The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: A Glimpse into the Melting Pot of Christianity
No city but Jerusalem can claim to hold as much importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims in almost equal measure. So when you are here, explore all the four quarters of the city to get a feel of the complex culture of this place. What better place to start my foray into the Christian quarter in the northwestern corner of the city than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that is at its heart!
You get to the church complex from the Souk el Dabbagha. The structure is not impressive, given the fact that it had fallen in and out of Christian hands several times in the history, and had been built and rebuilt in bits and pieces. But even a casual visitor is transported to another world on stepping into the church. You don’t have to be a pilgrim to be awed by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Interestingly, the Greek orthodox, the Catholic and the Armenian churches that own the different parts of the The Church of the Holy Sepulchre do not control its entrance.
They reportedly come to blows ever so frequently over small matters. No wonder Sultan Saladin entrusted the keys to the custody of a Muslim in 1192, and they remain with the Joudeh Al-Goudia family still. The warring Christian factions cannot agree on even the slightest change in the arrangements too. A mute witness to this status quo is the ‘immovable ladder’ on a parapet visible from the courtyard. It has been perching against a window for the last two centuries at least.
The smell of incense and melting wax greets you as you follow several people carrying wooden crosses while winding their way through the church, stopping briefly at different sites of interest. They are obviously undertaking a pilgrimage along the miniature Via Dolorosa, emulating the last walk of Jesus to the place of his death. On the way you pass different Stations of the Cross including the Prison of Jesus, the Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross, and the Chapel of Crucifixion.
The Golgotha, which means ‘the place of skulls’ where Jesus was crucified, lies under the altar of a Greek church, with a silver disc marking the spot. The Stone of Unction has many pilgrims kissing and kneeling by it, with the wall behind it depicting the preparation of Jesus for burial.
As you know, the story doesn’t end there. Within the complex you come to the large rotunda containing the rock-cut tomb of Jesus, now enclosed in a stone-clad structure called Aedicule. A skylight in the dome lights up this holiest of holy places of the Christians from where Jesus had resurrected. There are a few other chapels to visit, for example, the Chapel of the Angel and then another one deep underground where Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine discovered Jesus’ cross.
It is not exactly easy to imagine how all these places of interest came to lie under the same roof. But, when you emerge at the other end, with or without the wooden cross, you get the feeling that you have just walked through a poignant story.
There is so much more to see, learn, hear, feel, smell, understand, and explore within The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Make sure to stick around for great self walking tours, what it is like upon first entering The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and that ladder mentioned earlier.. could it really have been Jacob’s ladder?
Oh, and make sure to check back soon for the coolest and almost “secret” like way into the The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the rooftops!
Plus! Just how many ways are there to reach The Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Want to know the fastest? The most colorful? Best stops along the way for food and gifts? Check back real soon!