1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sepulchre, The Holy

SEPULCHRE, THE HOLY, the tomb in which, after His crucifixion, the body of Jesus Christ was laid. Although the facts of the crucifixion and of the interment of the body of Christ in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea are related in the New Testament with considerable detail, sufficient indications are not supplied to locate the actual position of the tomb with reference to the city of Jerusalem. It would appear that Golgotha, the place of crucifixion, was outside the city, near a public thoroughfare leading to one of the gates, and visible from some distance. There is, however, no reason for supposing that it was a hill, and the expression “Mount Golgotha” was not used until some centuries later. Adjoining the place Golgotha was a garden, in which was a new rock-cut tomb, the property of Joseph of Arimathea. Rock-cut tombs were common in the vicinity of Jerusalem, as, in consequence of the geological formation, the faces of the hills are frequently broken by low cliffs with terraces between. The comparatively level terraces were used for cultivation while the tombs were excavated in the rock faces. Many instances of tombs so situated can be seen on the hillsides near Jerusalem, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that the tomb of Joseph was of a similar character. As it was outside the city, the question of the validity of the traditional site, upon which the church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands, necessarily depends, to a great extent, upon whether this place was within or without the walls at the date of the crucifixion. At that time, it is clear, judging from the careful description written by Josephus a few years later, that Jerusalem was defended by two walls, as the third wall was not begun by King Herod Agrippa until A.D. 41. Of these, the first, or old wall, ran from the palace of Herod the Great, which was situated at the N.W. corner of the city, and, following an easterly direction, crossed the Tyropoeon Valley and terminated at the west wall of the Temple enclosure. On the other hand, going south from Herod’s palace, it encircled the city on the west and south, and then turning at Siloam it followed the direction of the Kidron Valley and ended at the east wall of the Temple enclosure.

Britannica Plan of Jerusalem.jpg

The second wall, which was built at some period between the return of the Jews from Babylon and the reign of Herod the Great, was on the north, and in front of the old wall. According to Josephus, it started “from the Gate Genath in the first wall, and, enclosing only the northern quarter of the city, went up to the fortress of Antonia.” The site of the Antonia, which was situated on the rising ground north of the Temple, is known with tolerable certainty, but the position of the Gate Genath has not been fixed, and, as no certain traces of the second wall have hitherto been found, the line it followed is purely a matter of conjecture. Various theories on the subject are maintained by different authorities. Some of these are indicated on the plan. One suggestion is that the second wall started from a point in the first wall near the palace of Herod, and that some remains of an old wall, situated at the point A, formed part of it. The wall is then supposed to have been carried in a direction slightly west of north, up to the line of the existing city wall, to have followed this line to the Damascus gate, and then turned south-east to the Antonia. If this theory were correct, it is clear that the traditional site of the Holy Sepulchre would be impossible, as it would be some way within the city wall. The arguments against the proposal are, that, according to the account of the siege of Jerusalem given by Josephus, it is improbable that the second wall started from a point so near to Herod’s palace, that the line of the present city wall is more likely to be that of the third wall, and that Josephus states that the second wall went “up to” and not “down to” the fortress of Antonia. Another theory is that the Gate Genath was at a point marked B on plan, and that some ancient masonry which lies east of the so-called Pool of Hezekiah, and over which the houses on the west side of Christian Street are built, represents a portion of the second wall. The wall is then supposed to have been carried north to the point C, and either to have turned east to D,and again north to F, and from this to the Antonia; or to have continued north to E, and thence east to the Antonia. The first supposition excludes the site of the Holy Sepulchre, while the second includes it within the wall. A third theory is that the Gate Genath was at the point G, and that the second wall ran north to F, and thence to the Antonia. This proposal places the site of the Holy Sepulchre outside the wall, but it makes the part of the city protected by the latter smaller than is probable. Speaking generally, it may be stated that there is no certain evidence as to the line followed by the second wall, and it is impossible to say whether the traditional site lies inside or outside this wall. From the description in the Gospels of the burial of Jesus, it is not clear whether the tomb of Joseph was intended to be the final resting-place, or whether the body was only placed in it temporarily because the feast of the Passover was at hand and the disciples intended to remove it to some other place after the Passover. But whatever may have been proposed, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, leaving the tomb empty, turned the attention of the disciples from the sepulchre to the living presence of their Master. After He had risen from the dead, the place of His burial does not appear to have had any attraction for His followers, and there is nothing in the writings of the first three centuries to lead us to suppose that the actual rock-cut tomb was regarded with any special feelings of veneration. Whether even a recollection of the site was preserved traditionally is doubtful. There have been many who consider that the early Christians could not have forgotten the exact locality of so important a place; on the contrary, others maintain that to the followers of Jesus Christ it was the fact of the Resurrection that was important and not the empty tomb; and that knowledge of the latter was lost during the vicissitudes from which Jerusalem suffered in the years succeeding the crucifixion. About forty years after the crucifixion, the great revolt of the Jewish people against the Romans took place, and ended with the siege and capture of Jerusalem by Titus. Prior to the siege, the Christians, following the orders of their Master, had retired to the city of Pella, east of Jordan, and the date of their return to Jerusalem is uncertain. Whether any of the disciples returned after the triumph of the Romans and recognized the tomb of Christ is matter of conjecture.

Among the temples built by Hadrian about A.D. 135 was one dedicated to Aphrodite or Venus; it was erected at that place where the church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands, but it is impossible to say whether it was purposely so placed because it was the site of the tomb of the Lord, or whether the selection of this position was accidental. The extent of the walls of Aelia Capitolina is not known with any accuracy, but it is probable that the northern wall followed the same line as the present north wall of Jerusalem, and therefore that the site of the temple of Aphrodite was then within the walls. Although it is doubtful whether the Christians returned to Jerusalem immediately after the destruction of the city by Titus, they were certainly there when Hadrian built Aelia Capitolina; according to Epiphanius, they had a small place of worship on Sion at the place where Jesus Christ ate the Last Supper. Eusebius also states that the Christians worshipped at the Mount of Olives where Jesus instructed His disciples, but no writer up to the time of Constantine speaks of the tomb, or of worship being performed there.

Constantine the Great became emperor of Rome in A.D. 306, and was converted to Christianity six years afterwards. Embracing his new religion with enthusiasm he attributed his victories to the power of the Divine Cross, which was placed on the ensigns of the army. After the great council of the Church had been held at Nicaea in A.D. 325, the emperor decided to find the sites of the crucifixion and resurrection at Jerusalem, and to build a church at this place. Full descriptions of the discovery of the Holy Sepulchre and of the churches that were built are given by Eusebius in his Life of Constantine, but it is difficult to say from his account if the main object of Constantine was to find the sepulchre of the Lord or the cross upon which He suffered. Eusebius does not mention the cross directly and lays more stress on the recovery of the sepulchre; whereas later writers imply that the great wish of the emperor and of his mother Helena, who visited Jerusalem for the purpose, was to find the Holy Cross. The task of searching for the tomb and the cross was entrusted to Bishop Macarius. Whether the bishop was guided in his selection of the site by tradition or not is difficult to say, but he decided that the desired place was under Hadrian’s temple of Aphrodite. By imperial order the temple was removed, and a rock-cut Jewish tomb, which lay below, was identified as the sepulchre of the Lord. In another cavity in the rock, 280 ft. to the east, three crosses were discovered, which were assumed to be the crosses upon which Jesus Christ and the two thieves were crucified, the cross of Jesus being identified by its power of healing the sick. Immediately on the receipt of the intelligence of this remarkable discovery, the emperor wrote to Macarius, ordering the erection of magnificent buildings on the site. Two churches were built, one over the tomb, and the second, which was larger and grander, over the place where the crosses had been found. Between the two churches was a small hill, which was identified as Mount Golgotha. The ground surrounding the two churches was levelled and surrounded with porticoes or colonnades. The description of the buildings as detailed by Eusebius is rather obscure, but fortunately there still exists, in the church of Santa Pudenziana at Rome, a mosaic, supposed to have been originally executed in the 4th or 5th century, which shows the buildings clearly. The church of the Anastasis or Holy Sepulchre is herein delineated as a round church with a domed roof; the church of the Martyrion or Holy Cross, as a polygonal building, also with a domed roof; while between the two churches is Mount Golgotha, with the cross erected upon it. In another ancient mosaic, which still exists in a church of Madeba, east of the Jordan, a map of Palestine is represented which contains a rough plan of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. In this plan, also, it is possible to recognize the churches built by Constantine. The Bordeaux pilgrim who visited Jerusalem about A.D. 333, when the church of the Holy Sepulchre was in course of construction, describes the place, which was evidently the same as that on which the existing church of the Holy Sepulchre stands. There can, therefore, be no reasonable doubt that the present site is that which was fixed upon by Bishop Macarius in the time of Constantine.

The churches were completed about A.D. 336, and were doubtless visited by numbers of pilgrims. Among these a lady from the west of Europe, who is supposed to have been St Sylvia of Aquitania and who came to Jerusalem about A.D. 385, fortunately kept a diary of her travels, and she identifies very distinctly the great church of the Cross, the church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Mount Calvary between them. In A.D. 614 Jerusalem was captured by the Persians under Chosroes II., who did considerable damage to the churches, but they were repaired by Modestus after the defeat of the Persians by the emperor Heraclius. The caliph Omar, who captured the city in 636, behaved with leniency to the Christians, and left them in undisputed possession of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 1010 the third Fatimite caliph Hakim practically destroyed it. It is remarkable that from the beginning of the 8th century, while the church of the Holy Sepulchre is always mentioned in the accounts written by visitors to Jerusalem, the church of the Cross seems to have ceased to exist, although the place where the crosses were found was shown to pilgrims, and a church was built on Mount Calvary. After the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in A.D. 1099, the church of the Holy Sepulchre was repaired and enlarged by the addition of a nave and chancel, and other churches were erected, so that the Holy Sepulchre became the centre of a group of ecclesiastical buildings and has so remained up to the present time.

The Authenticity of the Traditional Site.—From early times doubts have arisen as to whether the tomb discovered by Bishop Macarius was the veritable sepulchre. As early as 754, when the pilgrim Wildebald visited Jerusalem, he remarked, in describing the Holy Places, that “Calvary was formerly outside the city, but that the Empress arranged that place so that it should be within the city Jerusalem.” Saewulf in 1102, Wilbrand of Oldenburg in 1211, Jacques de Vitry in 1226, and Burchard of Mount Sion in 1283, had evidently some doubts about the site, and explained the difficulty by suggesting that Hadrian had enclosed it within the walls but that it was outside before he rebuilt the city. Jacques le Saige in 1518, Gretzer in 1598, and F. Quaresmius in 1639, also alluded to the difficulty felt by some in believing in the traditional site. Monconys in 1647 stated that Calvary was formerly outside Jerusalem, but that it was now in the centre of the city, which was smaller than at the time of the crucifixion. In 1738 Jonas Korte of Altona visited Jerusalem and published a book on his travels, in which he expressed the view that the Calvary shown to visitors could not be the true Calvary because it was in the middle of the town. He placed the true site to the west of Jerusalem, near the Birket Mamilla which lies 1/2 m. west of the Jaffa gate. This view was supported by J. F. Plessing in 1789. Dr E. Clarke in 1812 came to the conclusion that Calvary was outside the Sion gate, while Dr E. Robinson, who published his Biblical Researches in Palestine in 1841, expressed himself satisfied that the traditional site could not be the true one, but did not venture to suggest an alternative. In 1842 Otto Thenius asserted that the crucifixion must have taken place on the north of Jerusalem on the rising ground outside the Damascus gate above the quarry known as Jeremiah’s Grotto. Thenius considered that the Holy Sepulchre was on the west side of the hill, and his views were adopted by a number of later writers, including Canon Tristram, Dr Selah Merrill, Fisher Howe and General C. G. Gordon. Colonel C. R. Conder, R.E., who carried out the survey of Palestine under the Palestine Exploration Fund, also adopted the same hill as the probable scene of the crucifixion, but considered that the tomb of Christ was an ancient rock-cut tomb, about 200 yds. west of Jeremiah’s Grotto. Since General Gordon gave his opinion in favour of the site, it has been adopted by many, and the tomb in the face of the hill is sometimes called “Gordon’s Tomb of Christ” or “The Garden Tomb.” A careful examination of the question, however, leads to the conclusion that the sites are not probable either for Calvary or the tomb. The hill in question, though not far outside the present north wall of the city, is at too great a distance from the probable line of the second wall, which was the outside line of fortification at the time of the crucifixion. The quarry, known as Jeremiah's Grotto, is likely to be of later date than the third wall, which was built some years after the crucifixion, and the tomb identified as that of Christ has with good reason been attributed to the Christian rather than to the Jewish period. On the whole, therefore, the balance of argument is against the identification proposed by Thenius.

An entirely different theory regarding the site of the tomb of Christ was proposed by James Fergusson, the architect, who, in 1847, in his Essay on the Ancient Topography of Jerusalem, made the startling proposal that the Dome of the Rock, generally believed to have been erected by Abdalmalik (Abd el Melek) in A.D. 691, was the church built by the emperor Constantine over the Holy Sepulchre. He further elaborated his views in the interesting work entitled The Temples of the Jews and other buildings in the Haram area at Jerusalem (1878). Fergusson's proposal, which found a considerable number of supporters, was based on architectural evidence, and he maintained that the building must have been designed in the time of Constantine and could not have been constructed by the Mahommedans at the end of the 7th century. Fergusson’s views were strongly supported by F. W. Unger in Die Bauten Constantins des Grossen am Heiligen Grab zu Jerusalem, published at Göttingen in 1863, but the objections to them on historical and topographical grounds are so considerable that they can hardly now be maintained. The theory involves placing the Temple of the Jews at the S. W. part of the Haram enclosure, and the explorations made by General Sir C. Warren showed conclusively that if the Temple had been in this position, it would have stood over the deepest part of the Tyropoeon Valley, and the foundations must have been of a most unnecessarily gigantic character. Sir C. Warren, in The Temple and the Tomb, 1880, replied seriatim to Fergusson’s proposals. The historical evidence also is entirely against the latter, and the discovery of the Madeba mosaic, which, as has been already explained, shows the church of the Holy Sepulchre in the same position as at present, is another proof that the latter was not placed by Constantine on Mount Moriah.

The final conclusion that may be arrived at with regard to the authenticity of the traditional site of the Holy Sepulchre is as follows. It may be taken as certain that the present site is that which was adopted by Macarius as the correct one early in the 4th century, but there is not sufficient evidence to prove that this tomb was the one in which the body of Christ was laid, or that remembrance of the latter had been preserved during the three centuries that had elapsed between the time of the crucifixion and the conversion of Constantine. No other suggested site, however, has more claim to be the true one than that over which the church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands.

Literature.—By far the most important of the many works which have been published on the subject is Golgotha and the Holy Sepulchre, by Sir C. W. Wilson (Palestine Exploration Fund, London, 1906). Sir C. Wilson was employed upon the Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem in 1864–1865, and made careful plans of the church of the Holy Sepulchre; he had an extensive knowledge of the question, and his work forms a valuable index to the topographical and historical considerations which are involved. Among ancient writers, see Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, The Praise of Constantine, Theophania; Rufinus (A.D. 345–410), Ecclesiastical History; Sulpicius Severus (A.D. 363–420), Sacred History; Sozomen (A.D. 375–450), Ecclesiastical History; Socrates (circa A.D. 379), Ecclesiastical History. The Publications of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society contain a collection of translations of the records of pilgrims, who visited the Holy Places after the erection of Constantino’s churches; among these are included (the dates are approximate) : The Bordeaux Pilgrim, A.D. 333; St Sylvia, A.D. 385; Eucherius, A.D. 440; Theodosius; A.D. 530; Antoninus Martyr, A.D. 530; Arculfus, A.D. 630; Willibald, A.D. 754; Bernard the Wise, A.D. 870; Saewulf, A.D. 1102; Burchard of Mount Sion, A.D. 1283; Ludolph von Suchem, A.D. 1350; Felix Fabri, A.D. 1483. Among the writers of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, see J. Gretzer, Omnia opera (Ingolstadt, 1598); F. Quaresmius, Historica, theologica et moralis Terrae Sanctae elucidatio (Antwerp, 1639); T. Fuller, A Pisgah Sight of Palestine (London, 1650); B. de Monconys, Journal des voyages (Paris, 1665); A. Bynœus, De morte Jesu Christi (Amsterdam, 1698); J. Korte, Reise nach dem weiland Gelobten Lande (2nd ed., Altona, 1743) ; J. F. Plessing, Über Golgotha und Christi Grab (Halle, 1789). Of the numerous writers of the 19th century some of the more important are: E. D. Clarke, Travels in the Holy Land (Cambridge, 1823); F. R. de Chateaubriand, Itinéraire de Paris à Jerusalem (Paris, 1837) ; E. Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine (London, 1841 and 1856); O. Thenius, “Golgatha et Sanctum Sepulchrum” in Zeitschrift für die historische Theologie (1842); J. Fergusson, The Ancient Topography of Jerusalem (London, 1847), The Holy Sepulchre and the Temple (1865), The Temples of the Jews (1878); G. Williams, The Holy City (2nd ed., London, 1849); Hayter Lewis, The Holy Places of Jerusalem (London, 1888); J. T. Barclay, The City of the Great King (1857); F. Bovet, Voyage en Terre Sainte (Paris, 1862); F. W. Unger, Die Bauten Constantins des Grossen am Heiligen Grabe zu Jerusalem (Göttingen, 1863); General Sir C. Warren, G.C.M.G., The Recovery of Jerusalem (London, 1871), The Temple and the Tomb (1880); Colonel C. R. Conder, R.E., Handbook to the Bible (London, 1887); General C. G. Gordon, C.B., Reflections in Palestine (London, 1884); C. Clermont Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine (London, 1899); C. Mommert, Golgatha und das Heilige Grab zu Jerusalem (Leipzig, 1900). See also articles in The Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund; Basting's Dictionary of the Bible; Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible; Recueil d'archéologie orientale; Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins. A large scale plan of the church of the Holy Sepulchre forms part of the Survey of Jerusalem, published by the Ordnance Survey, Southampton.  (C. M. W.)