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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

[Chruch of the Holy Sepulchre]

page 11

The Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the modern representative of Churcnes erected by the Emperor Constantine in A.D. 325-26, in honor of the places which were believed to have been the respective scenes of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.

The ground on which the existing Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands was originally a suc-cession of natural rock terraces, like those in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Two of these must be considered in connection with the Church site; an upper terrace, having in its vertical face the mouths of several ancient Jewish tombs, and a lower terrace, planted with olive and fig trees. A spot on the upper terrace was assumed to be the place of the Crucifixion.

The Christian architect decided to obtain a level platform for the churches, but was ins-tructed to build on the lower terrace. In car-rying this out, the rock of the upper terrace was cut away in such a manner as to leave the grave of Christ and the place of the Crucifixion stand-ing out as isolated masses of rock above the general level. Inequalities were filled up, and the platform was paved with large slabs of limestone, a few of which are still visible. Two churches were built on this platform, one ded-icated to the Cross and the other to the Resurrec-tion, the latter having in its centre a circular chapel, which contained the grave of Christ.

In A.D. 614 the churches were burned by the Persians, and during 616-626 were restored by Modestus, the Abbot of the Monastry of Theod-osius. Again, in 936 and 969 the buildings were greatly damaged by fire, while in I00I they were partially destroyed and the holy places dese-crated by El-Hakim, an Egyptian ruler. In I055 the churches were partially rebuilt; and when the Crusaders entered the City, in 1099, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was a circular building, with the round chapel of the Sepulchre in its centre. Later, the Latins erected a build-ing that included all the holy places, and in this church the Christian Kings of Jerusalem were crowned and buried. The buildings were fre-quently injured by fire and fanatics, notably in 1244. A disastrous fire in 1808 left little more than the shell of the first building. It was re-constructed in 1810 by a Greek architect, who retained the plan of the Crusaders' Church.

The Chapel of the Sepulchre stands on a plat-form a little above the floor of the rotunda. Until the period of the Crusaders it was circular in form and contained the tomb alone. The Crusaders changed the form and added a "Chapel of the Angel" at the eastern end. The present Chapel is more like a kiosk. The entrance is by a low archway, on the east, with large candel-abra on either side. Inside, a narrow stairway leads to the top. In the "Chapel of the Angel" I5 lamps are always burning and in the centre is a fragment of the stone that closed the mouth of the Sepulchre. In the west wall, a low narrow opening gives access to the Chapel of the Se-pulchre, a small room with space for only four or five persons to kneel in front of the tomb, which occupies the whole of the north side.

The tomb, as it appeals to view, is a marble bench 2 ft high, 6 ft 4 in. long and 3 ft wide. The existence of the natural rock beneath the marble slab, which is used as an altar, has not been verified. The only question of interest is the original form of the grave, which may have been a "bench" grave or an "oven" grave, with its rock roof left as a canopy. Above the tomb are marble reliefs belonging to the Greeks, Latins, and Armenians, while from the ceiling hang 43 lamps, the three communities named owning I3 each and the Copts four. The photo-graph (see opposite page) shows the Holy Sepulchre as decorated at the time of a Latin festival, recently.

The three crosses and the Holy Sepulchre were discovered in A.D. 325 by Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, who made his search by order of Constantine. The Emperor, on being informed of the discoveries, issued instructions for two splendid churches to be built, one, the Anastasis, over the Holy Sepulchre, and the other, the Martyruum (Church of the Cross), to commem-orate the finding of the Cross on which our Lord was crucified. They stood in a big court, on either side of Mount Golgatha, and were sur-rounded by colonnades. Of these magnificent buildings, not one stone remains upon another.

In the middle of the sixth century the Emperor Justinian erected a church in honor of the Virgin Mary. It probably stood in the Haram on the spot where the great Mosque Aksa is now; but the site is not certainly known, for every vestage of the sacred building disappeared centuries ago. A Church of St. Mary was also

built in the fifth century where the Virgin's grave was believed to be, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. This Church of the Tomb of the Virgin has been destroyed and reconstructed several times. It is now a large building, with separate altars for Greeks, Armenians and Abys-sinians.

The Garden of Gethsemane lies to the right of "The Virgin's Tomb," one of the three path-ways up the mount leading straight to it. In the Garden are some gnarled olive trees, said to be the most ancient in Palestine. None of them, of course, is an "original", for in A.D. 70 the Romans felled all the trees within the vicinity of the Holy City, using the wood to make siege works.