Sepulchre of Christ

Holy Sepulchre refers to the tomb in which the Body of Jesus Christ was laid after His death upon the Cross. The Evangelists tell us that it was Joseph of Arimathea's own new monument.......

Holy Sepulchre refers to the tomb in which the Body of Jesus Christ was laid after His death upon the Cross. The Evangelists tell us that it was Joseph of Arimathea's own new monument, which he had hewn out of a rock, and that it was closed by a great stone rolled to the door (Matt.27:60; Mk.15:46; Lk.23:53). It was in a garden in the place of the Crucifixion, and was nigh to the Cross (Jn.19:41,42) which was erected outside the walls of Jerusalem, in the place called Calvary (Matt.27:32; Mk.15:20; Jn.19:17; Hb.13:12), but close to the city (Jn.19:20) and by a street (Matt.27:39; Mk.15:29). That it was outside the city is confirmed by the well-known fact that the Jews did not permit burial inside the city except in the case of their kings. No further mention of the place of the Holy Sepulchre is found until the beginning of the fourth century. But nearly all scholars maintain that the knowledge of the place was handed down by oral tradition, and that the correctness of this knowledge was proved by the investigations caused to be made in 326 by the Emperor Constantine, who then marked the site for future ages by erecting over the Tomb of Christ a basilica, in the place of which, according to an unbroken written tradition, now stands the church of the Holy Sepulchre. The tradition of the local community was undoubtedly strengthened from the beginning by strangers who, having heard from the Apostles and their followers, or read in the Gospels, the story of Christ's Burial and Resurrection, visited Jerusalem and asked about the Tomb that He had rendered glorious. It is at this period that history begins to present written records of the location of the Holy Sepulchre.

The earliest authorities are the Greek Fathers, Eusebius (c.260-340), Socrates (b.379), Sozomen (375-450), the monk Alexander (sixth century), and the Latin Fathers, Rufinus (375-410), St. Jerome (346-420), Paulinus of Nola (353-431), and Sulpitius Severus (363-420). Of these the most explicit and of the greatest importance is Eusebius, who writes of the Tomb as an eyewitness, or as one having received his information from eyewitnesses. The testimonies of all having been compared and analysed may be presented briefly as follows: Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, conceived the design of securing the Cross of Christ, the sign of which had led her son to victory. Constantine himself, having long had at heart a desire to honour "the place of the Lord's Resurrection", "to erect a church at Jerusalem near the place that is called Calvary", encouraged her design, and giving her imperial authority, sent her with letters and money to Macarius, the Bishop of Jerusalem. Helena and Macarius, having made fruitless inquiries as to the existence of the Cross, turned their attention to the place of the Passion and Resurrection, which was known to be occupied by a temple of Venus erected by the Romans in the time of Hadrian, or later. The temple was torn down, the ruins were removed to a distance, the earth beneath, as having been contaminated, was dug up and borne far away. Then, "beyond the hopes of all, the most holy monument of Our Lord's Resurrection shone forth" (Eusebius,"Life of Constantine",III,xxviii). Near it were found three crosses, a few nails, and an inscription such as Pilate ordered to be placed on the Cross of Christ.

The accounts of the finding of the Holy Sepulchre thus summarized have been rejected by some on the ground that they have an air of improbability, especially in the attribution of the discovery to "an inspiration of the Saviour", to "Divine admonitions and counsels", and in the assertions that, although the Tomb had been covered by a temple of Venus for upwards of two centuries, its place was yet known. To the first objection, it is replied that whilst the historians piously attributed the discovery to God, they also showed the human secondary agents to have acted with careful prudence. Paulinus is quoted as saying that "Helena was guided by Divine counsel, as the result of her investigations show". As to the second objection, it is claimed that a pagan temple erected over the Holy Sepulchre with the evident purpose of destroying the worship paid there to the Founder of Christianity, or of diverting the worship to pagan gods and goddesses, would tend to preserve the knowledge of the place rather than to destroy it. What appears to be a more serious difficulty is offered by writers who describe the location of the basilica erected by Constantine, and consequently the place of the Sepulchre over which it was built. The so-called Pilgrim of Bordeaux who visited Jerusalem in 333, while the basilica was building, writes that it was on the left hand of the way to the Neapolitan-now Damascus-gate. Eucherius, writing 427-40, says that it was outside of Sion, on the north; Theodosius, about 530, "that it was in the city, two hundred paces from Holy Sion"; an anonymous author, that it was "in the midst of the city towards the north, not far from the gate of David", by which is meant the Jaffa Gate. These descriptions are borne out by the mosaic chart belonging to the fifth century that was discovered at Medeba in 1897. The writers must have known that the New Testament places the Crucifixion and the Tomb outside the city, yet they tell us that the Constantinian basilica enclosing both was inside. They neither show surprise at this contradiction, nor make any attempt to explain it. Nor does anyone at all, at this period, raise a doubt as to the authenticity of the Sepulchre.

The edifice built over the Holy Sepulchre by Constantine was dedicated in 336. The Holy Sepulchre, separated by excavation from the mass of rock, and surmounted by a gilded dome, was in the centre of a rotunda 65 feet in diameter. The basilica, extending eastward from this to a distance of 250 feet, embraced Calvary in its south aisle. An atrium and a propylaeum gave a total length of 475 feet. The magnificent monument was destroyed by fire in 614, during the Persian invasion under Chosroes II. Two hundred years later new buildings were begun by the Abbot Modestus and finished, in 626, with the aid of the Patriarch of Alexandria, who had sent money and one thousand workmen to Jerusalem. These buildings were destroyed by the Mohammedans in 1010. Smaller churches were erected in 1048, and stood intact until the crusaders partly removed them and partly incorporated them in a magnificent basilica that was completed in 1168. As in the basilica of Constantine, so also in that of the crusaders, a rotunda at the western end rose over the Holy Sepulchre. This basilica was partially destroyed by fire in 1808, when the rotunda fell in upon the Sepulchre. A new church designed by the Greek architect, Commenes, and built at the expense of Greeks and Armenians, was dedicated in 1810. The dome of its rotunda was rebuilt in 1868, France, Russia, and Turkey defraying the expenses. In the middle of this rotunda is the Tomb of Christ, enclosed by the monument built in 1810 to replace the one destroyed then.

From Josephus, we know of three walls that at different times enclosed Jerusalem on the north. The third of these is the present wall, which was built about ten years after the death of Christ, and is far beyond the traditional Holy Sepulchre. Josephus describes the second wall as extending from the gate Gennath, which was in the first wall, to the tower Antonia. A wall running in a direct line between these two points would have included the Sepulchre. But it could have followed an irregular line and thus have left the Sepulchre outside. No researches have ever yielded any indication of a wall following a straight line from the Gennath gate to the Antonia. That, on the contrary, the wall took an irregular course, excluding the Sepulchre, seems to have been sufficiently proved by the discoveries, in recent years, of masses of masonry to the east and southeast of the church. So convincing is the evidence afforded by these discoveries that such competent authorities as Drs. Schick an Gauthe at once admitted the authenticity of the traditional Tomb.

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