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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

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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)

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels

Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels

Pilgrims at the Stone of Anointing (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem — venerated as the place where Jesus Christ died and rose again — contains a bewildering conglomeration of 30-plus chapels and worship spaces. There are no helpful signs.

This article describes the most significant areas that are not covered in the main Church of the Holy Sepulchre article.

The description begins at the main door (on the south side of the church) and circles the church in a roughly clockwise manner.

Immediately inside the main door is the Stone of Anointing, a slab of reddish stone flanked by candlesticks and overhung by a row of eight lamps. It commemorates the place where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial (though this stone dates only from 1810). It belongs
jointly to the Greek Orthodox, Catholics
and Armenian Orthodox.


On the wall behind the stone, a Greek mosaic depicts (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.

To the left of the Stone of Anointing is a small circular slab with four pillars surmounted by a marble canopy. This shrine is the Armenian Station of the Holy Women. It commemorates Jesus’ mother and her companions who viewed the crucifixion.

On the wall behind the shrine, a large mosaic recalls the scene. The Armenians’ sacristy is on the left.

 

‘Little house’ encloses tomb

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels

Dome above edicule of the Tomb of Christ (Seetheholyland.net)

From this position the Tomb of Christ can be seen. A stone edicule (“little house”) encloses the sepulchre where it is believed Jesus lay buried for three days — and where he rose from the dead. (It is described in more detail in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre article.)

The lofty circular stone structure encompassing this whole area is known as the Rotunda. Above it is a huge dome decorated with a starburst of light.

Opposite the entrance to the Tomb, a triumphal arch built by the Crusaders leads to the basilica’s central worship space, the Katholikon. Originally the choir of the 12th-century Crusader church, it is now the Greek Orthodox cathedral.

A highly decorated screen called the iconostasis partially hides the altar from view. On the polished marble floor stands a goblet marking the “omphalos” (navel), the legendary centre of the earth. There are thrones for the patriarch of Jerusalem and the patriarch of Antioch.

 

Jewish tomb from 1st century

Behind the Tomb is a tiny Coptic chapel attached to the edicule.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels

First-century Jewish tombs adjacent to Chapel of St Joseph of Arimathea and St Nicodemus (Seetheholyland.net)

Directly opposite this tiny chapel, walk between two of the pillars of the Rotunda into a dilapidated room, the Syriac Orthodox Chapel of St Joseph of Arimathea and St Nicodemus. On Sundays and feast days it is furnished for the celebration of Mass.

On the far side of the chapel is the low entrance to two complete 1st-century Jewish tombs. Since Jews always buried their dead outside the city, this proves that the Holy Sepulchre site was outside the city walls at the time of the crucifixion. There is a tradition that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were buried here.

Catholic Chapel of the Apparition

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels

Chapel of the Apparition of Jesus to his Mother (Seetheholyland.net)

Returning to the Rotunda, the area to the left (on the north side of the church) belongs to the Catholics. There is an altar dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, then double bronze doors (donated by the people of Australia in 1982) lead to the Franciscan Chapel of the Apparition. It commemorates the ancient tradition that Jesus appeared to his mother after his Resurrection, an event not found in the Gospels.

On the right inside the entrance of the chapel is a section of a column, said to be the one to which Jesus was tied when he was scourged. Along the far wall, scenes of the Way of the Cross are depicted in wrought iron.

 

Greek and Armenian chapels

Returning past the altar of St Mary Magdalene, turn left into a rather dark gallery, known as the Arches of the Virgin (commemorating a belief that Mary made visits to her son’s Tomb). It contains pillars and other remains from earlier constructions.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels

Prison of Christ chapel in Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

At the far end, on the left, is a small Greek chapel called the Prison of Christ, apparently based on a belief that he was temporarily confined here before the crucifixion.

Further around the semi-circular aisle are two chapels on the left. The first is the Greek Chapel of St Longinus. It is dedicated to the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’ side with his spear and then accepted him as the Son of God.

Further along is the Armenian Chapel of the Division of the Raiment, recalling that the Roman soldiers divided Christ’s clothes among them.

Next on the left is a stairwell, its walls inscribed with hundreds of crosses left by pilgrims in past centuries.

 

Two chapels are underground

The 29 steep steps descend to the underground Armenian Chapel of St Helena. This was the crypt of the emperor Constantine’s 4th-century basilica and is therefore the oldest complete part of the entire building.

The Armenians have re-named the chapel to honour their national patron, St Gregory the Illuminator. The left-hand altar is dedicated to St Dismas (the Good Thief).

In an ancient quarry behind a wrought iron gate (open only with permission from the Armenians) is the Chapel of St Vartan and the Armenian Martyrs.

On a stone in a second-century wall is a drawing of a sailing vessel with a Latin inscription usually rendered as DOMINE IVIMUS (“Lord, we will go”). One interpretation is that it is a pilgrim’s reference to Psalm 122 (“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord’.”

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels

Statue of St Helena holding the Cross of Christ, in Chapel of the Finding of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

From the right of the chapel, another steep staircase of 22 steps leads to the Franciscan Chapel of the Finding of the Cross. This rough-walled area has been built within part of the ancient quarry, apparently later converted into a cistern for water storage.

Here, according to tradition, St Helena (Constantine’s mother) discovered the True Cross and other instruments of the Passion and crucifixion. A statue behind the altar shows her holding the Cross.

Remnants of 12th-century frescoes are displayed behind glass walls.

After ascending all the steps to the ground floor again, immediately on the left is the Greek Chapel of the Derision. It commemorates the mocking of Jesus by the Roman soldiers. Under the altar is a fragment of a column, said to be the one Jesus sat on when the crown of thorns was put on his head.

 

Rock of Calvary can be seen

Further along, on the left, a glass screen protrudes slightly into the aisle. Through it can be seen the natural rock of Calvary.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels

Rock of Calvary on display in Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

Next to it is a small area called the Chapel of Adam. It is directly beneath the Chapel of Calvary upstairs, and an ancient tradition suggests that Adam was buried here and that the blood of Jesus tricked down to his skull.

Here the rock of Calvary can be seen again, with a fissure running through it. Some believe the fissure 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.

From this chapel, a door leads to the Greek Treasury, holding relics including one of the True Cross. The treasury is usually closed.

 

Rights of possession are jealously guarded

Under a decree called the Status Quo imposed by the Ottoman Turks in 1757, 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. Three minor communities, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian Orthodox, have rights to use certain areas. All the churches jealously guard their rights.

One effect of the Status Quo can be seen by looking above the main entrance on leaving the church.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels

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

The wooden ladder leaning against a window ledge has been there since early in the 18th century. Nobody knows why it is there, but because it was in place when the Status Quo began in 1757, it must remain there.

As one faces the main entrance, to the right is a disused stairway that was the Crusaders’ entrance to Calvary. At the top of the stairs is the Chapel of the Franks. Beneath it is the Greek Orthodox Chapel of St Mary of Egypt — a prostitute who was converted in the church courtyard in the 4th century and spent the rest of her life as a hermit.

Related article:

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

In Scripture:

The crucifixion: Matthew 27:24-56; Mark 15:16-41; Luke 23:1-49; John 19:1-37

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:

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)
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)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
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)
Wright, J. Robert: “Holy Sepulchre”, Holy Land, spring 1998)

External links:

Holy Sepulchre (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Wikipedia)
Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Jerusalem Virtual Tours)
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