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Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel Revered as the holiest place on Earth by Christians where Jesus rose from the dead

The church of the Holy Sepulchre, or the Church of the Resurrection, is situated within the Christian Quarter of the walled Old city of Jerusalem. It is a major pilgrimage site for Christians all around the world. Its original Greek name was Church of the Anastasis owing to it being the traditional site of the Resurrection of Christ. Due to its fascinating structure, lots of imitations of the church has been build up all over Europe.

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History and Belief

The spectacular church has a history that is bound to leave us amazed. The church stands tall at the spot that once used to be a temple dedicated to Goddess Venus. The church was built by Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD to conceal the cave where Jesus was entombed.

Legends state that somewhere between 325 and 326 CE, Christian emperor Constantine and his mother St. Helena found the True cross in a cistern beneath the temple. They then reinstated the temple in a church, much larger than the existing one which was unfortunately destroyed by Persians in 614 CE.

In 630 CE, Emperor Heraclius restored the True Cross back to the church, which was seized by the Persians. Patriarch Modestus later reconstructed the church with the original plan.

In 638, Jerusalem was surrendered to the Arab rule, but the Christian sites were survived by the early Muslim rulers. Earthquake and fire marred the church several times in the ninth century. Finally, in 1009, Fatimid ruler Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered to destruct the church, which led to very few remains of the original church. In 1027-28 Ali az-Zahir allowed to restore the church, which got completed in 1048. After years of devastations and restorations, the church still stands tall and undeterred and has become a silhouette of vivid architectural styles.


The church boasts of a splendid architecture that is a combination of Crusader, Byzantine and Greek styles. There is a massive courtyard with two main doors and over 30 unlabeled chapels.

The church encompasses two hallowed sites of Christianity. One is the ‘Hill of Calvary’ or ‘Golgotha’ where Jesus of Nazareth was persecuted. The second one is ‘Sepulchre’, the empty tomb of Jesus, where he was buried and restored. The Sepulchre is within the Rotunda, a round hall, which is supporting bedecked 12 rays roof, representing the apostles. The Rotunda has its original 4th century shape, outer wall of 35 m diameter and 10m height. Sepulchre is surrounded by 12 columns between 4 pairs of square docks.

The entrance to the church leads to a stairway on right side, which goes to the hill of Calvary. There is a rock where Jesus was crucified, right above the place where Adam was buried. From a window to the right, one can see the chapel where Jesus was stripped. Right in front of the main entrance is the Stone of Anointing or Stone of Unction, where Jesus’s body was prepared for burial.

Towards the left side of the church is the Armenian shrine and to the right is the Rotunda with a stone edicule where the tomb of Jesus is kept. A low doorway leads to the tomb.

Behind the edicule is the chapel of Copts, the bed of rock can be seen from which the tomb was unearthed. To the west of the edicule is the Syrian Othodox Chapel, far from which are two tombs, which dates back to 1st century BCE to 1st century CE. To the north of edicule is Franciscan Altar, where most of the Catholic services take place. Further north is Franciscan Chapel, where Jesus gave a non-biblical appearance to Mary, after resurrection.

Revered as the headquarter of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchs in Jerusalem, the church is jointly managed by Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian.

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5 interesting Facts & Myths about Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

  • ·The church operates on ‘winter time’, as per complied rules, thus during summers, the entire schedule is an hour late.

  • ·The keys of the church are held by Nusseibehs, Jerusalem Muslim family. They lock the church, with monks inside, two hours after sunset till before dawn.

  • ·It is commonly said that Jesus was crucified right at the place where Adam’s skull was obscured, and his blood flowed down to fill the skull.

  • ·The tomb of Jesus can accommodate only four people at a time.

  • ·The immovable ladder is believed to lead to a balcony where Armenian ruler used to relax, and also the ladder is said to be used to reach the balcony for cleaning it.

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Daily programs

Summer hours (April to September)

Weekday mass-
Solemn mass in Latin – 5:30 AM (Coptic)- 6:00 AM (Catholic)- 6:30 AM (Greek Orthodox)- 7:00 AM (Syriac Orthodox)- 7:30 AM (Armenian Orthodox). Saturday 6:00 PM.
Daily procession at 5:00 PM.
Sunday mass-
Solemn mass in Latin – 5:30 AM- 6:00 AM- 6:30 AM and in the evening at 6:00 PM.

Winter hours (October to March)

Weekday mass-
Solemn mass in Latin – 4:30 AM (Coptic)- 5:00 AM (Catholic)- 5:30 AM (Greek Orthodox)- 6:00 AM (Syriac Orthodox)- 6:30 AM (Armenian Orthodox). Saturday 5:00 PM.
Daily procession at 4:00 PM.
Sunday mass-
Solemn mass in Latin– 4:30 AM- 5:00 AM- 5:30 AM and in the evening at 5:00 PM.

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Special programs

On Fridays, communities carry the task of cleaning the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchure, turn by turn. The priests depart from the Column of the Flagellation at 3:00 PM and make the Way of the Cross terminating in front of the Edicule. It is here that the Resurrection of Our Lord is proclaimed.
On Christmas, special mass is held at midnight in the church. People carry the Christ’s cross on their shoulders at Via Dolorosa to make Christmas more unique. The entire church is lit up with candles on Christmas.
An annual Fire Ceremony, called Holy Fire, takes place every year on Holy Saturday, preceding Orthodox Easter, at the church.
Holy week along with Easter is celebrated with full zest and zeal. Further details can be seen in .
On 13th September, Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the consecration of the Church of Holy Sepulchre.


How to travel

By air: Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. It is around 50 kms drive from Jerusalem.

By Train: Jerusalem Malha Railway station, 7 kms from the church.

By Road: Jerusalem is well connected with all nearby cities by road. Buses are easily available from the Central Bus Station, near the main entrance to Jerusalem.

Best time to visit the church is during festivals like Easter and Christmas. The church is surrounded with dozens of restaurants catering to vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisines.

Nearby cities:

Hebron (30 kms)

Petah Tikva (47 kms)

Travel Tips

  • Entry to the church is free of cost.
  • Visitors are advised to be dressed appropriately, with minimal skin show.
  • Devotees should be prudent to enter in queue.
  • Waiting time might extend to an hour also in peak hours.
  • It is advisable to visit during early hours to avoid the crowd.

See Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem on map

Nearby Attraction

  • Dome of rock and Temple of mount (3.5 km): After Mecca and Madinah, this is considered to be the third holiest site for Islam.
  • Western wall (4.8 km): It is one of the most esteemed religious places of Jerusalem for Judaism. Also called Wailing wall or Kotelis.
  • City of David (5 km): Walking distance from Western wall of Jerusalem, it is the place where King Dravid set up his kingdom.
  • Israel museum (6 km): It is one of the top ten museums in the world, situated north of the old city’s Jaffa gate. It retains amazing collection of artifacts and antiques.
  • Dead Sea tour (80 km): It is located south east of Jerusalem and is the lowest point on Earth.

Additional Information

  • The tomb is enclosed by the 18th-century shrine, called the Aedicule (Edicule). The Status Quo, a 250-year old understanding between religious communities, applies to the site.[3][4] The famed immovable ladder remains on the top-right balcony of the shrine.
  • Within the church proper are the last four (or, by some definitions, five) Stations of the Via Dolorosa, representing the final episodes of Jesus' Passion.
  • control of the church itself is shared between 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, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic, and to a lesser degree the Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Ethiopian Tewahedo. Meanwhile, Protestants, including Anglicans, have no permanent presence in the Church. Some Protestants prefer The Garden Tomb, elsewhere in Jerusalem, as a more evocative site to commemorate Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.
  • in the centre of the rotunda is a small building called the Kouvouklion in Greek[9] or the Aedicula in Latin,[d] which encloses this tomb. The remains are completely enveloped by a marble sheath placed some 500 years before[when?] to protect the ledge from Ottoman attacks.
  • This building was damaged by fire in May of 614 when the Sassanid Empire, under Khosrau II, invaded Jerusalem and captured the True Cross
  • Umar ibn al-Khattab visited the church and stopped to pray on the balcony; but at the time of prayer, he turned away from the church and prayed outside. He feared that future generations would misinterpret this gesture, taking it as a pretext to turn the church into a mosque. Eutychius added that Umar wrote a decree prohibiting Muslims from praying at this location.
  • The damage was repaired in 810 by Patriarch Thomas. In the year 841, the church suffered a fire. In 935, the Orthodox Christians prevented the construction of a Muslim mosque adjacent to the Church. In 938, a new fire damaged the inside of the basilica and came close to the rotunda. In 966, due to a defeat of Muslim armies in the region of Syria, a riot broke out, which was followed by reprisals. The basilica was burned again. The doors and roof were burnt, and the Patriarch John VII was murdered
  • Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the complete destruction of the church as part of a more general campaign against Christian places of worship in Palestine and Egypt.[12] The damage was extensive, with few parts of the early church remaining.[13] Christian Europe reacted with shock and expulsions of Jews (for example, Cluniac monk Rodulfus Glaber blamed the Jews, with the result that Jews were expelled from Limoges and other French towns[citation needed]) and an impetus to later Crusades.
  • The rebuilding was finally completed with the financing at a huge expense by Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople in 1048.[17] As a concession, the mosque in Constantinople was re-opened and the khutba sermons were to be pronounced in az-Zahir's name.
  • the Byzantines, while releasing 5,000 Muslim prisoners, made demands for the restoration of other churches destroyed by Al-Hakim and the re-establishment of a Patriarch in Jerusalem. Contemporary sources credit the emperor with spending vast sums in an effort to restore the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after this agreement was made.
  • They commemorated scenes from the passion, such as the location of the prison of Christ and of his flagellation, and presumably were so placed because of the difficulties of free movement among shrines in the streets of the city. The dedication of these chapels indicates the importance of the pilgrims' devotion to the suffering of Christ. They have been described as 'a sort of Via Dolorosa in miniature'... since little or no rebuilding took place on the site of the great basilica. Western pilgrims to Jerusalem during the eleventh century found much of the sacred site in ruins."[13] Control of Jerusalem, and thereby the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, continued to change hands several times between the Fatimids and the Seljuk Turks (loyal to the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad) until the arrival of the Crusaders in 1099.[19]
  • Crusader Prince Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the first crusader monarch of Jerusalem, decided not to use the title "king" during his lifetime, and declared himself "Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri" ("Protector [or Defender] of the Holy Sepulchre"). By the crusader period, a cistern under the former basilica was rumoured to have been the location where Helena had found the True Cross, and began to be venerated as such
  • William of Tyre, chronicler of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, reports on the renovation of the Church in the mid-12th century. The crusaders investigated the eastern ruins on the site, occasionally excavating through the rubble, and while attempting to reach the cistern, they discovered part of the original ground level of Hadrian's temple enclosure; they decided to transform this space into a chapel dedicated to Helena (the Chapel of Saint Helena), widening their original excavation tunnel into a proper staircase. The crusaders began to refurnish the church in a Romanesque style and added a bell tower.[21] These renovations unified the small chapels on the site and were completed during the reign of Queen Melisende in 1149, placing all the Holy places under one roof for the first time. The church became the seat of the first Latin Patriarchs, and was also the site of the kingdom's scriptorium. The church was lost to Saladin,[21] along with the rest of the city, in 1187, although the treaty established after the Third Crusade allowed for Christian pilgrims to visit the site. Emperor Frederick II (r. 1220–50) regained the city and the church by treaty in the 13th century while he himself was under a ban of excommunication, with the curious consequence that the holiest church in Christianity was laid under interdict. The church seems to have been largely in Greek Orthodox Patriarch Athanasius II of Jerusalem's hands, ca. 1231–47, during the Latin control of Jerusalem.[22] Both city and church were captured by the Khwarezmians in 1244.[21]
  • The Franciscan friars renovated it further in 1555, as it had been neglected despite increased numbers of pilgrims. The Franciscans rebuilt the Aedicule, extending the structure to create an ante-chamber.[23] After the renovation of 1555, control of the church oscillated between the Franciscans and the Orthodox, depending on which community could obtain a favorable "firman" from the "Sublime Porte" at a particular time, often through outright bribery, and violent clashes were not uncommon. There was no agreement about this question, although it was discussed at the negotiations to the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699.[24] In 1767, weary of the squabbling, the "Porte" issued a "firman" that divided the church among the claimants.
  • A fire severely damaged the structure again in 1808, causing the dome of the Rotunda to collapse and smashing the Aedicule's exterior decoration. The Rotunda and the Aedicule's exterior were rebuilt in 1809–1810 by architect Nikolaos Ch. Komnenos of Mytilene in the then current Ottoman Baroque style. The fire did not reach the interior of the Aedicule, and the marble decoration of the Tomb dates mainly to the 1555 restoration, although the interior of the ante-chamber, now known as the "Chapel of the Angel," was partly rebuilt to a square ground-plan, in place of the previously semi-circular western end. Another decree in 1853 from the sultan solidified the existing territorial division among the communities and set a "status quo" for arrangements to "remain forever," causing differences of opinion about upkeep and even minor changes,[25] including disagreement on the removal of the "Immovable Ladder," an exterior ladder under one of the windows; this ladder has remained in the same position since then.
  • The current dome dates from 1870, although it was restored between 1994–1997, as part of extensive modern renovations to the church which have been ongoing since 1959. During the 1970–1978 restoration works and excavations inside the building, and under the nearby Muristan, it was found that the area was originally a quarry, from which white meleke limestone was struck.[27] To the east of the Chapel of Saint Helena, the excavators discovered a void containing a 2nd-century drawing of a Roman ship, two low walls which supported the platform of Hadrian's 2nd-century temple, and a higher 4th-century wall built to support Constantine's basilica.[23][28] After the excavations of the early 1970s, the Armenian authorities converted this archaeological space into the Chapel of Saint Vartan, and created an artificial walkway over the quarry on the north of the chapel, so that the new Chapel could be accessed (by permission) from the Chapel of Saint Helena.[28]
  • The entrance to the church, a single door in the south transept—through the crusader façade—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.
  • only the left-hand entrance is currently accessible, as the right door has long since been bricked up.
  • 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, just beneath the Chapel of the Franks, dedicated to St. Mary of Egypt.
  • Various entrances to Armenian, Greek Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox chapels.
  • A small Greek Orthodox monastery, known as Gethsemane Metoxion, located to the side of the church.
  • The tomb of Philippe D'Aubigny (Philip Daubeny, d. 1236)—a knight, tutor, and royal councilor to King Henry III of England and signer of the Magna Carta—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, sheltered by a wooden trapdoor in the parvise. A stone marker was placed on his tomb in 1925.[citation needed]

Broken columns—once forming part of an arcade—flank the church's front, which is covered in crusader graffiti mostly consisting of crosses. In the 13th century, the tops of the columns were removed and sent to Mecca by the Khwarezmids.

The church's bell tower is located to the left of the façade. It is currently almost half its original size.[33]

  • The historic Immovable Ladder stands beneath a window on the façade.
  • Rock of Calvary (12th Station of the Cross). The rock can be seen under glass on both sides of the altar, and beneath the altar there is a hole said to be the place where the cross was raised. Due to the significance of this, it is the most visited site in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
  • at the crucifixion, the blood of Christ ran down the cross and through the rocks to fill the skull of Adam.[34] The Rock of Calvary appears cracked through a window on the altar wall, with the crack traditionally claimed to be caused by the earthquake that occurred when Jesus died on the cross, while some scholars claim it to be the result of quarrying against a natural flaw in the rock.[35]
  • However, this tradition is only attested since the crusader era (notably by the Italian Dominican pilgrim Riccoldo da Monte di Croce in 1288), and the present stone was only added in the 1810 reconstruction.[23]
  • n the center of the Rotunda is the chapel called the Aedicule, which contains the Holy Sepulchre itself. The Aedicule has two rooms, the first holding the Angel's Stone, which is believed to be a fragment of the large stone that sealed the tomb; the second is the tomb itself. Possibly due to the fact that pilgrims laid their hands on the tomb and/or to prevent eager pilgrims from removing bits of the original rock as souvenirs, a marble plaque was placed in the fourteenth century on the tomb to prevent further damage to the tomb.[36]
  • Under the status quo, the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic Churches all have rights to the interior of the tomb, and all three communities celebrate the Divine Liturgy or Holy Mass there daily.
  • From May 2016 to March 2017, the Aedicule underwent restoration and repairs after the Israel Antiquities Authority declared the structure unsafe. Much of the $3 million project was funded by the World Monuments Fund
  • On the east side opposite the Rotunda is the Crusader structure housing the main altar of the Church, today the Greek Orthodox catholicon. The second, smaller dome sits directly over the centre of the transept crossing of the choir where the compas, an omphalos once thought to be the center of the world (associated to the site of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection), is situated. Since 1996 this dome is topped by the monumental Golgotha Crucifix which the Greek Patriarch Diodoros I of Jerusalem consecrated. It was at the initiative of Gustav Kühnel to erect a new crucifix at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem that would not only be worthy of the singularity of the site, but that would also become a symbol of the efforts of unity in the community of Christian faith.[42]
  • East of this is a large iconostasis demarcating the Orthodox sanctuary before which is set the throne of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem on the south side facing the throne of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch on the north side.
  • In the north-east side of the complex there is The Prison of Christ, alleged by the Franciscans to be where Jesus was held.
  • There is a tradition that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were buried here.[citation needed]
  • The Sultan's firman (decree) of 1853, known as the "status quo", pinned down the now permanent statutes of property and the regulations concerning the roles of the different denominations and other custodians.[44]
  • Greek Orthodox Church having the lion's share
  • On Palm Sunday, in April 2008, a brawl broke out when a Greek monk was ejected from the building by a rival
  • A less grave sign of this state of affairs is located on a window ledge over the church's entrance. A wooden ladder was placed there at some time before 1852, when the status quo defined both the doors and the window ledges as common ground. This ladder, the "Immovable Ladder", remains to this day, in almost exactly the same position it occupied in century-old photographs and engravings.[50][51] An engraving by David Roberts in 1839 also shows the same ladder in the same position.[52]
  • The church is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Old City of Jerusalem.
  • Several churches and monasteries in Europe, for instance, in Germany and Russia, and at least one church in the United States have been modeled on the Church of the Resurrection, some even reproducing other holy places for the benefit of pilgrims who could not travel to the Holy Land. They include the Heiliges Grab of Görlitz, constructed between 1481 and 1504, the New Jerusalem Monastery in Moscow Oblast, constructed by Patriarch Nikon between 1656 and 1666, and Mount St. Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery built by the Franciscans in Washington, DC in 1898.[
  • The Constantinian church was much larger than the one that stands today, but had a simpler layout. It consisted of an atrium (which reused part of Hadrian's temenos wall), a covered basilica, an open courtyard with the stone of Golgotha in the southeast corner, and the tomb of Christ, enshrined in a small, circular edifice. The tomb of Christ was not completed until 384 AD, well after the dedication of the church, because of the immense labor involved in cutting away the rock cliff in order to isolate the tomb.
  • The exterior facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the east side of the church, was built by the Crusaders sometime before 1180. A double arcade with frieze at both levels are each surmounted by a cornice. The right entrance door was blocked after 1187 as part of Muslim control of the site after the Crusaders were defeated.
  • Just inside the entrance to the left was the high bench where the Muslim doorkeeper sat: for years, a Muslim kept control of the keys to the church to prevent disputes between Christian sects over the holy site. Although this has been discontinued, the holiest site in Christendom remains carefully divided beween denominations who guard their portions jealously.
  • To reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you should enter from the Jaffa gate of Jerusalem's old city. After entering, keep walking to the entrance to the market. Walk down the market's main street (David Street), and turn left on the first turn to Christians Street. Take the third turn to the right into St. Helen Street, which will lead you to the entrance to the Holly Sepulchre Church.


  • It has been suggested that this early wall served as the retaining wall of the second century Hadrianic raised platform (podium). This appears to support Eusebius' statement that the Temple of Venus, which Hadrian erected on the site of Jesus' tomb, stood here before the original church was built.


  • On a large, smoothed stone which was incorporated in this wall, a pilgrim to the original church left a drawing of a merchant ship and the Latin inscription: "O Lord, we shall go." 


  • One of the major attractions here is the Holy Light that has been occurring here from the 14th century. This event takes place one day before Easter and prayers are held here, later a holy light appears and two candles are lit from it.
  • 1960: exploration and ground floor excavation in the area of the Patriarch’s residence and the garden
  • 1963: excavation of the Chapel of St. Mary
  • 1963-64: excavation of water/sewage systems between the Patriarch’s residence to the north and the Parvis (entrance courtyard) in front of the church on the south; discovery of the Hadrian underground
  • 1965: excavation in the rock-cut Chapel of the Finding of the Cross. Partial excavation of the Parvis facing the south facade of the church
  • 1966-67: excavation in the area south of the transept of the Anastasis (Armenian Divan)
  • 1968: excavation in the area north of the transept of the Anastasis (now the Altar of Mary Magdalene)
  • 1969: excavation in the gallery of the Anastasis and above the the Arches of the Virgin
  • 1969-70: excavations in the eastern area of the Triportico (now the Katholikon)
  • 1974: excavation of the trenches to the south of the Edicule in the Anastasis
  • 1970-1980: extremely long excavation, carried out in segments, behind the apse of the Chapel of St. Helena in the area of the Martyrium
  • Since the Crusades, the precincts and fabric of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher have come into the possession of three major denominations: the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox and the (Latin) Roman Catholic. Other communities - the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox - also possess certain rights and small properties in or about the building. The rights and privileges of all of these communities are protected by the Status Quo of the Holy Places (1852), as guaranteed in Article LXII of the Treaty of Berlin (1878).




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