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