Church of the Holy Sepulchre in East Jerusalem

Friday, 2 April 2021 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Union for the Mediterranean

Calvary/Golgotha © Gerd Eichmann/cc-by-sa-4.0

Calvary/Golgotha © Gerd Eichmann/cc-by-sa-4.0

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of East Jerusalem. It contains, according to traditions dating back to the fourth century, the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus was crucified, at a place known as Calvary or Golgotha, and Jesus’s empty tomb, where he was buried and resurrected. The tomb is enclosed by a 19th-century shrine called the Aedicula. The Status Quo, an understanding between religious communities dating to 1757, applies to the site. Within the church proper are the last four (or, by some definitions, five) stations of the Via Dolorosa, representing the final episodes of the Passion of Jesus. The church has been a major Christian pilgrimage destination since its creation in the fourth century, as the traditional site of the resurrection of Christ, thus its original Greek name, Church of the Anastasis (‘Resurrection’). Today, the wider complex around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre also serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, while control of the church itself is shared among several Christian denominations and secular entities in complicated arrangements essentially unchanged for over 160 years, and some for much longer. The main denominations sharing property over parts of the church are the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic, and to a lesser degree the Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox.

An Ottoman status quo decided upon in 1757 upholds the state of affairs for certain Holy Land sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The status quo was upheld in Sultan Abdülmecid I‘s firman (decree) of 1852/3, which pinned down the now-permanent statutes of property and the regulations concerning the roles of the different denominations and other custodians. The primary custodians are the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic Churches, with the Greek Orthodox Church having the lion’s share. In the 19th century, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox acquired lesser responsibilities, which include shrines and other structures in and around the building. Greek Orthodox act through the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate as well as through the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre. Roman Catholics act through the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. None of these controls the main entrance. In 1192, Saladin assigned door-keeping responsibilities to the Muslim Nuseibeh family. The wooden doors that compose the main entrance are the original, highly carved doors. The Joudeh Al-Goudia family were entrusted as custodian to the keys of the Holy Sepulchre by Saladin in 1187. Despite occasional disagreements, religious services take place in the Church with regularity and coexistence is generally peaceful. An example of concord between the Church custodians is the full restoration of the Aedicule from 2016 to 2017. The establishment of the modern Status Quo in 1853 did not halt controversy and occasional violence. On a hot summer day in 2002, a Coptic monk moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians and eleven were hospitalized after the resulting fracas. In another incident in 2004, during Orthodox celebrations of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a door to the Franciscan chapel was left open. This was taken as a sign of disrespect by the Orthodox and a fistfight broke out. Some people were arrested, but no one was seriously injured. On Palm Sunday, in April 2008, a brawl broke out when a Greek monk was ejected from the building by a rival faction. Police were called to the scene but were also attacked by the enraged brawlers. On Sunday, 9 November 2008, a clash erupted between Armenian and Greek monks during celebrations for the Feast of the Cross. In fact, there are even regular brawls among Christian, especially Orthodox, faith groups. It is very easy to refute here that Christianity is significantly more progressive and developed than the various Muslim faith groups and their internal rivalries.

© Berthold Werner/cc-by-sa-3.0 Aedicule with the Coptic chapel © flickr.com - Jlascar/cc-by-2.0 Calvary/Golgotha © Berthold Werner/cc-by-sa-3.0 Calvary/Golgotha © Gerd Eichmann/cc-by-sa-4.0 Christ Pantocrator © Berthold Werner/cc-by-sa-3.0 © flickr.com - Jlascar/cc-by-2.0 © Yupi666/cc-by-sa-3.0 The Chapel of St. Helena © flickr.com - zvonimir atletic/cc-by-2.0 © Berthold Werner/cc-by-sa-3.0
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The Chapel of St. Helena © flickr.com - zvonimir atletic/cc-by-2.0
The courtyard facing the entrance to the church is known as the parvis. Located around the parvis are a few smaller structures. South of the parvis, opposite the church:

  • Broken columns—once forming part of an arcade—stand opposite the church, at the top of a short descending staircase stretching over the entire breadth of the parvis. In the 13th century, the tops of the columns were removed and sent to Mecca by the Khwarezmids.
  • The Gethsemane Metochion, a small Greek Orthodox monastery.

On the eastern side of the parvis, south to north:

  • The Monastery of St Abraham (Greek Orthodox)
  • The Chapel of St John (Armenian Orthodox)
  • The Chapel of St Michael (Coptic/Ethiopian Orthodox), giving access to the roof of the Chapel of St Helena and the Ethiopian monastery there.

North of the parvis, in front of the church façade or against it:

  • Chapel of the Franks—a blue-domed Roman Catholic Crusader chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, which once provided exclusive access to Calvary. The chapel marks the 10th Station of the Cross (the stripping of Jesus’ garments).
  • A Greek Orthodox oratory and chapel, directly beneath the Chapel of the Franks, dedicated to St. Mary of Egypt.
  • The tomb of Philip d’Aubigny (Phillipe Daubeney, died 1236)—a knight, tutor, and royal councilor to King Henry III of England and signer of the Magna Carta—is placed in front of, and between, the church’s two original entrance doors, of which the eastern one is walled up. It is one of the few tombs of crusaders and other Europeans not removed from the Church after the Muslim recapture of Jerusalem in the 12th century. A stone marker was placed on his tomb in 1925, sheltered by a wooden trapdoor that hides it from view.

A group of three chapels borders the parvis on its west side. They originally formed the baptistery complex of the Constantinian church. The southernmost chapel was the vestibule, the middle chapel the baptistery, and the north chapel the chamber in which the patriarch chrismated the newly baptized before leading them into the rotunda north of this complex. Now they are dedicated as (from south to north)

The wooden doors that compose the main entrance are the original, highly carved arched doors. Today, only the left-hand entrance is currently accessible, as the right doorway has long since been bricked up. The entrance to the church is in the south transept, through the crusader façade, in the parvis of a larger courtyard. This is found past a group of streets winding through the outer Via Dolorosa by way of a local souq in the Muristan. This narrow way of access to such a large structure has proven to be hazardous at times. For example, when a fire broke out in 1840, dozens of pilgrims were trampled to death. Since the 7th century, the Muslim Nuseibeh family has been responsible for opening the door as an impartial party to the church’s denominations. In 1187, Saladin took the church from the Crusaders and entrusted the Joudeh Al-Goudia family with its key, which is made of iron and 30 centimetres (12 in) long; the Nuseibehs remain its doorkeepers. The immovable ladder stands beneath a window on the façade.

Read more on Wikipedia Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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