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Holy Sepulchre Through the Ages

28 March, 201328 March, 2013 0 comments Holy Sites Holy Sites

“Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull”. (Jn 19:17)


Jesus Christ was unjustly pronounced to death, however, he did not oppose to the given sentence for it was his wish and act of an unconditional love to die for our sins and be a redeemer to us. He was crucified and later entombed on a hill called Golgotha in Aramaic, Kranion in Greek, and Catvary in Latin, which means ‘skul’. This was also the place of his resurrection.


In the gospels, the place of the Skull is described as garden just outside the walls of Jerusalem, which gives us a good impression of the common tradition among the civilizations of the ancient world to place tombs outside the city walls.


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However, due to many changes in the topography of the town, nowadays, we cannot see Golgotha as it used to be on the day of Christ’s death. In 41-42 AD Herod Agrippa enlarged the city walls towards the northwest, so the place of the Skull became incorporated into the proper part of Jerusalem.


Temple of Jupiter


Early Christians used to gather in the places significant for Jesus’ life. Thus, the area of Golgotha was a site of their worship, probably until 135 AD, when the Roman Emperor Hadrian decided to reconstruct Jerusalem and name it Aelia Capitolina. The Emperor, as an opponent to Christianity, built over Calvary an altar dedicated to Jupiter and over the Tomb an altar for Venus.


Constantinian Church


According to the writings of historian Eusebius (263 – 339 AD), the Roman temple stood on the site of Golgotha until 326 A.D. This was the year in which Empress Helena, mother of the First Christian Emperor of Rome - Constantine, began her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During her journey she founded multiple churches - one of them was the splendid Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, which was inaugurated in 335.


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The architects of Emperor Constantine raised tree blocks of buildings, which position and arrangement are still visible today.


The first block, called Anastasis and meaning resurrection, contained the Tomb, which isolated from the mountain, stood in the center of a colonnade of double row of columns supporting a cupola with an oculus. This part till now remains almost intact.


The second block occupied the area called the Holy Garden, which on the sides had galleries enclosing a vast open space. In the south corner stood the Rock of Calvary, on which shone a cross of gold. Its principal architectural elements were arcades and galleries. Today of the Constantinian construction all that remains is the long wall to the north.


The third block of Martyrion Basilica, formed a great construction erected for liturgical celebrations, which could be entered by atrium from the main street Cardo Maximus of Aelia. Unfortunately, not much remains of that part, so it is impossible to fully reconstruct the plan this building.


Persian Invasion


The impressive edifice of Constantine was destroyed during the Persian invasion of 614, but immediately after, the church was restored by the Abbot Modestus, however on a reduced plan.


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Caliph Hakem


In the 11th century, the fanatic Caliph Hakem again brought the Holy Sepulcher into destruction, however its restoration was completed in 1048 by Emperor Constantine Monomachus. And this time only the Anastasis regained its former magnificence and the other Holy Sites were marked just by little oratories.




In the 12th century, the cupola over Christ’s Tomb and the chapels on Calvary were joined together under one roof, within a magnificent cathedral. The Rotunda (Anastasis) was conserved in great part and furnished with a grand triumphal arch opening on the new church erected on the former garden, used as a choir, which was contained within pillars and columns, provided with a  tribune and surrounded by and ambulatory.


The southern courtyard was beautified with a bell tower and a noble entrance to Calvary, called the Chapel of the Franks. The North aisle, called “The Arches of the Virgin” was not changed. According to Tradition, this is where Mary walked to visit her Son’s Tom. Saint Helena’s lower Basilica was built during the Crusader era, as was the Chapel of the Finding of the Holy Cross.


The edifice of the Crusaders, although despoiled of its early splendour and disfigured by later additions and deplorable restoration, exists to this day in its main outline.




Nowadays, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher looks like a puzzle – it is shared on many small chapels, which each of them has its own name.


The churche’s façade till now preserves the characteristic of the crusader architecture. It has twin doors, the right of which has been closed in the time of Saladin (end of 12th century), the other has since 1246 been confided to the custody of two Muslim families, one of each keeps the key, while the other has the right of opening.


The last structural changes were made after the great fire in 1808. Among other works, the Rotunda over the Tomb was renovated. From the Constantine times, there remain only its external walls. The elegant marble columns were in 1810 enclosed in the massive pillar, which reduced the diameter of the Rotunda from the 33 m to 19,30 m.


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Catholic celebrations for Easter 2013 in the Holy Sepulchre:


Good Friday - 29th of March

  • 8.00 The doors of the Basilica open (Note: only for celebration, not for visits and close shortly afterwards.)
  • 8.15 Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Calvary
  • 11.30 Way of the Cross from the I. Station (Omarije School) to the Holy Sepulchre with the Fransiscan fathers
  • 16.00 Service
  • 20.10 "Funeral" Procession


Holy Saturday - 30th of March

  • 7.30 Easter Vigil
  • 15.15 Entrance and solemn procession
  • 18.00 Evening prayer in front of the Holy Tomb
  • 00.30 Pontifical celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours in front of the Holy Tomb with the Custos of the Holy Land


Easter Sunday - 31st March

  • 9.30 Entrance of the Latin Patriarch
  • 9.45 Pontifical mass and solemn procession
  • 17.00 Daily procession


Easter Monday - 1st April

  • 8.00 Daily solemn mass
  • 17.00 Daily procession


If you go:


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located at St. Helena Street in the Old City of Jerusalem. Phone: (02) 6273314


Opening hours: (April-September) Sundays 5.00 am - 8.00 pm, Monday Saturday 5.00 am - 9.00 pm. (October-March) Sundays 4.00 am - 7.00 pm. Monday-Saturday  4.00 am - 7.00 pm





Armenian Orthodox

8.45 am Liturgy twice a month

9.45 am Liturgy (S) twice a month

4.15 pm Procession (W)

5.15 pm Procession (S)

3.30 am Liturgy (W)

4.30 am Liturgy (S)

4.15 pm Procession Fri.& Sat. (W)

5.15 pm Procession Fri.& Sat. (S)

Coptic Orthodox

7.00 am Liturgy (W)

8.00 am Liturgy (S)

6.00 am Liturgy Wed.& Fri. (W)

7.00 am Liturgy Wed. & Fri. (S)

2.30 pm Vespers Sat. (W)

4.00 pm Vespers Sat. (S)

Greek Orthodox

7.00 am Orthros (W)

8.00 am Orthros (S)

11.00 pm Liturgy (W)

12.00 mn Liturgy (S)

Roman Catholic


between 5.30 am & 8.00 am

6.30 am High Mass (Latin)

6.00 pm



between 4.30 am & 7.00 am

5.30 am High Mass (Latin)

5.00 pm


between 5.30 am & 8.00 am

7.30 am High Mass (Latin)

6.00 pm Saturday



between 4.30 am & 7.00 am

6.30 am High Mass (Latin)

5.00 pm Saturday

Syrian Orthodox

8.30 am Liturgy (W)

9.30 am Liturgy (S)




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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010. 


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