A visit inside world’s holiest Christian site

20110504__living021_gallery1.jpgBy IRIS HERSH Staff writer
The Stone of Unction inside the entrance of the Church of… (Courtesy Beverly Morton)«1»JERUSALEM, Israel — On a recent trip to Israel, I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection by Eastern Christians. Considered the holiest Christian site in the world, it is an ancient church within the walled Old City of Jerusalem.
The church remains divided between several Christian denominations, including Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox, who guard their portions of the church and times and places of worship.

Inside the entrance to the church is the Stone of Unction, where the anointing and wrapping of Jesus Christ’s body has been commemorated since medieval times.

Near the Stone of Unction is the rotunda where a few original columns are preserved from Constantine’s fourth century Church of the Resurrection constructed on the site of Jesus’ tomb. Above the rotunda is a spectacular large dome decorated with a 12-pointed star, the rays of which symbolize the outreach of the 12 apostles. Beneath the dome is Jesus’ enshrined tomb.

A stairway on the right leads to Calvary, where Jesus was crucified.

The high bench just inside the church entrance to the left was where the Muslim doorkeeper sat. For years, a Muslim kept control of the keys to the church to prevent disputes between the Christian denominations over the holy site.

A mix of Byzantine, medieval, Crusader and modern styles can be seen in the church due to its history.


In the early first century after Christ, the site was a quarry outside the city walls. It is believed that the Christian community conducted worship services at the site until the Romans took over the city in the year 66 AD.

The Emperor Hadrian had the quarry filled in and built a Temple of Venus over the site in 135 AD. Following Emperor Constantine the Great’s conversion to Christianity in 312 AD, he had the temple torn down, the area cleared and a church was constructed on the site.

The building was badly damaged by fire in 614 AD when the Persians invaded the city.

Christians surrendered Jerusalem to Muslim control in 638, but they continued to use it as a church until 1009 when the church was brutally destroyed by Fatimid caliph Hakim.

In 1048 AD part of the church was reconstructed. The Crusaders began modifications in the Romanesque style in 1112 AD, and in 1119 AD the shrine of Jesus’ tomb was replaced.

The church had suffered from neglect and damage through the centuries, including a fire in 1808 and an earthquake in 1927.

In 1959 the Latins, Greeks and Armenians agreed on major renovations with plans for replacement only for elements that were structurally unsound.