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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Relics of Jesus

 

Shroud of Turin

Veil of Manoppello

Sudarium of Oviedo

Tunic of Argenteuil

True Cross

The practice of venerating relics of holy people is common to many faiths. For most Christians, physical objects associated with Jesus Christ or a saint have special significance and perhaps even healing power.

The Gospels tell of people being cured by touching Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 6:56). The Acts of the Apostles says Paul’s handkerchiefs healed the sick (Acts 19:11-12).

The earliest Christian communities would have treasured any reminder of their Saviour, but a flood of fake relics into Europe during the Crusades caused a general scepticism towards Christian relics.

Artefacts of the Crucifixion — fragments of the True Cross, Crown of Thorns and Nails, genuine or spurious — competed with a claimed feather from the archangel Gabriel’s wing, Noah’s axe, wine from the wedding feast of Cana, and hair of the Virgin Mary.

“What lies there are about relics!” Martin Luther declared.

He surmised that “one could build a whole house using all the parts of the True Cross found scattered throughout the world”. But when 19th-century French architect Charles Rohault de Fleury catalogued all known fragments he found they totalled only 4000 cubic centimeters — less than 3 per cent of the likely volume of the Cross.

In the 21st century, Polish journalist Grzegorz Górny and photographer Janusz Rosikoń spent two years investigating Christ’s relics for their book Witnesses to Mystery.

“Almost everywhere we went,” Górny said, “we were confronted with the same remarkable phenomenon: these relics seemed to attract the attention of academics more than that of religious devotees.”

Many purported relics of Jesus may be genuine, though their authenticity is impossible to prove. This article looks at some that have been subjected to scientific scrutiny.

Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin, held in a chapel behind the Turin Cathedral, is the most scientifically studied religious relic in history. But science has been unable to prove whether it is the burial cloth of Jesus, with his image etched on its fibres at his Resurrection, or an ingenious medieval forgery.

Pilgrims viewing the Shroud during an exposition in 2015 (Stefano Guidi / Shutterstock)

Pilgrims viewing the Shroud of Turin during an exposition in 2015 (Stefano Guidi / Shutterstock)

The full-length image corresponds in many ways with the circumstances of Christ’s death as described in the Gospels. It depicts a muscular man of about 180cm and 77kg, who had been flogged, crowned with thorns, crucified by being nailed through the wrists, and wounded in the right chest.

The earliest mention of a cloth bearing the image of Jesus was by the Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-339), who said it was in Edessa (now the Turkish city of Urfa) at the court of the Arab King Abgar V, who died in AD 40 after reputedly converting to Christianity. There are later indications of its presence in Antioch, Cilicia, Cappadocia, Constantinople and Athens.

The first documented exposition of the cloth now held in Turin was at Lirey, in northern France, in 1355. It was sold to the Duke of Savoy in 1453 and moved to Turin in 1578. In 1983 it was donated to the Holy See, the episcopal jurisdiction of the Pope.

In 1532, while in Chambery, capital of the Savoy region of France, parts of the Shroud were charred in a chapel fire. Local nuns mended the damaged areas.

In 1898 Italian photographer Secondo Pia discovered that the image on the Shroud is in the form of a photographic negative. Every effort using modern technologies to produce an image with the same physical and chemical characteristics has failed.

Original negative of Italian photographer Secondo Pia in 1898 (Musée de l'Élysée, Lausanne)

Original negative of Italian photographer Secondo Pia in 1898 (Musée de l’Élysée, Lausanne)

Comprehensive research was carried out in 1978 by the Shroud of Turin Research Project team, which reported: “We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of haemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery . . . .”

Most of the pollen grains found on the Shroud are from plants that grew in Judea. Mineral particles are of argonite, used in buildings of old Jerusalem.

The blood cells are from the rare AB group, more often found in Jews. But there is no image beneath the blood stains — so the blood was deposited before the image was formed.

How a man’s image could be imprinted on both sides of a cloth, at a depth of only about 200 nanometres, still puzzles scientists.

After five years of testing, Italian scientists from the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development concluded in 2011 that it could only be the effect of an enormous discharge of electromagnetic energy in a very short amount of time — something like a flash of light.

“We have shown that a short burst of high-intensity ultraviolet light gives a linen colouration which overlaps much better with the microscopic characteristics of the Shroud image, compared to the colouration obtained thus far by chemical ‘contact’ methods like paints, acids and powders.”

However, they added, the ultraviolet radiation needed to instantly colour a cloth the size of the Shroud would require the power of 34 thousand billion watts — many thousand times more powerful than any modern source could provide.

Full-length negative of the front image on the Shroud (Wikipedia)

Full-length negative of the front image on the Shroud (Wikipedia)

In 1988 Church authorities permitted a small piece to be cut from a corner of the Shroud for radiocarbon dating. Tests carried out in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona, under the auspices of the British Museum, dated the cloth to AD 1260-1390 — suggesting the Shroud was a medieval forgery.

While this result appeared conclusive, other scientists questioned it on several grounds. These included:

„♦ The 81mm by 16mm sample was taken from only one area, a corner where it had been held up by unwashed hands for public exhibitions over the centuries.

In 2005 American chemist Raymond Rogers claimed this area contained almost indistinguishable cotton threads from the mending by nuns after the 1532 fire. Swiss textile restorer Mechthild Flury-Lemberg, who had carried out conservation work on the Shroud, said this was not so, but “The presence of the greasy dirt deposit at the ‘removal site’ alone would be sufficient to demonstrate the uselessness of the carbon-14 method, without having to construct an untenable ‘mending theory’.”

„ ♦ The porous nature of textiles such as linen, especially those frequently handled and exposed to human influences — make it difficult to find samples that have never been in contact with polluting materials. The Shroud’s fibres are dirty and heavily polluted by dust, burned shards, mucilage, mildew, spores, mites, and fungi.

„ ♦ Raw data from the 1988 tests was never released, despite numerous requests from scholars. Then French researcher Tristan Casabianca in 2017 used a Freedom of Information action to obtain data from the British Museum. A two-year analysis by a French-Italian team found the 1988 results were unreliable.

As the director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Professor Christopher Ramsey, acknowledged back in 2008: “There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the Shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow and so further research is certainly needed.”

 

Veil of Manoppello

A church in the village of Manoppello, in Italy’s Abruzzo province, displays a cloth with an image that bears a striking resemblance to the face on the Turin Shroud.

Unlike the Shroud’s image of a dead man, with eyes closed, the Veil of Manoppello shows the face of a living man, his open eyes engaging the viewer with a steady gaze.

Sixth-century sources locate such a cloth in the town of Camulia, near Edessa. In 574 the emperor Justin II moved it to Constantinople.

Believed to be one of the burial cloths of Jesus, it was adopted as the imperial standard and even taken into battle. Its image became the model for Christ’s face on Byzantine coins.

Around 700 Patriarch Kallinikos I of Constantinople took the cloth to Rome. Displayed in the old St Peter’s Basilica, it became the most popular pilgrimage attraction in medieval Rome and was referred to by Petrarch and Dante.

It became known as the Veronica, after the name of a woman in the devotional Stations of the Cross. On the way to Calvary, she reputedly wiped the face of Jesus and had his image imprinted on her cloth — an incident not recorded in the Gospels. The name given the woman derives from the Latin adjective vera (true) and Greek noun eikon (image).

In the 16th century the cloth mysteriously disappeared. An empty frame, with broken glass, remained in the Vatican treasury and an indistinct replica was displayed once a year in the new St Peter’s.

By 1638 the cloth had reappeared in Manoppello, where it is kept in a glass monstrance above the main altar in the Capuchin church and may be viewed from both sides.

Image on the Veil of Manoppello (ElfQrin / Wikipedia)

Image on the Veil of Manoppello (ElfQrin / Wikipedia)

The lifesize image is of a bruised face, curled sideburns, wisps of hair in the middle of a high forehead, and a thin beard forked in two. Every change of angle or lighting gives a different appearance.

“In person, it changes like a rainbow and seems to combine traits of holograms, photographs, paintings, and drawings,” writes journalist Grzegorz Górny.

The 17cm by 24cm cloth is of very thin byssus, a rare and expensive fibre known in ancient times as “silk from the sea” and obtained from mother-of-pearl. Scientists have found there are no traces of paint, rather the image results from modification of the fabric’s fibres and has a three-dimensional character.

Experts say intrusive scientific examination of the Veil is not possible because it would probably fall apart if it were removed from the two panes of lead glass where it has been stuck for centuries — and contamination from lead oxide in the glass could distort results.

While the Shroud of Turin is a photographic negative, the image on the Veil of Manoppello is positive. But scientists who have compared the two images have remarked on their similarity.

When Professor Andreas Resch, of the Institute for the Field Limits of Science in Innsbruck, overlaid high-definition prints of both images he concluded they showed “a 100 per cent match”.

“We can give only one explication of the perfect superimposition: the Veil of Manoppello and the Holy Shroud of Turin were in the same place,” he said.

There is one enigmatic difference that no scientist can explain: Although the cloth is transparent, the lock of hair in the middle of the forehead appears differently on each side.

Professor Jan S. Jaworski, of the University of Warsaw, and Professor Giulio Fanti, of the University of Padua, see this as “one of the particularities that speak in favour of the hypothesis of an Acheropita image” — meaning an image made without human hands.

They said their comparative study of the Veil and the Shroud also corroborated “the hypothesis that both images represent the face of the same tortured body”.

 

Sudarium of Oviedo

A crumpled piece of cheap linen with bloodstains but no image is kept in the Cathedral of Oviedo, in north-west Spain. It is believed to have been wrapped around Jesus’ head after he died, before Pontius Pilate gave permission for his body to be taken down from the cross.

The Sudarium — Latin for sweat cloth — would therefore be “the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head . . . rolled up in a place by itself” that was found in the empty tomb after the Resurrection, as described in John 20:7.

Tests on the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin have found that the blood on both relics is of the same AB type.

Radiocarbon dating has placed the 84cm by 53cm cloth at around AD 700. Since it is first mentioned 130 years earlier by Antoninus of Piacenza, the radiocarbon result emphasises the difficulty of dating woven fabrics.

Sudarium of Oviedo (Reinhard Dietrich / Wikipedia)

Sudarium of Oviedo (Reinhard Dietrich / Wikipedia)

Antoninus in AD 570 wrote that the Sudarium was being cared for in a cave near the monastery of St Mark at Jerusalem. Later manuscripts trace its movements from Jerusalem to Alexandria, Cartagena, Seville and Toledo. It has been in Oviedo since the 11th century.

According to Dr Alfonso Sánchez Hermosilla, medical examiner for the Spanish Sindonology Research Centre Team: “From the forensic anthropology and forensic medicine point of view, all the information discovered by the scientific research is compatible with the hypothesis that the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo covered the corpse of the same person.”

The most detailed research was carried out by a Valencia-based group, including specialists in criminology and haematology, in 1989. It concluded that the cloth covered the head of a body that had “died in conditions totally compatible with those of crucifixion”, and that stains caused by sharp objects on the nape of the neck were consistent with the head being crowned with thorns.

In Jewish custom such a cloth would have been wrapped around the head after Jesus’ death to absorb blood from his nose and mouth. Then it would have been placed in the tomb with the body.

X-ray fluorescence testing has found dirt on the Sudarium similar to samples from the site of Calvary. Pollen grains endemic to the Mediterranean region were identified, three of them found only in Palestine. Traces of myrrh and aloe, used in anointing corpses, were also noted.

 

Tunic of Argenteuil

A tattered and bloodstained woollen garment, woven without seams, is preserved in the Basilica of St Denis in Argenteuil, a north-western suburb of Paris.

Is this the “seamless tunic” of Jesus referred to in the Gospel of John (19:23), for which the Roman soldiers cast lots at the Crucifixion?

After vague references to it in the 5th and 6th centuries, the Tunic of Argenteuil is believed to have been obtained by the emperor Charlemagne, who bequeathed it before he died in 814 to the Benedictine convent in Argenteuil, where his daughter Theodrada was abbess.

Around 850 the convent was destroyed in a Norman invasion, but before then the Tunic had been walled up in a special hiding place with letters in French and Latin attesting to its origin. The garment and letters were rediscovered in 1156.

In 1793 the parish priest of Argenteuil cut the Tunic into several pieces, each hidden in a different place, to prevent its complete destruction during the French Revolution. Most of the pieces were later recovered and sewn together with a reinforcing lining.

Restoration was undertaken in 2015, when the garment was sewn on to a paler woollen cloth.

Tunic of Argenteuil (Shroud.com)

Tunic of Argenteuil (Shroud.com)

The tunic measures one metre across and is just under a metre long. It is woven from sheep’s wool, dyed purple-brown by a mixture of madder (a plant found in the Mediterranean region) and a mordant of iron.

In 1998 scientists from the Optics Institute in Paris found the bloodstains on the Tunic coincided with the wounds visible on the Shroud of Turin. The AB blood type is the same as on the Shroud and the Sudarium of Oviedo.

In 2004 further investigations were undertaken by French scientists Professor André Marion and Professor Gérard Lucotte, founders of the Institute of Genetic Molecular Anthropology in Paris.

Using scientific imaging equipment, Professor Marion mapped the bloodstains and found the most bloodied areas were in a 20cm strip from the left shoulder to the middle of the back, suggesting they were made by a long and heavy object that pressed against the wearer’s back.

Professor Lucotte found traces of urea, a constitutive element of perspiration, in the blood. He said these indicated the rare condition of haematidrosis, in which extreme stress causes a person to sweat blood. The Gospel of Luke (who was a doctor) records that Jesus sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:44).

The scientists found pollen grains belonging to several plant species already discovered on the Turin Shroud or Sudarium of Oviedo.

The Tunic was radiocarbon dated in 2004 and 2005, the results indicating the periods of AD 530-650 and AD 670-880. Supporters of the Tunic see these results — as with the carbon dating of the Shroud and the Sudarium — as further indications of the difficulty of dating woven fabrics, which easily absorb contaminating substances.

Furthermore, if the radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin (to AD 1260-1390), the Sudarium of Oviedo (to around AD 700) and the Tunic of Argenteuil (to AD 530-880) are all accurate, then it must be assumed that three highly sophisticated forgeries were produced over a period of hundreds of years during the Middle Ages, all consistent in blood type, arrangement of wounds and presence of pollen grains.

 

True Cross

Of all the reputed relics of Jesus, the best-known are fragments believed to be from the True Cross. Scores of these are venerated in churches around the world.

The largest (63.5cm by 39.3cm and 3.8cm thick) is in the Monastery of Saint Toribio De Liébana near Potes in northern Spain. Another large piece (over 42cm long) is in St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

Reputedly the largest surviving piece of the True Cross, in Monastery of Saint Toribio De Liébana, Spain (Francisco J. Díez Martí / Wikipedia)

Reputedly the largest surviving piece of the True Cross, in Monastery of Saint Toribio De Liébana, Spain (Francisco J. Díez Martí / Wikipedia)

Other relics are held in Jerusalem by the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Syriac Orthodox Church. There are three in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

In the absence of radiocarbon dating, their authenticity cannot be established.

St Helena, mother of emperor Constantine, is believed to have unearthed the True Cross in a cistern near Golgotha during preparations for building the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the site of the Crucifixion around 325.

Eusebius of Caesarea cites a letter written between 338 and 340 by Constantine to Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem saying that Helena had found “evidence of Christ’s holy Passion, which had lain hidden for so long”.

Helena is said to have divided the Cross into three pieces. She took one to Rome, left one in Jerusalem, and gave the third to her son to take to Constantinople, his new capital.

Fragments were soon circulating, as St Cyril of Jerusalem declared in 348 that the “whole earth is full of the relics of the Cross of Christ”.

The pilgrim Egeria wrote of venerating the piece in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Good Friday in 383.

In 638, as Muslim forces besieged Jerusalem, Patriarch Sophronius I divided the relic into 19 pieces and distributed them across the Middle East. Only four remained in Jerusalem when the Crusaders recaptured the city in 1099.

Titulus Christi in Rome (Reliquiosamente.com)

Titulus Christi in Rome (Reliquiosamente.com)

When the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople in 1204, the piece of the True Cross held there was carved up and slivers were given to churches, monasteries and palaces across Europe.

The devotion accorded these relics, often held in reliquaries of precious metals, no doubt encouraged the thriving trade in spurious items that took place at this time.

In Rome, Helena kept her part of the True Cross in her palace, the Palazzo Sessoriano, which she later converted into the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem — so called because she ordered soil from Jerusalem to be spread on the floor around the reliquary.

Three small pieces are still displayed there, along with other reputed relics of the Passion and a tablet called the Titulus Crucis, which was traditionally believed to have been part of the wooden notice placed by Pontius Pilate on the Cross, bearing the words “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. (John 19:19-20)

Radiocarbon dating tests on the Titulus were carried out by the Roma Tre University of Rome in 2002, giving a result of AD 980-1146, so it may be a copy of the lost original which pilgrims in the 4th and 6th centuries reported seeing in Jerusalem.

 

References

Cruz, Joan Carroll: Relics (Our Sunday Visitor, 1984)
Górny, Grzegorz, and Rosikoń, Janusz: Witnesses to Mystery; Investigations into Christ’s Relics (Ignatius Press, 2019)
Pazos, Antón M. (ed): Relics, Shrines and Pilgrimages: Sanctity in Europe from Late Antiquity (Routledge, 2020)
The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (official booklet)
Thiede, Carsten Peter, and D’Ancona, Matthew: The Quest for the True Cross (Phoenix, 2000)

 

Official websites

Shroud of Turin
Holy Face Sanctuary, Manoppello
Tunic of Argenteuil

 

Other external links

3-D Processing to Evidence Characteristics Represented in Manoppello Veil (The Holy Face of Manoppello)
14C Dating of the ‘Titulus Crucis’ (The University of Arizona)
ABO-typing of ancient skeletons from Israel (American Journal of Physical Anthropology)
A Comparison between the Face of the Veil of Manoppello and the Face of the Shroud of Turin (Heritage)
AMS Dating Textiles (Beta Analytic Testing Laboratory)
An instructive inter-laboratory comparison: The 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin (Journal of Archaeological Science)
Commonalities between the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo (Spanish Sindonology Research Centre)
Comparative Study of the Sudarium of Oviedo and the Shroud of Turin (Spanish Sindonology Research Centre)
Proceedings of International Workshop on the Scientific Approach to the Acheiropoietos Images (ENEA Research Center of Frascati)
Radiocarbon Dating of the Turin Shroud: New Evidence from Raw Data (Archaeometry)
Researching relics: new interdisciplinary approaches to the study of historic and religious objects (ResearchGate)
Santo Toribio de Liébana (Wikipedia)
Shroud of Turin (Wikipedia)
Shroud of Turin: Interview with Researcher Who Debunked the 1988 ‘Medieval’ Dating (Townhall)
Statistical and Proactive Analysis of an Inter-Laboratory Comparison: The Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin (Entropy)
Sudarium of Oviedo (Conservapedia)
The Seamless Tunic (Shroud of Turin website)
The Sudarium of Oviedo and the Shroud of Turin (The Review of Religions)
The Holy Face (Juliusz Maszloch)
The Invisible Mending of the Shroud, the Theory and the Reality (Mechthild Flury-Lemberg)
The Shroud of Turin: A Critical Summary of Observations, Data and Hypotheses (Turin Shroud Center of Colorado, 2017)
The Shroud of Turin: forgery or divine? A scientist writes (Tom Chivers)
The Shroud of Turin: Latest Study Deepens Mystery (National Catholic Register)
The Sudarium of Oviedo and the Shroud of Turin (The Review of Religions)
The Sudarium of Oviedo: Its History and Relationship to the Shroud of Turin (Mark Guscin)
Titulus Crucis (Wikipedia)
True Cross (Wikipedia)

Events in Jesus’ life

Significant events in the life of Jesus are listed here, with places where these events are commemorated.

Conception of Jesus: Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth (Luke 1:26-38)

Birth of Jesus: Grotto of the Nativity, in Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-20)

Baptism of Jesus: Bethany Beyond the Jordan, in Jordan (Matthew 3:13-17)

Temptation by the devil: Mount of Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11)

First miracle: Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11)

Meeting the Samaritan woman: Jacob’s Well, near Nablus (John 4:5-42)

Teaching in the Nazareth synagogue: Church of the Synagogue, Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30)

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Remains of Christian sites at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, with steps leading to Church of John the Baptist, under far shelter (Seetheholyland.net)

Teaching in the Capernaum synagogue: Old synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21-28)

Sermon on the Mount: Mount of Beatitudes, Galilee (Matthew 5:1 – 7:28)

Raising the widow’s son: Nain in Galilee (Luke 7:11-17)

Calming the storm, and many other events: Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41)

Teaching the Lord’s Prayer: Church of Pater Noster, Mount of Olives (Matthew 6:7-14)

Healing a man possessed by demons: Kursi in Galilee (Luke 8:26-39)

Feeding the 5000: Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, Tabgha in Galilee (Matthew 14:13-21)

Healing a paralysed man: Pools of Bethesda, Jerusalem (John 5:2-18)

Healing blind men: Pool of Siloam, Jerusalem (John 9:1-41); Bethsaida in Galilee (Mark 8:22-26)

Announcing the Church: Near Caesarea Philippi in Galilee (Matthew 16:18)

Transfiguration: Mount Tabor in Galilee (Matthew 17:1-9)

Raising of Lazarus: Bethany, near Jerusalem (John 11:1-44)

Bethany

Entrance to the Tomb of Lazarus (Seetheholyland.net)

Healing of Bartimaeus: Jericho (Mark 10:46-52)

Seeking refuge at Ephraim: Taybeh (John 11:54)

Triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Bethphage (Matthew 21:1-11)

Weeping over Jerusalem: Church of Dominus Flevit, Mount of Olives (Luke 19:41-44)

Last Supper: Cenacle, Mount Zion (Matthew 26:17-30)

Agony in the garden: Church of All Nations, Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:36-46)

Betrayal by Judas: Gethsemane, Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:47-56)

Denial by Peter: Church of St Peter in Gallicantu, Mount Zion (Matthew 26:69-75)

Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection: Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (Matthew 27:27 – 28:10)

Appearance on the road to Emmaus: Nicopolis, Abu Ghosh and El-Qubeibeh (Luke 24:13-35)

Appearance in Galilee: Church of the Primacy of Peter, Tabgha (John 21: 1-19)

Ascension: Dome of the Ascension and Church of the Ascension, Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-11)

 

 

Monastery of the Cross

Jerusalem

The Monastery of the Cross is one of Jerusalem’s lesser-known gems, although its claimed connection to the cross on which Jesus was crucified may belong more to legend than to reality.

Monastery of the Cross

Bell tower dominating Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The fortress-like appearance of buttressed walls and high windows confirm that its location in the Valley of the Cross was originally an isolated site outside the protective walls of the city.

Now the monastery and its adjacent parkland in West Jerusalem are surrounded by Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) to the north, the Israel Museum to the west, the upmarket Rehavia neighbourhood to the east, and four-lane highways on the south and east.

The monastery’s name comes from a traditional belief that the wood of Jesus’ cross came from a tree planted here in ancient times.

The most common account says Lot planted the tree, but another version involves Adam.

Monastery of the Cross

Painting of Lot watering the tree in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The monastery appears to have been founded no later than the 5th century, though no two sources agree on who founded it.

Some credit the emperor Constantine, his mother St Helena or King Mirian III of Georgia.

It was rebuilt in the 11th century by the Georgian monk Prochorus, on the remains of an earlier structure destroyed by the Persians. Occupied by hundreds of monks, it became the religious and cultural centre for Georgians living in Palestine.

In 1685, with Georgia in decline and subjugated by the Persians and Ottomans, the monastery was taken over by the Greek Orthodox, who restored and repaired it in the 1960s and 70s.

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Georgian epic poem was written here

A haven of quiet in busy Jerusalem, the Monastery of the Cross seems to have changed little in centuries.

Monastery of the Cross

Frescoes on walls and pillars in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The complex contains a chapel, living quarters for monks, several courtyards, a small museum with exhibits illustrating monastery life in the past, the old refectory and kitchen, a coffee shop and a gift shop.

In the chapel, a basilica with a central dome, the walls and pillars are decorated with frescoes from the 12th and 17th centuries. The iconostasis separating the sanctuary from the nave contains many icons and paintings.

To the right of the altar is a mosaic floor, all that remains of a 5th-century church destroyed by the Persians in 614.

One of the frescoes commemorates Georgia’s national poet, Shota Rustaveli, who lived in the monastery in the early 13th century and wrote the epic poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.

In 2004 an unknown vandal scratched out Rustaveli’s face and part of the accompanying inscription — a fate that had also been suffered by other Georgian artworks in the monastery during the preceding decades.

Monastery of the Cross

Disc under altar marking supposed site of the tree in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

 

Frescoes tell story of the tree

On the left side of the chapel, a doorway leads to the heart of the monastery.

A narrow passageway with displays of old vestments in glass cabinets leads to a darkened chapel. Beneath the altar, a circular plate surrounds the place where the tree of the cross is supposed to have stood.

Beside it is a repository for photographs of people who are sick or in need of help, for whom prayers are being offered.

Heavily-restored medieval frescoes on the walls tell the story of the tree.

First, Abraham is shown with three heavenly visitors (Genesis 18:1-15) who give him three staffs, of cedar, cypress and pine. After Sodom is destroyed, Abraham gives the staffs to his nephew Lot.

Lot plants the staffs and waters them from the Jordan River. The three woods grow into a single tree.

Monastery of the Cross

Wood from the tree being used for the Crucifixion (© Chad Emmett)

Centuries later the tree is cut down and a beam prepared for the cross.

 

Administered by: Confraternity of the Holy Sepulchre (Greek Orthodox)

Tel.: 052-221-5144

Open: Apr-Sep, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Oct-Mar, Mon-Sat 10am-4pm

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and Monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

External links

Monastery of the Cross (BibleWalks)
Monastery of the Cross (Orthodox Wiki)

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Domes and cropped bell tower of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem covers what Christians believe is the site of the most important event in human history: The place where Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

But the pilgrim who looks for the hill of Calvary and a tomb cut out of rock in a garden nearby will be disappointed.

• At first sight, the church may bring on a sense of anticlimax. Looking across a hemmed-in square, there is the shabby façade of a dun-coloured, Romanesque basilica with grey domes and a cut-off belfry.

• Inside, there is a bewildering conglomeration of 30-plus chapels and worship spaces. These are encrusted with the devotional ornamentation of several Christian rites.

This sprawling Church of the Holy Sepulchre displays a mish-mash of architectural styles. It bears the scars of fires and earthquakes, deliberate destruction and reconstruction down the centuries. It is often gloomy and usually thronging with noisy visitors.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre from above, huddled in by surrounding buildings (Ilan Arad / Wikimedia)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre from above, huddled in by surrounding buildings (Ilan Arad / Wikimedia)

Yet it remains a living place of worship. Its ancient stones are steeped in prayer, hymns and liturgies. It bustles daily with fervent rounds of incensing and processions.

This is the pre-eminent shrine for Christians, who consider it the holiest place on earth. And it attracts pilgrims by the thousand, all drawn to pay homage to their Saviour, Jesus Christ.

 

Church replaced pagan temple

Early Christians venerated the site. Then the emperor Hadrian covered it with a pagan temple.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Parvis (courtyard) of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

Only in AD 326 was the first church begun by the emperor Constantine I. He tore down the pagan temple and had Christ’s tomb cut away from the original hillside. Tradition says his mother, St Helena, found the cross of Christ in a cistern not far from the hill of Calvary.

Constantine’s church was burned by Persians in 614, restored, destroyed by Muslims in 1009 and partially rebuilt. Crusaders completed the reconstruction in 1149. The result is essentially the church that stands today.

Making sense of the church

Of all the Christian holy places, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is probably the most difficult for pilgrims to come to terms with.

To help make sense of it, this article deals with the church’s major elements and its authenticity. A further article, Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels, deals with its other devotional areas.

1. The main access to the church, on its south side, is from the Souk el-Dabbagha, a street of shops selling religious souvenirs. Visitors enter the left-hand doorway (the right one was blocked up by Muslim conquerors in the 12th century).

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Climbing steps to Calvary (Seetheholyland.net)

2. Instead of following tourists into the often-gloomy interior, immediately turn hard right and ascend a steep and curving flight of stairs. You are now ascending the “hill” of Calvary (from the Latin) or Golgotha (from the Aramaic), both words meaning “place of the skull”. The stairs open on to a floor that is level with the top of the rocky outcrop on which Christ was crucified. It is about 4.5 metres above the ground floor.

3. Immediately on the right is a window looking into a small worship space called the Chapel of the Franks. Here the Tenth Station of the Cross (Jesus is stripped of his garments) is located.

On the floor of Calvary are two chapels side by side, Greek Orthodox on the left, Catholic on the right. They illustrate the vast differences in liturgical decoration between Eastern and Western churches.

4. The Catholic Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross is the site of the Eleventh Station of the Cross (Jesus is nailed to the cross). On its ceiling is a 12th-century medallion of the Ascension of Jesus — the only surviving Crusader mosaic in the building.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Crucifixion (Seetheholyland.net)

5. The much more ornate Greek Chapel of the Crucifixion is the Twelfth Station (Jesus dies on the cross). Standing here, it is easy to understand a little girl’s remark, quoted by the novelist Evelyn Waugh in 1951: “I never knew Our Lord was crucified indoors.”

6. Between the two chapels, a Catholic altar of Our Lady of Sorrows commemorates the Thirteenth Station (Jesus is taken down from the cross).

7. A silver disc beneath the Greek altar marks the place where it is believed the cross stood. The limestone rock of Calvary may be touched through a round hole in the disc. On the right, under glass, can be seen a fissure in the rock. Some believe this was caused by the earthquake at the time Christ died. Others suggest that the rock of Calvary was left standing by quarrymen because it was cracked.

8. Another flight of steep stairs at the left rear of the Greek chapel leads back to the ground floor.

9. To the left is the Stone of Anointing, a slab of reddish stone flanked by candlesticks and overhung by a row of eight lamps.

Stone of Anointing from above (Seetheholyland.net)

Stone of Anointing from above (Seetheholyland.net)

Kneeling pilgrims kiss it with great reverence, although this is not the stone on which Christ’s body was anointed. This devotion is recorded only since the 12th century. The present stone dates from 1810.

10. On the wall behind the stone is a Greek mosaic depicting (from right to left) Christ being taken down from the cross, his body being prepared for burial, and his body being taken to the tomb.

11. Continuing away from Calvary, the Rotunda of the church opens up on the right, surrounded by massive pillars and surmounted by a huge dome. Its outer walls date back to the emperor Constantine’s original basilica built in the 4th century. The dome is decorated with a starburst of tongues of light, with 12 rays representing the apostles.

12. In the centre is a stone edicule (“little house”), its entrance flanked by rows of huge candles. This is the Tomb of Christ, the Fourteenth Station of the Cross.

This stone monument encloses the tomb (sepulchre) where it is believed Jesus Christ lay buried for three days — and where he rose from the dead. A high-tech photogrammetric survey late in the 20th century showed that the present edicule contains the remains of three previous structures, each encasing the previous one, like a set of Russian dolls.

The Edicule after restoration in 2017 (Ben Gray / ELCJHL)

The Edicule after restoration in 2017 (Ben Gray / ELCJHL)

13. At busy times, Greek Orthodox priests control admission to the edicule. Inside there are two chambers. In the outer one, known as the Chapel of the Angel, stands a pedestal containing what is believed to be a piece of the rolling stone used to close the tomb.

14. A very low doorway leads to the tomb chamber, lined with marble and hung with holy pictures. On the right, a marble slab covers the rock bench on which the body of Jesus lay. It is this slab which is venerated by pilgrims, who customarily place religious objects and souvenirs on it.

The slab was deliberately split by order of the Franciscan custos (guardian) of the Holy Land in 1555, lest Ottoman Turks should steal such a fine piece of marble.

An agreement between the major Christian communities at the church enabled work to begin in May 2016 to reinforce and restore the edicule. The work was undertaken by a team of scientists from the National Technical University of Athens.

Inside the restored tomb chamber, with the window exposing the rock wall of the burial cave at left (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Inside the restored tomb chamber, with the window exposing the rock wall of the burial cave at left (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

In October 2016 the team removed the marble slab, exposing a layer of fill material covering another slab of marble with a small Crusader cross etched on it. Beneath it was the bench on which the body of Jesus lay.

When the team restored the marble cladding and resealed the burial bed, they also cut a small window into the southern interior wall of the shrine to expose one of the limestone walls of the burial cave.

The multi-million-dollar restoration was completed in March 2017. The reddish-cream marble of the edicule emerged cleaned of centuries of grime, dust and soot from candle smoke, and freed from a grid of iron girders that had held it together since 1947.

But scientists warned that even more work would be necessary to shore up the unstable foundations of the shrine and the surrounding rotunda to avoid the risk of collapse.

Three denominations share ownership

Ownership of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared between the Greek Orthodox, Catholics (known in the Holy Land as Latins) and Armenian Orthodox.

The Greeks (who call the basilica the Anastasis, or Church of the Resurrection) own its central worship space, known as the Katholikon or Greek choir. The Armenians own the underground Chapel of St Helena which they have renamed in honour of St Gregory the Illuminator.

Katholikon (or Greek choir), the central worship space in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

The Catholics own the Franciscan Chapel of the Apparition (which commemorates the tradition that the risen Christ first appeared to his Mother) and the deep underground Chapel of the Finding of the Cross.

Three minor Orthodox communities, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian, have rights to use certain areas. The Ethiopian monks live in a kind of African village on the roof, called Deir es-Sultan.

The rights of possession and use are spelt out by a decree, called the Status Quo, originally imposed by the Ottoman Turks in 1757. It even gives two Muslim families the sole right to hold the key and open and close the church — a tradition that dates back much further, to 1246.

 

Ladder symbolises Status Quo

Each religious community guards its rights jealously. The often-uneasy relationship laid down by the Status Quo is typified by a wooden ladder resting on a cornice above the main entrance and leaning against a window ledge.

Chapel of the Finding of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

Chapel of the Finding of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The ladder has been there so long that nobody knows how it got there. Various suggestions have been offered: It was left behind by a careless mason or window-cleaner; it had been used to supply food to Armenian monks locked in the church by the Turks; it had served to let the Armenians use the cornice as a balcony to get fresh air and sunshine rather than leave the church and pay an Ottoman tax to re-enter it.

The ladder appears in an engraving of the church dated 1728, and it was mentioned in the 1757 edict by Sultan Abdul Hamid I that became the basis for the Status Quo.

Immovable ladder on ledge over entrance to Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

It would be too much to expect that the ladder seen today has resisted the elements since early in the 18th century. In fact the original has been replaced at least once.

In 1997 the ladder suddenly disappeared for some weeks, after a Protestant prankster hid it behind an altar. When it was discovered and returned, a steel grate was installed over the lower parts of both windows above the entrance. And in 2009 the ladder mysteriously appeared against the left window for a day.

The ladder, window and cornice are all in the possession of the Armenian Orthodox. And because the ladder was on the cornice when the Status Quo began in 1757, it must remain there.

 

Archaeology supports authenticity

Visitors may easily be disillusioned by the church’s contrasting architectural styles, its pious ornamentation and its competing liturgies.

If these man-made elements could be removed, as biblical scholar John J. Kilgallen has written, “we would stand between two places not more than 30 yards [90 feet] apart, with dirt and rock and grass under our feet and the open air all around us. Such was the original state of this area before Jesus died and was buried here.”

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Inside the Tomb of Christ (© Adriatikus)

But is this the place where Christ died and was buried? “Very probably, Yes,” declares biblical scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor in his Oxford Archaeological Guide The Holy Land. Eusebius, the first Church historian (in the 4th century), says the site was venerated by the early Christian community.

And the Israeli scholar Dan Bahat, former city archaeologist of Jerusalem, says: “We may not be absolutely certain that the site of the Holy Sepulchre Church is the site of Jesus’ burial, but we have no other site that can lay a claim nearly as weighty, and we really have no reason to reject the authenticity of the site.”

One major objection raised is that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is inside the city walls, while the Gospels say the crucifixion took place outside. Archaeologists have confirmed that the site of the church was outside the city until about 10 years after Christ’s death, when a new wall was built.

Some favour a competing site, the Garden Tomb. Though it offers a more serene environment, the tombs in its area predate the time of Christ by several centuries.

Further article:

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels, dealing with the other devotional areas.

 

In Scripture:

The crucifixion: Matthew 27:27-56; Mark 15:16-41; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:16-37

The burial of Jesus: Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42

The Resurrection: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10

Administered by: Confraternity of the Holy Sepulchre (Greek Orthodox), Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (Catholic), Brotherhood of St James (Armenian Orthodox)

Tel.: 972-2-6267000

Opens: Apr-Sep 4am, Oct-Mar 5am. Closes: Apr-Aug 8pm, Mar and Sep 7.30pm, Oct-Feb 7pm.  Sunday morning liturgies are usually: Coptic 4am, Catholic 5.30am, Greek Orthodox 7am, Syriac Orthodox 8am; Armenian Orthodox 8.45am on alternating Sundays with a weekly procession at 4.15pm.

 

 

References:
Bahat, Dan: “Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?” (Biblical Archaeology Review, May-June 1986)
Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Benelli, Carla, and Saltini, Tommaso (eds): The Holy Sepulchre: The Pilgrim’s New Guide (Franciscan Printing Press, 2011).
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Cohen, Raymond: Saving the Holy Sepulchre: How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue their Holiest Shrine (Oxford University Press, 2008)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Hadid, Diaa: “Risk of Collapse at Jesus’ Tomb Unites Rival Christians” (New York Times, April 6, 2016)
Herman, Danny: “Who Moved the Ladder?” (Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2010).
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Notley, R. Steven: Jerusalem: City of the Great King (Carta Jerusalem, 2015)
Powers, Tom: “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Some perspectives from history, geography, architecture, archaeology and the New Testament” (Artifax, Autumn 2004-Spring 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Simmermacher, Günther: The Holy Land Trek: A Pilgrim’s Guide (Southern Cross Books, 2012).
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)
Waugh, Evelyn: “The Plight of the Holy Places” (Life, December 24, 1951.
Wright, J. Robert: “Holy Sepulchre” (Holy Land, spring 1998)

External links:

Holy Sepulchre (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Wikipedia)
The Church and the Ladder: Frozen in Time (James E. Lancaster)
Unsealing of Christ’s reputed tomb turns up new revelations (National Geographic)
Jesus’ tomb reopens in Jerusalem after multi-million dollar restoration (Haaretz)
Tomb of Christ at Risk of ‘Catastrophic’ Collapse (National Geographic)

Via Dolorosa

Jerusalem

Via Dolorosa

First Station: Pilgrims carry a cross through the courtyard of the Al-Omariyyeh College (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Chapel of the Flagellation

Chapel of the Condemnation

Ecce Homo Arch

 

Every Friday afternoon hundreds of Christians join in a procession through the Old City of Jerusalem, stopping at 14 Stations of the Cross as they identify with the suffering of Jesus on his way to crucifixion.

Their route is called the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows). This is also the name of the principal street they follow, a narrow marketplace abustle with traders and shoppers, most likely similar to the scene on the first Good Friday.

It is unlikely that Jesus followed this route on his way to Calvary. Today’s Via Dolorosa originated in pious tradition rather than in certain fact, but it is hallowed by the footsteps of the faithful over centuries.

 

Franciscans lead procession

Via Dolorosa

First Station: Franciscan friars begin the Friday observance in the courtyard of the Al-Omariyyeh College (Seetheholyland.net)

The Friday procession is led by Franciscan friars, custodians of most of the holy places since the 13th century.

It starts at 4pm — 3pm in winter, from late October till late March — at an Islamic college, Umariyya School, just inside St Stephen’s or Lions’ Gate. Pilgrims wind their way westward to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the last five Stations are located.

Each procession is accompanied by Muslim escorts, in Ottoman uniforms of red fez, gold-embroidered waistcoat and baggy blue trousers, who signify their authority by banging silver-topped staves on the ground.

Many other pilgrims, individually or in groups with guides, follow the same 500-metre route during the week.

Via Dolorosa

Route of the Via Dolorosa (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

For those walking the Via Dolorosa on their own, the route is not easy to follow.

A simple map is available from the Christian Information Centre, Omar Ibn el-Khattab Square, Jaffa Gate (closed on Sundays, Christian holidays and Saturday afternoons). The PlanetWare travel guide also has a map.

 

Number of Stations has varied

While scholars disagree on the path Jesus took on Good Friday, processions in the 4th and 5th centuries from the Mount of Olives to Calvary followed more or less along the route taken by modern pilgrims (but there were no stops for Stations).

The practice of following the Stations of the Cross appears to have developed in Europe among Christians who could not travel to the Holy Land. The number of Stations varied from 7 to 18 or more.

Today’s Via Dolorosa route was established in the 18th century, with the present 14 Stations, but some of the Stations were given their present location only in the 19th century.

Via Dolorosa

Bronze discs mark Stations on the Via Dolorosa; the crossed arms are a Franciscan symbol (Seetheholyland.net)

Nine of the 14 stations are based on Gospel references. The other five — Jesus’ three falls, his meeting with his Mother, and Veronica wiping his face — are traditional.

 

Place of judgement unknown

The chief difficulty in determining Jesus’ path to Calvary is that nobody knows the site of Pontius Pilate’s Praetorium, where Jesus was condemned to death and given the crossbeam of his cross to carry through the streets.

There are three possible locations:

Herod the Great’s Palace or Citadel, which dominated the Upper City. The remains of the Citadel complex, with its Tower of David (erected long after King David’s time), are just inside the present Jaffa Gate. This is the most likely location.

Via Dolorosa

Second Station: Ecce Homo Arch over Via Dolorosa, with Sisters of Zion convent at right (Seetheholyland.net)

• The Antonia Fortress, a vast military garrison built by Herod the Great north of the Temple compound and with a commanding view of the Temple environs. The Umariyya School, now the location of the first Station of the Cross, is believed to stand on part of its site.

• The Palace of the Hasmoneans, built before Herod’s time to house the rulers of Judea. It was probably located midway between Herod’s Palace and the Temple, in what is today the Jewish Quarter.

In the immediate area of the Antonia Fortress is the Ecce Homo Arch, reaching across the Via Dolorosa. It is named after the famous phrase (“Behold the Man” in Latin) spoken by Pilate when he showed the scourged Jesus to the crowd (John 19:5). But the arch was built after Jesus stood before Pilate.

Adjacent to the arch is the Ecce Homo Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion (the entrance is near the corner of the Via Dolorosa and a narrow alley called Adabat el-Rahbat, or The Nuns Ascent).

Via Dolorosa

Second Station: Roman soldiers’ game in Lithostrotos pavement under Zion Sisters convent (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Underneath the convent, pilgrims can visit stone pavings which were once claimed to be the Stone Pavement (Lithostrotos) where Pilate had his judgement seat (John 19:13).

Markings in the paving stones, indicating a dice game known as the King’s Game, suggested this was where Jesus was mocked by the soldiers (John 19:2-3). Yet this pavement is also from a later date.

Chapels worth visiting

Several of the chapels at the various Stations of the Cross are not often open to the public. Two at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa are open daily (8-12am, 2-5pm) and are worth visiting before starting the Way of the Cross.

Across the street from Umariyya School is a Franciscan compound containing the Chapel of the Flagellation and the Chapel of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross.

Via Dolorosa

Second Station: Jesus takes up his cross, in Chapel of the Condemnation (Tom Callinan/Seetheholyland.net)

The Chapel of the Flagellation is notable for its stained-glass windows behind the altar and on either side of the sanctuary. They show Pilate washing his hands; Jesus being scourged; and Barabbas expressing joy at his release. On the ceiling above the altar, a mosaic on a golden background depicts the crown of thorns pierced by stars.

The Flagellation Museum, displaying archaeological artifacts from several Holy Land sites, including Nazareth, Capernaum and the Mount of Olives, is open daily (except Sunday and Monday), 9am-1pm and 2-4pm.

The Chapel of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross is topped by five white domes. Artwork includes papier-mâché figures enacting some of the events of Jesus’ Passion.

Paving stones at the back of the chapel are part of the pavement that extends under the Ecce Homo Convent.

Via Dolorosa

Third Station: Relief depicting Jesus’ first fall (Seetheholyland.net)

Opposite the chapel entrance is a model of Jerusalem in the first century AD, showing how the sites of Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre were outside the city walls.

 

The 14 Stations

Numbering of the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa traditionally uses Roman numerals, and in 2019 bronze sculptures were added to depict what is commemorated at each station:

I: Jesus is condemned to death

Via Dolorosa

Fourth Station: Sculpture depicting Jesus meeting his Mother (Seetheholyland.net)

About 300 metres west of St Stephen’s or Lions’ Gate, steps lead up to the courtyard of Umariyya School (open Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 2.30-6pm, Friday 2.30-4pm; entry with caretaker’s permission).

Here the First Station is commemorated. The southern end of the courtyard offers a view overlooking the Temple Mount.

II: Jesus carries his cross

Across the street, near where an arch stretches over the Via Dolorosa, the Second Station is marked by the words “II Statio” on the wall of the Franciscan Friary.

III: Jesus falls the first time

Down the Via Dolorosa, under the Ecce Homo Arch and about 100 metres along, a sharp left turn into Al-Wad Road brings pilgrims to a small chapel on the left, belonging to the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate.

Via Dolorosa

Fifth Station: Pilgrims on the Way of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

Above the entrance, a stone relief of Jesus falling with his cross marks the Third Station. Inside, a similar image is watched by shocked angels.

IV: Jesus meets his Mother

The Fourth Station is now commemorated adjacent to the Third Station. Until 2008 this Station was commemorated a further 25 metres along Al-Wad Road.

The stone relief marking the Station is over the doorway to the courtyard of an Armenian Catholic church. In the crypt are a strikingly attractive adoration chapel and part of a mosaic floor from a 5th-century church. In the centre of the mosaic is depicted a pair of sandals, said to represent the spot where the suffering Mary was standing.

Via Dolorosa

Sixth Station: Column imbedded in wall recalls tradition that Veronica wiped Jesus’ face here (Seetheholyland.net)

V: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross

About 25 metres further along Al-Wad Road, the Via Dolorosa turns right. At the corner, the lintel over a doorway bears a Latin inscription marking the site where Simon, a visitor from present-day Libya, became involved in Jesus’ Passion.

The Franciscan chapel here, dedicated to Simon the Cyrenian, is on the site of the Franciscans’ first house in Jerusalem, in 1229.

VI: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

The Via Dolorosa now becomes a narrow, stepped street as it wends its way uphill. About 100 metres on the left, a wooden door with studded metal bands indicates the Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church of St Veronica.

According to tradition, the face of Jesus was imprinted on the cloth she used to wipe it. A cloth described as Veronica’s veil is reported to have been kept in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome since the 8th century.

VII: Jesus falls the second time

Via Dolorosa

Seventh Station: Relief depicting Jesus’ second fall, in one of the chapels at the Station (Seetheholyland.net)

About 75 metres further uphill, at the junction of the Via Dolorosa with Souq Khan al-Zeit, two Franciscan chapels, one above the other, mark the Seventh Station.

Inside the lower chapel is a large stone column, part of the colonnaded Cardo Maximus, the main street of Byzantine Jerusalem, which ran from north to south.

The position of this Station marks the western boundary of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time. It is believed he left the city here, through the Garden Gate, on his way to Calvary.

VIII: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem

Across Souq Khan al-Zeit and about 20 metres up a narrower street, the Eighth Station is opposite the Station VIII Souvenir Bazaar.

On the wall of a Greek Orthodox monastery, beneath the number marker is a carved stone set at eye level. It is distinguished by a Latin cross flanked by the Greek letters IC XC NI KA (meaning “Jesus Christ conquers”).

Via Dolorosa

Eighth Station: Stone in wall, carved with Latin cross (Seetheholyland.net)

IX: Jesus falls the third time

Now it is necessary to retrace one’s steps back towards the Seventh Station, and turn right along Souq Khan al-Zeit.

Less than 100 metres on the right is a flight of 28 wide stone steps. At the top, a left turn along a winding lane for about 80 metres leads to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, where the shaft of a Roman pillar to the left of the entrance marks Jesus’ third fall. Nearby is the Coptic Chapel of St Helen.

To the left of the pillar, three steps lead to a terrace that is the roof of the Chapel of St Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here, in a cluster of primitive cells, live a community of Ethiopian Orthodox monks.

X: Jesus is stripped of his garments

The last five Stations of the Cross are situated inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Via Dolorosa

Ninth Station: Roman pillar in far corner marks Jesus’ third fall (Seetheholyland.net)

If the door to the roof of the church is open, a short cut is possible.

On the terrace, the second small door on the right leads into the Ethiopians’ upper chapel. Steps at the back descend to their lower chapel, where a door gives access to the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre basilica.

The Friday procession, however, returns along the winding lane and stone steps to Souq Khan al-Zeit, turning right after about 40 metres into Souq al-Dabbagha.

After about 80 metres, bearing to the right, a small archway with the words “Holy Sepulchre” leads into the church courtyard.

To the right inside the main door of the church, 19 steep and curving steps lead up to the chapels constructed above the rock of Calvary.

The five Stations inside the church are not specifically marked.

Via Dolorosa

Tenth Station: Interior of Chapel of the Franks, where the Tenth Station is located (Seetheholyland.net)

After ascending the steps inside the door, immediately on the right is a window looking into a small worship space called the Chapel of the Franks (a name traditionally given to the Franciscans). Here, in what was formerly an external entrance to Calvary, the Tenth Station is located.

XI: Jesus is nailed to the cross

The Catholic Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross, in the right nave on Calvary, is the site of the Eleventh Station.

On its ceiling is a 12th-century medallion of the Ascension of Jesus — the only surviving Crusader mosaic in the church.

Via Dolorosa

Eleventh Station: Catholic chapel on Calvary floor commemorates the nailing of Jesus to the cross (Seetheholyland.net)

XII: Jesus dies on the cross

The much more ornate Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Crucifixion, in the left nave of Calvary, is the Twelfth Station.

A silver disc beneath the altar marks the place where it is believed the cross of Christ stood. The limestone rock of Calvary may be touched through a round hole in the disc.

XIII: Jesus is taken down from the cross

Between the Catholic and Greek chapels, a Catholic altar of Our Lady of Sorrows, depicting Mary with a sword piercing her heart, commemorates the Thirteenth Station.

XIV: Jesus is laid in the tomb

Via Dolorosa

Twelfth Station: Close-up of figure of Christ in Chapel of the Crucifixion (Picturesfree.org)

Another flight of steep stairs at the left rear of the Greek chapel leads back to the ground floor.

Downstairs and to the left, under the centre of the vast dome of the church, is a stone monument called an edicule (“little house”), its entrance flanked by rows of huge candles.

This is the Tomb of Christ, the Fourteenth Station of the Cross.

This stone monument encloses the tomb (sepulchre) where it is believed Jesus lay buried for three days — and where he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning.

 

Related articles:

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre Chapels

 

Via Dolorosa

Fourteenth Station: Edicule over the Tomb of Jesus (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

In Scripture:

The crucifixion: Matthew 27:24-61; Mark 15:15-47; Luke 23:24-56; John 18:13—19:42

Via Dolorosa

Resurrected Christ behind ornate lamps above the door of the edicule (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The empty tomb: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke: 24:1-12; John 20:1-10

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-2-6272692

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Beitzel, Barry J.: Biblica, The Bible Atlas: A Social and Historical Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Global Book Publishing, 2007)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Hibbs, Jon: “Jerusalem: Pilgrims and Playboys”, The Telegraph, April 3, 1999
Jacobs, Daniel: Jerusalem: The Mini Rough Guide (Rough Guides, 1999)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus in Jerusalem – his First and Last Days in Judea (Corazin Publishing, 1996)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Zohar, Gil: “X Marks the Spot”, Associated Christian Press Bulletin, January-February 2009

External links

Way of the Cross (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Via Dolorosa: Way of the Cross (iOS app, World Evangelical Alliance)
Flagellation (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

 

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