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Holy Sepulchre

The name of the church which today houses the traditional sites of both the crucifixion and the tomb of Christ. It is a dilapidated, heterogeneous, and unlovely building inside the Old City of Jerusalem. The site has been inside the city walls since a.d. 41-44, when Herod Agrippa had a third wall built; recent archaeological investigation has at last clarified the fact that the site lay outside the city wall before then (cf. Heb. 13:12). The Roman emperor Constantine gave orders in a.d. 326 to build the church, which in its earliest phase was a complex in three parts (on different levels), the Anastasis (Resurrection grotto), the Martyrium (the basilica), and the elevated site of Calvary. Under the basilica was also a chapel dedicated to St. Helena, Constantine's mother, whom legend soon credited with the discovery of “the true cross.”

The original church was burnt down by the Persians in 614, but was soon restored. The caliph Hakim then destroyed or damaged much of the edifice in 1009. Restoration was effected in 1048; and then the Crusaders did major rebuilding work between 1099 and 1149. On his conquest of Jerusalem, Saladin did no more than destroy the bells (1187). Since then, the church has suffered occasionally from earthquakes, fire, and well-intentioned alterations. Several Christian confessions have rights in different parts of the church. The authenticity of the site can be argued on the grounds that in Constantine's reign there was already a strong and unrivaled tradition in support of it, and that during the preceding two centuries the site was inaccessible to pilgrims.

See A. Parrot, Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (ET 1957); see also bibliography for Jerusalem.