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26 December 2011

The Holy Sepulcher

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Le Saint Sépulcre, l’Anastasis (Résurrection) comme l’appellent les Orientaux, est le joyau du Christianisme. Il est splendide et déroutant.

Aedicule of the Holy Sepulchre; Chapel of the Crucifixion and the Calvary

Today Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre keeps the memories of the last hours of Our Lord Jesus on earth: the Calvary where Christ had saved the world and the traditional stone on which his body was laid before burial – Stone of Unction. In the middle of the Rotunda is the Sepulchre of Christ, covered with marble. From here Our Saviour has risen on the third day.

Basilica of the Resurrection
- P.O.B. 428
- 91001 Jerusalem

- Tel. +972. 2 6267.000
- +972. 2 6267.011 (Sacristy)
- Fax: +972. 2 6276.601

Opening hours of the Sanctuary

Summer: 5.00-21.00

Winter: 4.00-19.00

In christian tradition

Eusebius of Caesarea, before undertaking the assignments (327-335) commissioned by Emperor Constantine, admitted: “The place of a skull where Christ was crucified is still pointed out today in Ælia, to the north of Mount Zion,” notwithstanding the fact that an idolatrous cult (of the goddess Venus/Aphrodite) has occupied the site for a long time. Before long a precious cross, which would be lost in later sackings, was placed in the summit of this small rocky hill where Christians considered to be the navel or spiritual centre of the world (Cyril of Jerusalem, IV cent.).

Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 340) recounted in great details the circumstances leading to the discovery of the Tomb of Christ which was buried under a massive rampart from the time of Emperor Hadrian (AD 135): indeed he reported how Emperor Constantine (shortly after AD 325) had ordered to tear down the pagan temple and to dig deep,” only then, beyond all hopes,... the venerable and most sacred testimony of the salvific resurrection came to light.” From that time on, the rediscovered tomb had always been venerated till its demolition by order of Caliph Hakem (1009), and it could be seen completely hollowed out in the rock, as it was only dressed with marble from the outside (Arculf, VII cent.). Of the tripartite Constantinian basilica (Martyrion, Triportico and Anastasis) only the rotunda of the Anastasis remains today, though many times restored, as a grand mausoleum above the empty tomb of Christ. The rest of the building was the work of the Crusades (1141).

The earthquake of 1927 caused a lot of damage to the monument; the restoration which begun in 1960 offers opportunity for deepening our knowledge of the history and topography of this place in the time of Christ.

The Franciscans officiate in the basilica since XIV cent. together with Christians of other rites according to the rights granted them first by the sultans of Cairo and then (from 1517) by those of Constantinople, until the recognition of the “Status quo” (1757 and 1852), those rigid rules that regulates the coexistence of the different communities even today.

The place

Church of the Holy Sepulchre (actual plan):

A. Forecourt.
- B. Stone of Unction.
- C. Rotunda or Anastasis.
- D. Chapel of the Apparition.
- E. Chapel of St. Helena.
- F. Chapel of the Discovery of the Cross.
- G. Calvary. H. Greek Choir.

- 1-6. Chapels of St. James, St. John the Baptist, Forty Martyrs, St. Abraham, St. John the Evangelist, St. Michael.
- 7. Entrance.
- 8. Chapel of the Franks (upper floor).
- 9. Chapel of St. Mary the Egyptian.
- 10. Muslim Doorkeepers.
- 11. Altar of the 3 Maries.
- 12. Chapel of the Angel.
- 13. Sepulchre of Jesus.
- 14. Chapel of the Copts.
- 15. Chapel of the Syrian Jacobites.
- 16. Jewish tombs: “Sepulchre of Joseph of Arimathea”.
- 17. Passageway.
- 18. Crusader Chapel.
- 19. Cistern.
- 20. Altar of St. Mary Magdalen.
- 21. Franciscan Convent.
- 22. Franciscan Sacristy.
- 23. Arches of the Virgin.
- 24. Prison of Christ.
- 25-27. Chapels of St. Longinus, Division of the Raiment, Mocking.
- 28. Chapel of Adam (beneath the Calvary).

Biblical texts

The Crucifixion and the Death of Jesus

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(Luke 23,33-43)

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth. These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

(John 19, 25-42)

The Resurrection of Jesus

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, «He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.» This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

(Matthew 28,1-10)


God our Father, by raising Christ your Son you conquered the power of death and opened for us the way to eternal life. Help us to witness with our life the joy of being saved. This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reings with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.