Noisy, chaotic and crowded. The church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is hardly a place for quiet prayer. Shared (sometimes uneasily) between major ancient traditions – Greeks, Armenians and Latins in particular – the church is the pulsating heart of Christianity, a sort of axis mundi where heaven and earth meet, as we celebrate the Paschal mystery.

Focus of the church is the Anastasis, the circular structure around the shrine built over the empty tomb. The current structure on the tomb dates only to the early 19th century (soon after a destructive fire in 1808). Recent restoration – completed in 2017 – freed the shrine from the iron girders, put in place under British mandate rule, meant to keep it from collapsing, following an earthquake in 1927. The restoration has also shown that more of the rock-cut tomb structure survives underneath the marble cladding than previously thought, and this has been left visible through glass within the inner room of the shrine.

The church, which has seen plenty of destruction and reconstruction, was originally built under Constantine in the 4th century AD. But, is it the tomb? Well, archaeology is unable to answer the question directly, but indirectly corroborates the story. From what we know, the area was just outside the city of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time, providing a convenient spot for public execution, in an area of an abandoned quarry transformed into a garden/agricultural land. Within the church itself, the traditional Tomb of Joseph of Arimatheas (in the Syrian chapel) is a little group of tombs are of kochim type, common the 1st century, and which survived the cutting of the rock for the foundations of the church in the 4th century. The empty tomb would not have been alone, but within a sepulchral area.

I need not comment on the photo itself, taken simply on my mobile phone. The low lighting of the church does not help in the quality of the picture either.

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