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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Church of the Redeemer

Jerusalem

Church of the Redeemer

Bell tower of Church of the Redeemer with Mount of Olives in background (Seetheholyland.net)

 

The Church of the Redeemer is the newest church in the Old City of Jerusalem, but its site has a history going back to Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, in the 9th century.

The plain-looking neo-Romanesque building — with a tall bell tower dominating the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre nearby — is the headquarters of the Lutheran Church in the Holy Land. It is the home to congregations that worship in Arabic, German, Danish and English.

Underneath the church, an excavated area opened in 2012 allows visitors to see ancient remains from the pre-Christian era.

The opening of the church in 1898 was a result of a 19th-century awakening of interest in the Holy Land among European Protestants. This had led Lutherans from Prussia and Anglicans from England to share a joint bishop of Jerusalem for 40 years.

Church of the Redeemer

Church of the Redeemer seen from Muristan (Israeltourism)

The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer stands on the north-east corner of a complex of streets called the Muristan (a name derived from the Persian word for hospital). It was built on the site of the medieval church of St Mary of the Latins, which had been in ruins for centuries.

In Crusader times the Muristan was the bustling home of three churches with associated pilgrim hostels and a large hospital where the medieval Order of St John was established to care for the sick and wounded.

 

Ancient wall identified in error

Churchbuilding in the Muristan began after the Caliph of Bagdhad, Harun al-Rashid (of One Thousand and One Nights fame), gave the area to the emperor Charlemagne at the beginning of the 9th century.

Church of the Redeemer

Church of the Redeemer bell tower looking down on domes of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

Only ruins remained when Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (later Kaiser Friedrich III) obtained possession of the eastern half of the Muristan in 1869 to build a church for the German-speaking population.

During excavations for the foundations, an ancient wall was discovered and assumed — in error — to be the long-sought second wall of Jerusalem.

Because the location of the second wall was crucial to confirming that Calvary and the Tomb of Christ were outside the city at the time of the Crucifixion, the newly-discovered wall was regarded as a sort of relic that gave the new church a share in the status of the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

This is why the church was named the Church of the Redeemer.

Church of the Redeemer

Interior of Church of the Redeemer (Seetheholyland.net)

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany and his wife, Empress Augusta Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria of England), attended the dedication in 1898, the emperor riding into the city on a white horse through a specially-made opening near the Jaffa Gate.

On the same day, Wilhelm II took possession of a piece of land on Mount Zion to give to the German Catholics for a church. This is where the Church of the Dormition now stands.

 

Panoramic views from bell tower

Inside the bell tower of the Church of the Redeemer, a circular staircase of 178 steps offers panoramic views of Jerusalem from 40 metres up.

To the north is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other buildings of the Christian Quarter. To the east is the Dome of the Rock and, behind it on the horizon, the tall tower of another Lutheran landmark, the Church of the Ascension (also known as Augusta Victoria, after the empress).

Church of the Redeemer

View from Church of the Redeemer bell tower towards Dome of the Rock (Chris Yunker)

To the south, across the Muristan, is the Armenian Quarter and, on the horizon, the Church of the Dormition. To the west, past the tall minaret of the Mosque of Omar, is the new city of Jerusalem.

Though the walls of the church were originally richly decorated, renovations in 1970 left the interior bare, apart from abstract stained-glass windows and two images.

In the apse above the altar is a mosaic medallion of the head of Christ the Redeemer.

In the right apse is a brightly coloured icon in which God the Father (portrayed with the facial characteristics of Christ) sends a rainbow to Noah at the end of the flood. The German wording “Ich stele meinen Bogen in die Wolken” (I have set my bow in the clouds) is from Genesis 9:13.

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Archaeological remains agree with Crucifixion accounts

Church of the Redeemer

Rainbow icon in Church of the Redeemer (DiggerDina)

Beneath the church, archaeological excavations descending to a depth of 13 metres were opened to the public in 2012.

These reveal ruins of the mosaic floor of the old St Mary of the Latins church (two metres below the present ground level) and the remains of a cobbled street.

There is also evidence of a quarry that provided Herod the Great with stone blocks for his building projects and was later used for gardens around the time of Christ — findings that accord with Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion.

Also revealed is part of the ancient wall that was wrongly thought to be the second wall of Jerusalem and is now believed to date from the late Roman period (2nd to 4th centuries after Christ).

Beside the wall is a deep trench dug down to bedrock by archaeologists in the 1970s.

Church of the Redeemer

Archaeologist Dieter Vieweger pointing to the wall that was wrongly assumed to be the second wall of Jerusalem (© Tom Powers)

The church complex includes an exhibition hall explaining its history and a two-storeyed medieval cloister, the best-preserved of its kind in Jerusalem.

Adjacent to it is the vaulted Chapel of the Knights of St John. It is believed to be the original refectory, or dining hall, of the hospitaller knights.

 

Administered by: Evangelical Jerusalem Foundation

Tel.: 972-2-6276111

Open: Mon-Sat 9-12am, 1-5pm (closed Sunday). Museum: Mon-Sat 9-12am, 1-3.30pm.

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Krüger, Jürgen (translated by Rebecca Wright von Tucher): Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (Schnell, 1997)
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

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
Evangelisch in Jerusalem
The Excavations Beneath Jerusalem’s Lutheran Redeemer Church (Tom Powers)
The Touristic Development Project at the Excavation at the Church of the Redeemer (Deutsches Evangelisches Institut)
Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem

Christ Church

Jerusalem

 

Compared with the ancient churches of Byzantine or Crusader origin in Jerusalem’s Old City, Christ Church is a relative newcomer.

Christ Church

Entrance to Christ Church (Seetheholyland.net)

Yet this Anglican church, dating only from 1849, has its own historical claims: It was the first Protestant church in the Middle East, and the first Jerusalem church in modern times to use bells to call worshippers.

It may also be the only Christian church built to resemble a synagogue.

Christ Church, opposite the Citadel inside the Jaffa Gate, owes its existence to a 19th-century English initiative to bring Jews to Christianity. In its early years it became known as the “Jewish Protestant Church”.

Now its evangelical Anglican congregation — affiliated to the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem — celebrates both Jewish and Christian feasts and incorporates some Hebrew into its liturgy. There is also a Messianic Hebrew congregation and an Arabic fellowship.

The church also runs a guest house for pilgrims.

 

Supported Jewish homeland

Christ Church

Interior of Christ Church (Seetheholyland.net)

Christ Church was established by an Anglican missionary society, founded in 1809, called the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews. It is now called CMJ (the Church’s Ministry among the Jews) and, in Israel, ITAC (the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church).

Its founders were prominent evangelicals including William Wilberforce, who led the campaign to end British slavery. They believed that the Jewish people had to be returned to Palestine (then under Ottoman Turkish rule), where many would acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, before the Second Coming of Jesus could take place.

Their advocacy for a Jewish homeland in Palestine prompted the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which Britain pledged its support for this objective.

In 1833 the society established itself in Jerusalem — then a city of 90,000 entirely enclosed by the Old City walls — and began its outreach to Jews by founding a trades school, clinics and the city’s first modern hospital.

 

Christ Church

Christ Church compound (© Rick Lobs)

First bishop was former rabbi

A joint English/Prussian bishopric was established in 1841, on the initiative of King Frederick William IV of Prussia. The first bishop was a former Jewish rabbi, Michael Solomon Alexander, who had come to believe in Jesus while teaching Hebrew in England.

Construction of Christ Church, the seat of the bishopric, was not completed when Bishop Alexander died in 1845, after only three years in office.

Theological disagreements, combined with rising antagonism between Britain and Prussia, led to the dissolution of the English/Prussian partnership in 1887.

The following year the bishop’s seat was moved to the newly completed St George’s Cathedral, on Nablus Road in East Jerusalem.

 

Passed off as consul’s chapel

When Christ Church was being planned, Ottoman Turkish law forbade the building of new churches. So the church was built under the guise of being the chapel of the British consul, whose consulate had recently become established on adjacent land.

Christ Church

Sanctuary area of Christ Church (© Rick Lobs)

No local tradesmen were capable of building a modern structure with such high ceilings and thin walls, so stone masons from Malta were brought in. By reviving the ancient art of stone cutting, these masons stimulated building expansion in Jerusalem.

Because the Muslims Turks did not allow Christians to use a bell to call worshippers, Christ Church was built without a bell tower. Only after the Crimean War (1853-56) did the Anglicans dare to add a modest belfry and ring their bells.

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Cross was late addition

Christ Church

Altar with Christian and Jewish symbols in Christ Church (Ian W. Scott)

Behind its simple neo-Gothic exterior, Christ Church looks more like a synagogue than a Christian church. The intention was that Jews who entered it would be reminded of the Jewish origins of the Christian faith.

Like Jerusalem’s synagogues, the church faces the Temple Mount. The communion table and stained-glass windows contain Jewish symbols and Hebrew script

The wooden reredos screen behind the communion table is designed as a reminder of the holy ark in which synagogues keep the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah. Written on it in Hebrew are the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.

Christ Church

Stained-glass window with Star of David in Christ Church (Ian W. Scott)

The Jewish lineage of Jesus is signified by the Star of David on the communion table and in a stained-glass window at the back of the church.

For nearly a century Christ Church had no cross — until 1948, after the Arab-Israeli war put the Old City under Jordanian control. Then the rector hurried to the market to buy an olive-wood cross to place on the communion table, lest occupying Arab soldiers mistook the church for a synagogue.

 

Administered by: CMJ Israel

Tel.: 972-2-627-7727 or 627-7729

Open: 8am-8pm daily

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Crombie, Kelvin: Welcome to Christ Church (Bet Nicolayson Heritage Centre leaflet)
Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
Macpherson, Duncan: A Third Millennium Guide to Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Melisende, 2000)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)

 

External links

CMJ Israel

Churches in the Holy Land

Eastern Orthodox

Oriental Orthodox

Eastern Catholic

Roman Catholic

Anglican/Protestant/Evangelical

More than a score of Christian churches and denominations have a presence in the Holy Land — not always co-existing in harmony. In fact the scandal of the disunity of Christians is perhaps more evident in the land where the Church began than anywhere else on earth.

In the early centuries, when the Judaeo-Christian Church was still one and undivided, its expansion required organising into geographic units. Bishops of important centres became known as patriarchs — the title accorded Old Testament leaders such as Abraham.

The earliest patriarchates were Antioch (where the name “Christian” was first used), Alexandria and Rome, with Rome (the see of Peter) accorded primacy of honour. Each brought its own culture and traditions to its church-community.

Two more patriarchates, Constantinople and Jerusalem (the “Mother Church”), were later recognised, with Constantinople eventually being accorded second place after Rome. All were Greek-speaking except for Latin-speaking Rome.

Holy Land Christians

Church leaders of East and West at an ecumenical meeting (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

From the 4th century, theological disagreements arose over the nature of Christ. Often exacerbated by political and social tensions, these led the Assyrian Church of the East and what we know as the Oriental Orthodox churches (Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syriac) to break away. They are still not in communion with either Constantinople or Rome.

In the 11th century, long-standing disputes between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches of Christianity incited the Great Schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.

From the 16th century, groups within several Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches re-established communion with the Roman Catholic Church. These became the Eastern Catholic churches.

The 16th century also saw dissent within the Western (Roman) Church spark the Protestant Reformation, resulting in a multitude of new denominations.

The main Christian groupings in the Holy Land today are Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Roman (Latin) Catholic and Evangelical or Protestant.

Eastern Orthodox

Holy Land Christians

Greek Orthodox procession in Jerusalem (© Deror Avi)

Greek Orthodox form the largest Christian church in the Holy Land, their patriarch claiming direct descent from St James, the first bishop of Jerusalem.

Leadership in Israel is predominantly expatriate Greek, with married parish clergy and mainly Arab laity (in Jordan and Syria the leadership is largely Arab).

The Greek Orthodox holds major rights to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The community’s St John the Baptist Church on Christian Quarter Road is one of the oldest in Jerusalem, built originally in the 5th century, and today below street level.

Russian Orthodox pilgrims from Russia visited the Holy Land from the 11th century, but the church did not establish its own institutions in Palestine until the 19th century, when an area now known as the Russian Compound on the Jaffa Road was developed.

Holy Land Christians

Russian Church of St Mary Magdalene (Seetheholyland.net)

The Russian Revolution of 1917 ended pilgrimages from Russia and also led to a Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, in opposition to the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate. The two churches signed an act of canonical communion in 2007.

The best-known property of the Church Outside Russia is the onion-domed Church of St Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. The main Moscow Patriarchate church is the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the Russian Compound.

Romanian Orthodox, with their headquarters in Bucharest, established themselves in Jerusalem in 1935. The interior of their church, St George’s, at 46 Shivtei Israel Street, outside the Old City, is covered with frescoes in neo-Byzantine style.

A small number of clergy look after a big number of Romanian guest workers in Israel.

Oriental Orthodox

Holy Land Christians

Armenian Orthodox ceremony in Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

Armenian Orthodox form the world’s oldest national church, since Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, in AD 301.

Large numbers came to Jerusalem, where they claim the longest uninterrupted Christian presence. The Armenian Quarter occupies about one-sixth of the Old City.

St James’s Cathedral, in Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road, is on the site of the original church built over the place where the Armenians believe the head of the apostle James the Great is buried.

The community holds dearly to the memory of the genocide of more than a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks at the time of the First World War.

Holy Land Christians

Entrance to St Mark’s Syriac Orthodox Church (Seetheholyland.net)

Syriac Orthodox trace their church back to first-century Antioch (in present-day Turkey) and claim the apostle St Peter as their first patriarch in AD 37. Before going to Rome, Peter served seven years in Antioch.

The word “Syriac” is not a geographic indicator, but refers to the use of the Syriac Aramaic language, a dialect of the tongue Jesus spoke in first-century Palestine, in worship.

The Syriac Orthodox (often called “Jacobites”, after an early bishop) believe their St Mark’s Church is on the site of the Last Supper and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Their Patriarch of Antioch is based in Damascus.

Holy Land Christians

Coptic Orthodox chapel in Church of the Holy Sepuchre (James Emery)

Coptic Orthodox make up the largest Christian church in the Middle East, founded in Alexandria by the evangelist St Mark. Their leader, with the title of pope, is in Egypt. The liturgy is in Coptic, the ancient language of Egypt, with readings in Arabic.

The Jerusalem patriarchate and St Antony’s Church are close to the Ninth Station of the Via Dolorosa. The Coptic Orthodox also have a tiny chapel at the back of the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Ethiopian Orthodox trace their connection to Jerusalem back 1000 years before Christ, when the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12). She embraced his Jewish faith — and apparently Solomon too, since tradition credits them with a son named Menelik, who became emperor of Ethiopia.

Christianity is believed to have been introduced into Ethiopia by the eunuch finance minister of Queen Candace who came to Jerusalem to worship and was baptised by the apostle Philip (Acts 8:26-40).

Holy Land Christians

Queen of Sheba bringing gifts to Solomon, in Ethiopian Orthodox chapel (© Deror Avi)

The Ethiopian Orthodox retain some Jewish practices, including circumcision, and use freshly-baked bread for Communion.

Their biggest church in Jerusalem is the circular Dabra Gannat Monastery on Ethiopia Street, just off Prophet’s Street. They also occupy two chapels in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and a mud-hut village on its roof.

Eastern Catholic

Greek Catholics, known as Melkites (a word meaning “royalist”), form the second largest Christian church in the Holy Land — after the Greek Orthodox, whose Byzantine liturgy they share. Their Patriarch of Antioch is in Damascus.

Holy Land Christians

Street sign for Greek Catholic Patriarchate Road (Yoav Dothan / Wikimedia)

This Arab church has big numbers in the Galilee region and a small community in Jerusalem.

The fresco-covered patriarchate Church of the Annunciation, inside the Jaffa Gate and up Greek Catholic Patriachate Road, is described in the Living Stones Pilgrimage guidebook as “arguably the most representative Byzantine church in Jerusalem and . . . perhaps the best place to introduce yourself to Orthodox places of worship”.

Within the patriarchate building is a museum of Eastern Church traditions in the Holy Land (open 9am-12pm daily, except Sunday).

Chaldean Catholics separated from the Church of the East (also known as the Nestorian Church) in 1552. Most members are in Iraq (where they are the largest Christian church) and Iran, with a refugee Iraqi community in Jordan and emigrant communities as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Holy Land Christians

Chaldean Catholic refugees in Jordan (© Tasher Bahoo / Wikimedia)

The patriarchal seat is in Baghdad. In Jerusalem the patriarchal exarchate is at 7 Chaldean Street (off Nablus Road).

Syriac Catholics broke away from the Syriac Orthodox Church and have been in communion with Rome since the 1780s. They also trace their origins to the See of Antioch established by St Peter and retain much of the liturgy (in Aramaic) of their Orthodox counterpart.

Their Patriarch of Antioch is in Beirut. The Jerusalem patriarchal exarchate Church of St Thomas is at 2 Chaldean Street (off Nablus Road).

Armenian Catholics, who separated from the Armenian Orthodox Church, have been in communion with Rome since 1742. They have kept much of the Orthodox liturgy (in classical Armenian) and, like the Armenian Orthodox, suffered in the genocide by Ottoman Turks during the First World War.

Their headquarters is in Bzoummar, Lebanon. The Jerusalem patriarchal exarchate is at the Third Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa.

Holy Land Christians

St Maron, who gave the Maronite Catholics their name

Maronite Catholics, the largest Christian community in Lebanon, form the only Eastern church which has always been Roman Catholic, without an Orthodox counterpart.

Founded by St Maron, a 5th-century Syrian hermit, they use Aramaic in their worship and their patriarch is in Beirut. Their membership base in the Holy Land is in Galilee, which is just south of Lebanon.

The patriarchal vicariate is in the Old City on Maronite Convent Road, Jaffa Gate.

Roman Catholic

A Latin patriarchate was established in Jerusalem in 1099, 46 years after the East-West schism, during the Crusades. When the Crusaders were routed 90 years later, the Latin hierarchy fled the Holy Land.

Holy Land Christians

Franciscan friars in a Jerusalem market (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

In 1342 Pope Clement VI gave the custodianship of the holy places to the Franciscan order, whose founder, St Francis of Assisi, had visited the Holy Land in 1219-20.

The brown-robed Franciscans are still a familiar feature of the Holy Land, caring for holy places and active in parishes, schools and social works. Their Custody of the Holy Land is based at St Saviour’s Monastery on St Francis Street, New Gate, where St Saviour’s Church is the only Latin parish church in the Old City. They also retain possession of some chapels in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Holy Land Christians

Congregation in St Saviour’s Church (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

About 100 other Roman Catholic religious orders (70 of women and 30 of men) serve in the Holy Land.

In 1847 Pope Pius IX re-established a Latin patriarchate in Jerusalem, with headquarters in Latin Patriarchate Road. Latin-rite Catholics are predominantly Palestinian Arabs (as is the patriarch), though their numbers have been boosted by migrant workers from Asia and Latin America.

Since the mid-1950s there has also been a Hebrew-speaking Catholic community — including convert Jews, Catholic spouses of Jews, and immigrants who have assimilated into the Hebrew-speaking society — which now has its own patriarchal vicar.

Anglican/Protestant/Evangelical

The Anglican and Lutheran churches jointly set up a Jerusalem-based diocese for the Middle East in 1841, though this joint missionary venture ended in 1886. Today both churches have separate bishops (both Palestinian Arabs).

The Anglicans, usually referred to as “Evangelicals” or “Episcopals”, have St George’s Cathedral on Nablus Road, with both Arab and expatriate congregations. St George’s College, a continuing education centre, is within the cathedral compound.

Until the cathedral opened, the bishop’s seat was Christ Church, near the Jaffa Gate in the Old City. The first Protestant church in the Holy Land when it was completed in 1849, it serves Messianic Jews among its charismatic congregation.

Holy Land Christians

Hebrew-inscribed altar in Christ Church (Ian W. Scott)

Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany built the Church of the Redeemer in Muristan Road for the Lutherans and personally dedicated it in 1898.

The church has Arabic, German, English and Danish congregations, and its tall bell tower offers an overview of the Old City.

Several other Reformed churches are established in the Holy Land. They include Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Brethren, Church of God, Church of the Nazarene, Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), King of Kings Assembly, Pentecostal and Seventh-Day Adventist communities. Most evangelical Protestant churches are not recognised by the state of Israel.

Among those who identify as Jewish there are groups of Messianic Christians whose theology is conservatively evangelical and whose politics is predominantly Zionist, seeing the modern state of Israel as a fulfilment of biblical prophecies.

Related articles:

Inside an Eastern church

The Holy Land’s Christians

How to contact churches in Jerusalem

PHOTO CREDITS: Where the images above are not created by Seetheholyland.net, links to the sources can be found on our Attributions Page.

 

References

Bailey, Betty Jane and J. Martin: Who Are the Christians in the Middle East? (William B. Eerdmans, 2010)
Bausch, William J.: Pilgrim Church: A Popular History of Catholic Christianity (Twenty-Third Publications, 1993)
Caffulli, Giuseppe: “Jordan’s Christians: A Living Force” (Holy Land Review, Winter 2010)
Cragg, Kenneth: The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East (Westminster/John Knox, 1991)
Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
Faris, John D.: “Peter’s First See” (CNEWA World, March-April 2003)
Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land: The first ecumenical pilgrim’s guide (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Macpherson, Duncan (ed.): A Third Millennium Guide to Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Melisende, 2000)
Marchadour, Alain, and Neuhaus, David: The Land, the Bible and History: Toward the Land That I Will Show You (Fordham University Press, 2007)
Pentin, Edward: “Leading Efforts to Keep Christians in Holy Land” (Holy Land Review, Spring 2009)

 

Garden Tomb

Jerusalem

Garden Tomb

Visitors approach Garden Tomb (Seetheholyland.net)

In a setting of neatly maintained gardens and trees, the Garden Tomb provides a tranquil environment for prayer and reflection. But any claim that this is where Christ was buried and rose from the dead lacks authenticity.

The open tomb carved into a rock face, with skull-like erosion in a limestone cliff nearby, can be found down an alley off Nablus Road, north of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.

The site is particularly favoured by Protestant pilgrims, in preference to the cluttered Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. For a period it enjoyed the formal support of the Anglican Church.

“It is much easier to pray here than in the Holy Sepulchre,” writes Jerome Murphy-O’Connor in his Oxford Archaeological Guide The Holy Land. “Unfortunately there is no possibility that it is in fact the place where Christ was buried.”

 

Army officer was main advocate

Garden Tomb

Close-up of Skull Hill (Seetheholyland.net)

The Nablus Road site of the Garden Tomb was first proposed in 1842 by a German scholar, Otto Thenius. He suggested that the skull-faced cliff was the hill of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. John’s Gospel (19:17) describes the place of crucifixion as “The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha”. The rock-hewn tomb nearby was found in 1867.

The main advocate of this site was a British army officer and administrator, Major-General Charles Gordon, who visited Jerusalem in 1882-83. Though he had no academic education in history or archaeology, a dream assisted him to identify the cliff as the place where Jesus was crucified. For years the site was known as “Gordon’s Calvary”, Calvary being Latin for Golgotha.

The idea that the “Place of the Skull” was named because of a skull-like hill is a modern notion. Most early Christian commentators held that Golgotha was so named because it was a place of execution, where criminals’ skulls and bones lay scattered.


 

Precise location not in Gospels

The Gospels do not reveal the precise location of Golgotha or Christ’s sepulchre. They do say that:

• Christ was crucified near (but outside) the city and by a well-travelled road (since passersby mocked him).

• He was buried in a new tomb, hewn out of rock, in a nearby garden.

The Garden Tomb is certainly outside the walls of the Old City. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, however, is inside the walls — but it was outside until about a decade after the crucifixion of Christ, when the so-called third north wall was built by Herod Agrippa I.

The present 16th-century battlements, constructed by the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, follow the course of this 1st-century wall. This fact was not known in General Gordon’s time.

All the tombs in the Garden Tomb area date from 7 to 9 centuries BC — the time of Jeremiah or Isaiah, rather than Jesus. But the tombs within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were new in the time of Jesus.

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Environment encourages meditation

Garden Tomb

Meditative setting of Garden Tomb (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre also has longstanding tradition in its favour, indicating that it stands over the sites that the early Christian community venerated as the places where Christ died, was buried and rose again. The Garden Tomb site, on the other hand, was used by Christian Crusaders as a stable.

Despite its lack of authenticity, the Garden Tomb has an aura of calmness that encourages meditation.

“Walk around the gravel paths between the simple flower beds and the shrubs, and under the dark pines,” writes biblical historian E. M. Blaiklock. “Go one by one or two by two into the tomb, and pray for what lies nearest to the heart. A service is not necessary. It is a place in which you should meet with God alone, quietly, without distracting words, in tranquillity.”

Related sites:

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre Chapels

 

In Scripture:

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: Garden Tomb Association

Tel.: 972-2-539-8100

Open: 8.30am-noon; 2-5.30pm (closed Sundays except for service in English at 9am)

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Garden Tomb Association
Garden Tomb (Holy Land Photos)
Garden Tomb (BiblePlaces)
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