The Holy Sepulchre

This is the Holy Sepulchre; the ædicule or shrine, containing the burial place of Jesus.
After Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, had satisfied herself that she had discovered the true site of the resurrection, she had the ground cleared, leaving only that part which contained the resting place of Jesus; much of the hill, the graves and the pagan temple instituted by Hadrian 200 years previously, were demolished, and in their place and around that spot she erected, in her son's name, the Rotunda and Basilica of what has become the most hallowed spot in Christendom - the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The church originally extended eastwards as far as the Byzantine Cardus Maximus (today's Beit Ha-Bad Street), and was erected over the actual, traditional sepulchre of Jesus. It was virtually destroyed stone by stone, brick by brick, by Caliph Hakim in 1009 - (it had also been damaged by Persians in the invasion of 614 CE.). You can examine what it is reliably believed this first Constantinian church looked like, here .

The present church dates to the Crusaders' period (12th century), who rebuilt on the partial Byzantine reconstruction, after Hakim's destruction. Some sections of Helena's original Constantinian church, built between 326 and 335 CE can still be seen in the present structure.
The last serious reconstruction of the ædicule was in 1834 when a new, upper section was constructed as a result of a fire which broke out in the Armenian section of the church at the beginning of the 19th century and spread throughout the whole church, doing much damage. For curiosity's sake you can compare the accuracy of David Roberts' drawing with the photograph taken during the 'nineties, when the Rotunda was undergoing extensive refurbishment. The church was built (in its original form), under the instructions of Constantine himself who wrote in great detail to the Bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius, explaining his thoughts about the church he wanted built. You can read the letter by clicking   here.


The entire church complex today, in plan, looks like this:-

Plan of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - 

The original elements of the Constantinian structure shown in the link at the beginning of this monograph, can be clearly seen.

At the eastern end of the Basilica ("Martyrium") and below ground, are two further items of interest: the Chapel of St Helena and the Chapel (grotto) of the Cross. Here are 2 photographs of the Chapel of St Helena:-

The Chapel of St. Helena The Chapel of St Helena
The mosaics on the floor depict various churches founded throughout the east by Helena. It is interesting that in the first half of the 19th century when David Roberts was making his journey and drawings of sites that floor was not extant - here is his drawing:-

St. Helena's Chapel - 
David Roberts

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