Church of the Week: Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The most sacred site for a Christian church is also one of the most certain: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is erected on the site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial.

The early Christian community of Jerusalem appears to have held liturgical celebrations at Christ's tomb from the time of the resurrection until the city was taken by the Romans in 66 AD. Less than a century later, in 135 AD, Emperor Hadrian filled in the quarry to provide a level foundation for a temple to Aphrodite. The site remained buried beneath the pagan temple until Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in 312 AD. He soon showed an interest in the holy places associated with his new faith, and commissioned numerous churches to be built throughout the Holy Land. The most important of these, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was begun in 326 AD.

The three primary custodians of the church, first appointed when Crusaders held Jerusalem, are the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic churches. In the 19th century, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox acquired lesser responsibilities, which include shrines and other structures within and around the building. An agreement regulates times and places of worship for each Church.

The photo above, which I took on our first visit to the church in 1987, is of the "Stone of Unction," which tradition says is the slab on which Jesus' body was laid to be prepared for burial after being taken down from the cross.

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