The Holy Sepulcher PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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The Holy Sepulcher
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A Visit to the Holy Sepulcher

crusader-entrance.jpgWe stand in the courtyard before the double gates. Saladin filled in the one on the right. Two Muslim families have had the right to open the left-hand gate since 1246. They do so, together with one or more of the sextons, in a daily ceremony at 4 a.m. The sextons close the door again a quarter hour after sunset.

Still outside, to the right of these doors, a flight of steps leads up to the Tenth Station, where we remember the soldiers dividing Jesus' clothes (Mark 15:24 ).

We enter. At once, on the right, is a staircase with very high steps, leading up to Calvary. Here are two altars. The Latin one, on the right, marks the Eleventh Station, and the story is told before us in a mosaic: Jesus is nailed to the cross.

The left-hand altar, Greek Orthodox, stands at the Twelfth Station: the place where, according to tradition, the cross was set in the rock. The rock is exposed all around it.

Between these two large altars tradition locates the Thirteenth Station, the taking down of Jesus from the cross (John 19:38 ). The place is marked by a smaller altar, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows.



Having taken time here, we descend by the staircase opposite the one we came up on. On our left is the Stone of Unction. Here, since medieval times at least, tradition has located the anointing of Jesus' body before burial (John 19:39-40 ). 

The new mosaic behind the stone (1991) depicts the account till the burial.


07102002175935.jpgFrom here we proceed to the Fourteenth Station, the tomb. The original was destroyed,as said , and this is a replica. While we wait, note the large chamber to the east. Today the Greek Cathedral, it was the Crusader choir and before that an open porch, beyond which Constantine's basilica stretched to the east.

For decades the area of the tomb was steeped in gloom, because the inner dome was masked by scaffolding. At last the Christian communities reached agreement on a design, and today we have an opening to the heavens, bringing light to the tomb, and bringing to mind the theme of Constantine's original church -- Anastasis, Resurrection. 
We enter the tomb. The first chamber is the Chapel of the Angels (Luke 24: 1-9 ). The pedestal in the middle is believed to contain a fragment of the original rolling stone. The next chamber is the Sepulcher itself. On the right is a marble slab, marking the place for the body.

In consideration of people who may be waiting outside, one should limit oneself to three minutes.

Having thus completed the stations, we can go into the small chapel west of the tomb. Through an opening (and with the help of a flashlight or candle) we can make out shaft tombs which date to the period of the Passion, forming a vital part of the argument for the site's authenticity.

Then we may go to the Franciscan section north of the tomb. If the Chapel of Mary Magdalene is available, we enter it. If not, we can sit just outside. Either place is good for reading the passage about Magdalene's encounter with the resurrected Jesus.

We continue east and descend the steps to the Chapel of Helena. The new mosaic floor shows the most important Armenian churches, as well as Mt. Ararat with Noah's Ark. To the southeast, a small flight of steps leads into a cistern, where Helena (the Crusaders believed) found the true cross. This too is often a quiet place, where we may read and consider.

Ascending to the main level, heading around to the west, we find a chapel with a small, illuminated window. Through it we can see a bit of the rock of Calvary, cracked. It is the Chapel of Adam. An Eastern tradition holds that the blood of the last Adam trickled through the earth, making contact with the skull of the first, whose sin he had redeemed.


Photo by Carol Fitch, touring with NET.