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Israel: Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre | Israel | Asia

[Visited: March 2008]

The days before Easter make Jerusalem a busy place: Christians from all over the world come here to visit the holy places in the holy city. Centrepiece of the attention is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; hordes of (religious) tourists flock here. The church is built right over Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified and buried. It is the end station of the Via Dolorosa, the road Jesus is said to have walked with his cross in his final hours. The entrance of the church is on a small square, there is not much to hint that this is the holiest of places for Christians. No imposing building dwarfing the visitor, no immense square to make the passer by fill with respect.

Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Cupola with rays of sunlight falling down in the Church of St Helena

Next to the main door, there is a small door leading to the Greek Orthodox chapel. A small service in Arabic was under way as we entered, further stressing the complexity of the religious and racial groups in this capital of three monotheistic religions. The chapel is small, the voices murmur, the entourage sympathetic. Next door, the main entrance leads to a mosaic depicting the last hours of Jesus. Walking on brings you to the main hall holding the final resting place of Jesus. On Good Friday, it was packed, with a long line of christians waiting to briefly enter the central edicule, the Holy Tomb of Christ, where Jesus is supposed to lie. The rotunda seemed like a religious fair with different religious factions, Franciscans, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and others going about their business, on their way to the places they deemed most sacred. At times, an official would ask for space, and a procession of church clerics followed.

Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Orthodox deacon with candle in a ceremony in the rotunda

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was initially built instead of a temple in honour of Venus and Jupiter by Helena, the mother of Constantine, some 300 years after Jesus died. At that time, the site was well outside the city walls - now, the church is crammed into the Christian quarter. Inevitably in such a hotly contended place, the church was attacked, destroyed, damaged by fire and an earthquake, and rebuilt several times. The current facade was made by the Crusaders in the 11th century. Apart from watching the believers as they pray, approach the holy sites and wait to enter them, there are many things to see in almost every corner and chapel of this church. Among them: the church of St. Helena, the stone of the anointing, the Mary Magdalene chapel, the seven arches of the virgin, the prison of Christ, the rock which held the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Waiting to see the Tomb of Christ in the rotunda
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Tomb of Christ: pilgrim in deep prayer
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Jesus lighted by candles in an orthodox chapel
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Jesus is taken from the cross: mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Orthodox priest on the way to a ceremony in the rotunda
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Church of St. Helena
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Christians coming down the stairs of the Church of St. Helena
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Praying nuns
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Asian christians assembling outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Good Friday crowd in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Crowd outside the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Sunlight falling into the rotunda of the Tomb of Christ
Picture of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Israel): Religious figures in a mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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