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Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher

Jerusalem, Israel

2013 Q4

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The Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher is the subject of this issue’s limited edition print of a sketch by Ladd P. Ehlinger. Located in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel, it is built over what is purported to be both the place of Jesus’ execution (“Golgotha”) and his tomb where he was resurrected. There are also claims that this is where Joseph of Aramethia anointed Jesus’ body with oils after the crucifixion in preparation for burial, and that another location within the building was where Jesus was imprisoned awaiting his trial before Pontius Pilate. All this is shrouded in the mists of time and quite fervent religious beliefs, while some of it is predicated upon history and archeological findings, and it is disputed as well on the same bases. It is a controversial place, with controversy rampant even today.

The original Holy Sepulcher was built in 325 AD by Helena, the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother. Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. The Holy Sepulcher was built upon the site of the then razed Temple of Aphrodite or Venus, which had been built in the first century AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian during Hadrian’s efforts to rename Jerusalem “Aelia Capetolina” as part of his punishment of the Jews for their uprising in 80 AD - the beginning of the Diaspora. Hadrian hated Christians, knew that the site was venerated by them, and built the Temple of Venus there because of that.

To digress: Hadrian also built the so called “Temple Mount” in Jerusalem. He tore down the Jewish Temple, wherever it was, and built the current Temple Mount facility as a base elevated very high to dominate the city, for pagan, Roman temples. If there was not a hill, the Romans built a hill to elevate the temple(s) above all else to give a sense of importance and to dominate. The Romans did the identical thing in Baalbek, Lebanon for the Temple of Jupiter there. Both the Temple Mount base and the base of the Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek have huge stones (8' x 8' x 64' = 307 tons) incorporated into their construction that we would have great difficulty in physically handling today with our technology. It is not an historical or archaeological certainty that the torn down Jewish Temple was in the same location as the Temple Mount, though devout Jews pray at its western wall every day under that belief.

“Golgotha” means ‘place of execution’, and ancient Jerusalem had many Golgothas. Tombs were at that time located outside the city walls and downwind from the prevailing winds. This one is not outside the walls or downwind, though it does date from the first century. Other Christian sects have identified other Golgothas and more probable tombs, though the majority of the Christian sects hold the Holy Sepulcher to be the true location of the Golgotha Calvary.

The Christian sects that prevail over the Holy Sepulcher are the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The Greek Orthodox Church maintains most of the control over the building, though power is mostly shared with the Armenian, Eastern and Roman churches. Over the years disputes have arisen between the various sects that have degenerated into actual physical violence, not exemplary for any religion. Sometimes no agreement can be reached as to what to do, or how to do something that needs to be done for the building, so it doesn’t get done. The ladder on the molding outside one of the windows has been there since the middle of the 19th century, because no agreement could be reached on a needed renovation that it was placed there for.

Few places have been destroyed and rebuilt as much as the Holy Sepulcher. The original building was destroyed by the Persians in 614 AD, then rebuilt shortly after for the first time. It was then burned down to the foundations by Hakim,, the Sultan of the Muslim Caliphate (“Hakim the Mad”). It was partially rebuilt in 1048 when Constantine IX of the Byzantine Empire provided the funding. It was not so grand as the original of 325. In 1505, a group of Franciscan Monks came to the Holy Land with the expressed purpose of rebuilding the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. What you see today is still not much of what they did. In 1808, the church accidentally burned to the ground, and again was rebuilt, but this time with all the various groups laying claim to it. What you see today is mostly that 19th century rebuilding. A renovation plan in 1959 caused all of the groups to begin fighting, which continues to this day.

The church really is two domed churches with the west end being Golgotha, visible under glass at the altar; and the east end being the tomb area. The anointing stone is on the west half as are the Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross and the Chapel of Adam. There are many other chapels for devotees of each of the sects involved with Holy Sepulcher. This edifice has been a pilgrim and tourist destination for over two thousand years now.

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