The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Holy Sepulcher is the most important church in Jerusalem and considered the mother of all churches in the world. It was built during the Byzantine period and is in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem.  As its name indicates, it is the place where Jesus Christ was resurrected after his death, and it is also the place where Jesus Christ was crucified, tortured, suffered, died, and buried after His death, according to the Christian beliefs.

The Church was built by Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena, where Constantine sent an engineer called Zenobius, a Palmyran, to build the Holy Sepulcher. When the Church was inaugurated in the year 335 AD, it comprised four basic architectural elements: an advance atrium, a basilica composed of five aisles and one nave, an open courtyard and garden in whose southeast corner Christ is thought to have been crucified (Golgotha), and the Holy Sepulcher (Holy Tomb).

The Holy Sepulcher was destroyed and burnt down by the Persians in 614 AD, and was later rebuilt. The Muslim Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab turned down a proposal by the Patriarch Sophronius to pray in the Holy Sepulcher when the call for prayer was made while he was inside the church so that Muslims would not do the same and take over the church later on. The Church was later destroyed during the reign of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi Amr Allah (400 Hijri / 1009 AD), which was the main reason behind the crusades which attempted to free the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

During the Franks’ control of Jerusalem and Palestine, they carried out amendments and additions to the Holy Sepulcher, which is what Salah al-Din witnessed after liberating Jerusalem from the Franks in 583 Hijri / 1187 AD. Salah al-Din followed the footsteps of Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab in his tolerance and understanding of Christians and their rights.

The Church consists of: the entrance, which is a two-floor high grand door; the Golgotha, which is the remaining part of the crucifixion rock that can be seen behind glass; and the Stone of The Anointing, which is the place where Christ was washed before He was buried. The Anointing can be reached using a descending staircase in the Golgotha; The Holy Tomb, which is one of the main parts of the Church, above which is a large stone dome (Rotunda / Anastasia) resting on a group of pillars carrying a hemispherical dome.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher includes many small chapels, rooms, halls and praying niches. Above The Holy Tomb is a hemispherical dome where Christ was resurrected, and another hemispherical dome, smaller in size, built over St. Helena’s Church. Both domes are covered with sheets of lead.

It is worth mentioning that the different Christian sects, who have ownership in the Church, take into consideration the Status Quo with great care, which is sometimes considered oversensitivity. Therefore, the task of keeping the Holy Sepulcher’s keys and opening and closing its door, morning and evening, was assigned to Muslims from notable Jerusalem families Nusseibah and Joudeh.