The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is constructed above the traditional location of the hill of Golgotha, and the tomb in which the body of Jesus was placed after his Crucifixion.

The original church was built by order of the Roman emperor Constantine, begun in 326 and finished in the year 335. Destroyed by the Persians in 604 A.D., it was rebuilt, on a more modest scale, in the mid seventh century. This edifice was in turn destroyed and again rebuilt in the eleventh century during the Crusades. Much of the existing structure dates from this time. 1

In 1187, after Moslem forces had retaken Jerusalem, some advised their leader Saladin to destroy the church, in order to put an end to Christian pilgrimages and Christian invasions, but wiser heads, realizing that what Christians regarded as sacred was the place and what happened there, prevailed.2

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it exists today is an amalgam of the gothic structure built by the Crusaders and various renovations, along with materials and design elements of the earlier Roman and Byzantine constructions.3

1 Victor Guérin, La Terre Sainte, Son Histoire, Ses Souvenirs, Ses Sites, Ses Monuments , (Paris, E. Plon, Nourrit, et Cie, 1884), 100
2 Guérin, 100
3 Guérin, 100


By this shall all know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

The Bible, King James Version, John 13:35

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
From the Library of Congress

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, shown here in a David Roberts lithograph, has undergone a long and tumultuous history.

Now, in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

The Jefferson Bible

Authenticity and Tradition

Historians and archaeologists argue, with reason, that there is no contemporary evidence regarding the exact position of Golgotha, as well as other places related to the life of Jesus. No maps of Jerusalem exist from this period, and an accurate portrait of the city during the first century has to be pieced together from descriptions, and archaeolgical excavations, and such portraits naturally have large gaps and ambiguities.

Still an argument that the traditonal locations of major events in the life of Jesus are in fact correct can be made.

The nineteenth century French historian, Victor Guérin, put the case for the authenticity of traditional sites. Following his argument, early Christians as well as a branch of the brand new formal hierarchy of the Christian church, lived almost continuously in Jerusalem from the time of the Crucifixion until Constantine's rule. Those who witnessed the Passion would naturally have told the locations of the most sacred sites to their children, church officials would have told their successors, and they, in turn, would have passed this knowledge on, since these sites would have been central to their entire system of beliefs.1

Guérin argues further, that in the case of the location of Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus, the Gospels are explicit in saying that the tomb was unused and close to the the site of the Crucifixion, and that when the site was excavated in Constantine's time, the rocky platform corresponding to Golgotha, and an empty tomb were easily found, together with another tomb, having the characteristics of Jewish burial grottos.2 This excavation was described by Eusebius, a contemporary of Constantine, who no doubt was present during much of the construction of the original church. He wrote that a temple to the Roman godess Venus had been built by the Romans over Golgotha, in order to discourage Christian visitors to the site, and that once the temple had been removed, together with a layer of soil, the empty tomb was found almost immediately.3

1 Victor Guérin, La Terre Sainte, Son Histoire, Ses Souvenirs, Ses Sites, Ses Monuments , (Paris, E. Plon, Nourrit, et Cie, 1884), 89-94
2 Guérin, 92-93
3 Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, Chapters XXVI-XXVIII