jerusalem after a long illness. He was the first crusader king to be buried in the sepulcher
- Baldwin the first of Jerusalem. He was buried there after dying at Al-Arish. He died from a suddenly reopened wound. He told his cook to remove his intestines and his body was preserved in salt so that he would be able to be buried in the holy sepulcher.
- Baldwin II was the cousin of Baldwin the first and was offered the throne after Eustace III of Boulogne refused to become King of Jerusalem. He fell very ill at Antioch and was buried in the Sepulchre after taking monastic vows.
- Baldwin III of Jerusalem was also buried in the Sepulchre after being reportedly poisoned in Syria
- Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, who was called the Leper King. He died at the age of 24 and was also buried in the holy church of the sepulcher.
- Baldwin V, who was crowned co-king with Baldwin IV of Jerusalem at the age of 5, was also buried at the church
- Fulk, King of Jerusalem, who led the Kingdom of Jerusalem to its highest territorial extent, was buried at the church too.
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