Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre

The heart of the Old City of Jerusalem for Christians is the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, known by the locals as the “Church of the Resurrection”: inside, there is the Calvary, the place of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, and the Tomb of Jesus, from which the Son of God arose on the third day. The two Holy Places are related and inseparable, as is the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which took place there and which takes place continuously. For eight hundred years, the Franciscan friars of the Order of Friars Minor have been the guardians of the Holy Sepulchre, on behalf of the Catholic Church, and share the ownership of the Basilica with the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.

From quarry to garden

Calvary, as confirmed by the Gospel writers, was located outside the city in an area that was used as a burial ground. 
And what did the area look like at the time of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus? 
Archaeological excavations in the second half of the 20th century showed that beyond the city walls there was a vast quarry, in operation from the eighth to the first centuries BC, for extracting meleke limestone for use in constructing buildings within the city. After the quarry was abandoned the area was used for small vegetable gardens, and in the carved rocky walls of the quarry, along the hillside, a number of family tombs were hewn.
Golgotha itself, the “mount” on which the crosses were raised, would have had the appearance of a rocky knoll above and separated from the hill, hence an appropriate place for carrying out exemplary capital punishments.
When in 41-42 AD Herod Agrippa enlarged the Jerusalem city walls towards the northwest, Golgotha became part of the city, and over time the isolated area came to be an integral part of the urban center.

Ælia Capitolina

 An important consequence of the Jewish Revolt against Roman domination was the destruction of Jerusalem and the construction of a new city, the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina, named for Emperor Hadrian (his nomen, or clan name, was Aelius) who ordered its construction.
Jerusalem was transformed into a Greco-Roman city, complete with a Cardo Maximus (main street) and temples dedicated to the Roman divinities in order that all memories of the Jewish presence would be obliterated.
In its new urban setting, the garden of Golgotha found itself in the center of the city. In this same area a pagan temple was erected on an embankment, thus sealing off the ancient remains, as related by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in the 4th century and St. Jerome, who lived in Bethlehem from 386 until his death.

The era of Constantine

In 324-325, Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem, at the request of Emperor Constantine, initiated the destruction of the pagan structures that had been constructed on Golgotha, in order to search for the empty tomb of Christ. In an surprised tone, and contrary to all expectations, the historian Eusebius recounts the discovery of the “most holy of caves”, the one which had witnessed the resurrection of the Savior. 
Following the discovery of the tomb and the rock knoll of the Golgotha, Constantine’s architects designed an imposing complex of structures to be used in specific religious contexts.
Constantine’s works, formally inaugurated on 13 September 335, significantly modified the geology of the area in order to construct an integrated system of structures, culminating in the Anastasis with Christ’s tomb at its center.
From the colonnaded Cardo Maximus steps were erected giving entry into the atrium where, through three doors, one entered the Martyrium Basilica. The Basilica must have been magnificent, with its five naves separated by columns and pillars supporting a gold coffered ceiling.
At the rear of the Basilica, through two door placed on either side of the apse, one entered the open courtyard surrounded on three sides by covered archways (or porticos), at the southeast corner of which, in its natural form, rose the rock of Golgotha.
From this courtyard (or Triportico) the imposing facade of the spectacular Anastasis mausoleum stood out: at the center of the immense semi-circular structure was the Edicule of the Tomb, encircled by columns and pillars forming a circular ambulatory with a gallery above. The Anastasis was crowned by a large dome having a circular opening, making it visible from throughout the city.
Finally, externally along the northern side of the Anastasis were areas designated for the Bishop and clergy of the Mother Church of Jerusalem.

The Persian invasion and the Arab conquest

The conquest of Jerusalem by the Persians in 614 was accompanied by three days of pillage and destruction. Patriarch Zachariah himself was made prisoner and the relic of the True Cross was stolen, only to be recovered and brought back to Jerusalem by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 630.

The complex of the Holy Sepulchre, in which the Christians of Jerusalem had sought refuge during the siege, was set on fire and many of the faithful died there. Modestus, Abbot of the monastery of St. Theodosius, dedicated himself to seeking funds for reconstructing the Jerusalem churches that had been destroyed by the Persian hordes. He declared that everything would be restored by 625 and this suggests that the damages suffered by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were also repaired.

In 638, Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem peacefully surrendered the city to Caliph Omar: the Byzantine defeat at the hands of Muslims coming out of the Arabian peninsula changed the course of Palestinian history for the next four centuries.

It is due to the Caliph’s visit to the Holy Sepulchre, and his praying outside of the Martyrium in the eastern atrium, that the Christian right to the principal access to the sanctuary was lost, which instead became a place for Muslim individual prayer.

Pilgrimages to the Holy City continued uninterrupted and the accounts of travelers provide a description of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the changes observed during this period, including the shift of the entrance to the southern side, the construction of a church on the site of Calvary and the church of St. Mary, as well as the veneration of new relics placed on display for religious devotion, including the cup of the Last Supper, the sponge and the spear. 

The destruction of al-Hakim

In 1009 the fanatic Egyptian Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah gave explicit orders to destroy the churches in Palestine, Egypt and Syria, and above all the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as recounted by the historian Yahya ibn Sa'id.

The destruction of the sanctuary was virtually complete, including the demolition of the church of Calvary and of what remained of the structure of the Martyrium, and the complete dismantling of the Edicule of the Tomb. All of the furnishings and equipment were either destroyed or stolen. The devastating fury was brought to a halt only by the sturdiness of the Constantinian structures of the Anastasis, which were saved in part due to their having been submerged beneath the debris of the destruction.

Reconstruction was able to begin several years later, but the overall complexity of the Constantinian design was lost forever. The Rotunda of the Anastasis now became the center of the church, and is the only basilica mentioned in subsequent historical sources. The restoration, undertaken by the Byzantine imperial government, was completed in 1048 during the reign of Emperor Constantine Monomachus.

The Crusader transformation

The growing difficulties faced by Christians in traveling to the Holy Places led the Byzantine Emperor to request aid from the West, which responded by launching the Crusades.
On 15 July 1099 the Crusaders took Jerusalem by storm, massacring Jews and Muslims, and made the city the heart of their kingdom for nearly a century, until 2 October 1187. 
Shortly after the conquest, Count Godfrey de Bouillon was given the title of “Advocatus”, i.e., Protector, of the Holy Sepulchre, with the implicit task of defending the Holy Sites on behalf of the Pope and Latin clergy.

The Crusaders began the works of reorganizing the different parts of the recently-restored sanctuary at the heart of Christianity. To adapt the sanctuary to the Latin liturgy, in the area of the former Triportico a Chorus Dominorum was constructed connecting to the Anastasis, in which the Latin clergy officiated.The other important development during Crusader times was the construction of the Chapel of St. Helena in the area where Jerusalem tradition holds that the True Cross was found by Constantine’s mother. 

The Crusaders’ objective was to create a single church grouping together all of the separate places where memories were celebrated there, giving the new church a form that would be appropriate for welcoming thousands of pilgrims.
The initial works carried out during the reign of King Baldwin (1100-1118) were characterized by the diversity of European Romanesque styles employed. Over time a greater unity in style was achieved, due above all to artists working for King Baldwin III (1140-1150).

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it has arrived to us today continues to echo the Crusader Romanesque style which gathered together into a single structure the sacred memories linked to Christ’s death and resurrection.

A difficult period

In 1187 Jerusalem was reconquered by Saladin’s army and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed. Through an agreement with the emperor in Constantinople, a Greek hierarchy was reestablished. 
Catholics, the so-called Franks or Latins, were readmitted during brief truces, only to be expelled again during the brutal Khwarezmian invasion in 1244, when Christians were attacked and slaughtered, and the church was once more seriously damaged. 

The pilgrim Thietmar wrote in 1217 that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the site of the Passion “are without lamps and without honor and worship, and always closed except when opened to pilgrims on payment of fees.” Faced with protests from the Christian world, the sultan apologized to Pope Innocent IV, saying that the deva station had been carried out without his knowledge. And he guaranteed that, once the damages had been repaired, the keys would be entrusted to two Muslim famiglie who would open the Church whenever pilgrims arrived (a situation that continues to the present day). 

It was a dark period, and unscrupulous officials mocked the wish of the Christian community to have access to the church. Pilgrims, after payment of a tax, were allowed to enter the church and were given a place and a special altar where for several days they could partecipate in ceremonies performed in their own language.
During this period, Christian colonies from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Armenia, Ethiopia, Syria, Greece and Georgia were established in Jerusalem. The Georgian Queen Tamara obtained an exemption from the tax for her community and permission for it to live in the church. Monks received food and offerings through openings that had been cut out of the door of the church. 

The sanctuary gradually decayed. Western rulers, having lost the chance to recover the Holy Places by force of arms, entered into negotiations with the sultans to guarantee Catholic worship and aid to pilgrims. Success was achieved by the royal family of Naples, who in 1333 obtained the right of residence for the Latin community in Jerusalem.

The Franciscans at the Holy Sepulchre

In 1342, with the approval of Pope Clement VI, the honor of protecting the Holy Places was conferred upon the Franciscans, present in the Holy Land since 1335. 
Since that time the Franciscan friars have occupied the Chapel of the Apparition of the risen Jesus to his Mother. 

Fra Niccolò da Poggibonsi, who visited the Holy Land between 1346 and 1350, described the situation within the Holy Sepulchre: «At the Altar of St. Mary Magdalene the Latins are officiating, namely, the Friars Minor, who are of us, Latin Christians; because in Jerusalem and everywhere beyond the seas – in Syria, in Israel, in Arabia, and in Egypt – there are no clerics, priests or monks, other than the Friars Minor and these are called Latin Christians.»

The Russian Archimandrite Grethenios made reference to the fact that within the church, closed throughout the year with the exception of Easter celebrations and pilgrimages, there was permanently a Greek, a Georgian, a Frank (i.e., a Friar Minor), an Armenian, a Jacobite (Syrian) and an Ethiopian priest. 

It was a period of relative calm: the different Christian communities at the Holy Sepulchre managed to celebrate Holy Week services together, including the Palm Sunday procession.

Under Turkish domination

In 1517 the center of power in the Islamic world shifted from the Mameluke dynasty in Egypt to the Ottomans in Turkey. The Sultan, who resided in Constantinople, favored the Greek Orthodox Church, and this led to a great deal of friction between the Greeks and the Latins. An earthquake in 1545 caused the collapse of part of the bell tower. Money and palace intrigues transformed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre into a trophy to be given to whoever offered the most. 

Between 1630 and 1637 several parts of the Church changed hands more than six times. In 1644, the Georgians, unable to maintain the required tax payments, left the church, and shortly thereafter, the Ethiopians also departed. The Franciscans managed to acquire areas that had been abandoned by the other religious communities. In 1719, after long negotiations, the Franciscans began to restore the dome of the Anastasis. 
Due to their fear that the works would be interrupted senselessly before completion, more than 500 workers were employed, watched over by 300 soldiers. The dome and the tympanum were redone with blind windows, but the mosaics, which had been too badly damaged, were lost. The Armenians repaired the staircase to the Chapel of St. Helena, and the Greeks tore down the unsafe levels of the bell tower. The Edicule was restored in 1728.

A decree of the Sultan in 1757 assigned to the Greeks ownership of the churches at Bethlehem, the Tomb of the Virgin, and, jointly with the Latins, of parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Since that time there have been no further substantial modifications in the ownership of the Holy Places.

The period of the British Mandate

Following the First World War, which saw the defeat of Germany and its ally Turkey, Palestine was entrusted to the British Mandatory Authority. 

The hope that the issue of the Holy Places could at last be resolved in an equitable manner, since the British were not involved in any of the issues and hence could theoretically serve as impartial judges among the contending parties, was unfortunately not fulfilled.
The plan to form a commission that would examine the rights of each of the religious communities was withdrawn, and responsibility for resolving the controversies was placed in the hands of the British High Commissioner for Palestine, with instructions to strictly enforce the Status Quo. 
In the case of urgent works or restorations, based on Article 13 of the Mandate and a 1929 regulation issued by the Department of Antiquities, the British government was able to intervene directly. Such interventions took place in both 1934 and 1939. 

Following the major earthquake in 1927, the British architect Austen St. Barbe Harrison sounded the alarm about the dangerous instability of the church and had it reinforced with iron girders and wooden supports. 

The Franciscans and Greeks invited specialist architects to carry out a further survey which concluded that the reinforcing works that had been carried out were insufficient to avoid a catastrophe, and hence other solutions had to be found. 
The three religious communities, on their part, got together to carry out repairs to the damages from the earthquake: the Greeks reconstructed at their own expense the dome of the Katholikon, the Franciscans repaired the Chapel of Calvary and the Armenians the Chapel of St. Helena.

From 1948 to the present

If, to a certain extent, the past century for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was defined by a succession of difficulties linked to the political situation in the country, it also was the century which offered the first real prospect for meaningful agreements among the religious communities involved in the Status Quo.

During the period of Hashemite (Jordanian) control, Christians and Muslims were able to freely visit the Holy City and the church, in contrast to Jews, as the Old City was entirely contained within Jordanian territory. A royal visit was made to the site by the Jordanian King Abdullah on 27 May 1948.
During the course of works to restore the roof, at 8 pm on Wednesday 23 November 1949 a fire damaged the roofing of the great dome, and the government in Amman took immediate measures to repair it. A decisive step was taken in 1959 when negotiations among the representatives of the three principal religious communities Greek, Latin and Armenian arrived at an agreement for a major project to restore the church, and works began in 1960. This also provided the opportunity to investigate the archaeological record in a number of trenches that were opened. 

The archaeological works were carried out by the Franciscan father and archaeologist of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Virgilio Corbo.For more than twenty years Father Corbo was involved in the discovery and careful interpretation of the important material elements brought to light by the investigation of the building, an effort that culminated in 1982 with the publication of his “The Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem” which presented complete documentation on the archaeological research.

The first papal visit ever to the Holy Places took place in January 1964 when Paul VI preached before the empty Tomb. Three and a half decades later, on the occasion of Jubilee Year 2000, the blessed John Paul IImade two visits in a single day, and in 2009 the Christian community was able to rejoice in the visit of the new pontiff Benedict XVI. Following the so-called Six Days War in 1967, the church of the Holy Sepulchre came under Israeli control and, still today, Israeli guards supervise the tranquil carrying out of the opening and closing of the church and the inflow of pilgrims, above all during the Easter Triduum.
The continuing dialogue among the three principal religious communities concerning the management of the common areas of the church has led to important new inaugurations, notably that of the dome towering above the Edicule unveiled to the grand emotion of the faithful, pilgrims and clergy on 2 January 1997. And, more recently, that of the indispensable areas serving as toilet facilities. Negotiations among the representatives of the religious communities are continuing, and new agreements under consideration include the restoration of the Holy Edicule and new pavement for the public areas.

Father Corbo, the archaeologist friar of the Holy Sepulchre

His discovery of Peter’s house in Capernaum still lay in the future when the “mendicant friar of the Holy Places” was entrusted by the Custody of the Holy Land with the excavation works to be carried out as part of the restoration by the Catholic parties of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Three years later, in 1963, the three principal religious communities at the Tomb chose him as the archaeologist for the works to be carried out in the common areas, a responsibility that he carried out night and day during the ensuing 17 years, and for a further two years overseeing the publication of his monumental work “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem: archaeological aspects from its origins to the Crusader period”.

Father Virgilio Corbo came to the Holy Land at the tender age of ten from his native Avigliano, a small town in the Lucanian Apennines, to be a student at the Minor Seminary of the Custody of the Holy Land. Under the guidance of Father Bellarmino Bagatti, during his enforced stay between 1940 and 1943 at Emmaus el-Qubeibeh, Father Corbo had has first experiences with archaeological excavations, an experience that was heightened by the archaeological renown of the lands adjacent to the monastery, from which the friars were permitted to leave once per week.
His initial field of research focused on the Byzantine monasteries of the Judean Desert, a subject treated in his thesis presented to the Pontifical Institute of Oriental Studies in Rome entitled “The excavations at Khirbet Siyar el-Ghanam (Shepherd’s Field) and neighboring monasteries”, subsequently published in the Collection Maior of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in 1955.  He then devoted himself to archaeological investigations on the Mount of Olives in an area near the Sanctuary of the Ascension and in the Grotto of the Apostles at Gethsemane.

In 1960 he began his long activity as an archaeological expert at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, at the same time carrying out other important archaeological investigations at Herod’s Fortress (1962-1967) and Mount Nebo (1963-1970).
Beginning in 1968 Father Corbo along with Father Stanislao Loffredda worked at the site which made him most famous, conducting 19 excavations along the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum which restored, thanks to the tireless works of the fathers, the house of Peter that the first Christians had transformed into a place of worship.

His Franciscan faith in the Gospel and his passion for archaeology were fused together in a corpulent physique and a volcanic spirit which continually impelled him to further research on an authenticity that he defined as “historical and moral” regarding the sites of the Redemption.

From his preface to the three volumes on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one can readily capture the spirit with which the friar archaeologist approached the site of Golgotha and the Empty Tomb, “with the same anxiety as the Apostles”: “Here began the pilgrimage of the Apostles and the pious women on the dawn of the day of Resurrection. Here is where the pilgrimage of the Church has arrived for two thousand years. Here the pilgrimage continues unceasingly in order to again hear the angelic message ‘ecce locus ubi posuerunt eum… non est hic. Resurrexit!’.” 

If today we have a much better understanding of the structures of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and no longer only idealized plans, this is due to the expertise and great passion of Father Corbo, who with great skill and with the “intuitive love towards He who is the triumphant figure of this monument”, tamed the fatigues of labor and the resistance of men.

The archaeological excavations

At the end of the 1950s the representatives of the three religious communities officiating at the Tomb reached an agreement to begin restoration works at the church. 

This intervention led to the possibility of carrying out archaeological excavations and detailed investigations of the structures, studies that form the basis of our current understanding of the church and its architectural history.
While scholars had always been keenly interested in these issues, previously only very few elements were known with certainty concerning works carried out prior to the 20th century. For the most part, historical reconstructions had been based on the accounts of pilgrims who in their time had described what they had seen with their own eyes.

Archaeological interest increased considerably after 1844 when, in the nearby Russian Convent, traces of the access to the Constantine Martyrium were discovered, including the staircase on the Cardus Maximus (studies published in 1930). 

The best research prior to the archaeological investigations was brought together in the four volumes of “Jérusalem nouvelle” prepared by the Dominican fathers Louis H. Vincent and Felix M. Abel, published between 1924 and 1926. They put forward a reconstructed architectural plan of the Constantinian complex of the Holy Sepulchre, which subsequently served as the basis for Father Corbo’s investigations.

“The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem: archaeological aspects from its origins to the Crusader period”

The fascinating archaeological investigations between 1960 and 1973 in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, resulting from the agreement among the Catholic, Greek and Armenian religious communities for the restoration of the church, were carried out in a step-by-step manner by the Franciscan archaeologist Father Virgilio Corbo.

From the beginning of the works, the archaeologist published preliminary reports at regular intervals in the scientific journal “Liber Annus” as well as a number of more popular articles in various magazines and journals.
The overall work which made available to the world the results of twenty years of research at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and which permitted the linking of details from the Gospels to this venerated site, was divided by Father Corbo into three volumes: the first containing text, the second tables of designs and reconstructions, and the third photographs. 
The work was published in 1982 (in Italian) with the title “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem: archaeological aspects from its origins to the Crusader period”.
The Italian text was accompanied by a summary and captions in English, prepared by his colleague and dear friend, Father Stanislao Loffredda.

For the first time, the long history of the sanctuary was reconstructed through physical data and archaeological documentation that had been collected by Father Corbo, during the excavations that he himself conducted as well as his direct observations of other excavations carried out in the common areas, and finally as a privileged observer of excavations in areas that had been strictly reserved to the non-Latin communities.

One of the greatest merits of the work is perhaps that of having gathered together in a single place a great mass of data and documentation that otherwise would have remained scattered, and having chosen to present the data in a “bare-bones” style while at the same time providing a historical synthesis for the reader.

The results of the investigations were organized in four chapters:

  • 1. The site of Golgotha-Calvary before Constantine the Great
  • 2. The Constantinian structures
  • 3. The major restoration of Constantine Monomachus – 11th century -
  • 4. The Crusader transformation

The reconstruction of the plans for the individual historical stages, highlighting the position of the structures, forms the basis for all of the studies analyzing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that have been carried out over the past thirty years. The plans take into account not only all of the new archaeological information, but also architectural insights, the latter resulting from the uncovering of square-cut stones in walls that had been previously covered over by plaster.

For the common areas within the church, Father Corbo was able to make use of the data collected from the excavations of the narrow trenches that were to serve for the installation of substructures, and only in a few cases was he able to receive permission to enlarge the area of excavation. For the area under Latin control, he had at his disposition the entire archaeological record that was preserved in the area of the Patriarch’s residence, the Latin sacristy, the Latin chorus or Chapel of the Apparition, and the Altar of Mary Magdalene, all situated to the north of the Anastasis, as well as the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross.

Father Corbo had the opportunity to discuss his discoveries and analysis of the structures with Father Charles Coüsnon, the architect entrusted by the Latin community with the restoration of the church. Father Coüsnon, who died in 1976, had two years earlier published his preliminary report on the works entitled “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem”

The rich and stimulating discussions between the two scholars led in some cases to divergent interpretations of the events and of the reconstruction of the building. One of Coüsnon’s hypotheses that has largely been accepted by successive scholars relates to the columns that make up the Rotunda of the Anastasis: the two original columns preserved from Constantine’s time are believed to be two halves of a single taller column belonging to the portico of Hadrian’s Roman temple.
Later scholars have diverged from Corbo principally regarding his attribution of the temple constructed by Hadrian on the site of the garden of Golgotha to Jupiter Capitolinus. Corbo, influenced by the testimony of St. Jerome, reported that traces had been found of the three-celled temple dedicated to the Capitoline Triad. More recent scholars, however, are inclined to believe that, as reported by Eusebius of Caesarea, the temple constructed above both the Tomb and Golgotha was dedicated to Venus Aphrodite, a temple that was perhaps of circular form and from which Constantine’s architects may have drawn their inspiration for the central plan of the Anastasis.

Finally, one of the aspects up to now insufficiently remarked upon in Corbo’s publication is the presence of designs carried out by talented engineers, architects and designers involved in the survey alongside Corbo and Coüsnon. Notable among these was Terry Ball, a talented British artist and illustrator, who was one of the first to understand the importance of recreating the history of the structures by means of reconstruction drawings: the detailed and elegant designs of the facade of the Tomb are his.

Chronological list of underground researches at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

  • 1960: exploration and ground floor excavation in the area of the Patriarch’s residence and the garden
  • 1963: excavation of the Chapel of St. Mary
  • 1963-64: excavation of water/sewage systems between the Patriarch’s residence to the north and the Parvis (entrance courtyard) in front of the church on the south; discovery of the Hadrian underground
  • 1965: excavation in the rock-cut Chapel of the Finding of the Cross. Partial excavation of the Parvis facing the south facade of the church
  • 1966-67: excavation in the area south of the transept of the Anastasis (Armenian Divan)
  • 1968: excavation in the area north of the transept of the Anastasis (now the Altar of Mary Magdalene)
  • 1969: excavation in the gallery of the Anastasis and above the the Arches of the Virgin
  • 1969-70: excavations in the eastern area of the Triportico (now the Katholikon)
  • 1974: excavation of the trenches to the south of the Edicule in the Anastasis
  • 1970-1980: extremely long excavation, carried out in segments, behind the apse of the Chapel of St. Helena in the area of the Martyrium

V.C. Corbo, Il Santo Sepolcro di Gerusalemme. Aspetti archeologici dalle origini al periodo crociato, Jerusalem 1981, vol. 1, pg 21.

Jesus’ tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was reopened on October 26, 2016. The tomb had been closed only twice before, in 1555 and 1809 due to restoration work both times. The aim of the work was to secure the small temple (the Edicule) that houses inside of it what remains of the sepulchral structure and the real empty tomb of Christ. At the end of a complex process of restoration work, the tomb was opened, with a brief reconnaissance of the interior, that was enough to collect unpublished data and deepen the knowledge of the holiest place in Christendom: the place of Christ’s Resurrection.

The agreement to start the work was signed on March 22, 2016, by the three Churches—the Greek, Latin and Armenian churches—and they entrusted the management of the construction site to the Athens Polytechnical University, allowing the three ecclesiastical authorities to evaluate the status of the work together and decide on how to proceed. The work, which lasted for ten months, was carried out by a staff coordinated by Prof. Antonia Moropoulou of the National Technical University of Athens, who led both the preliminary studies and the actual restoration of the Edicule.

Following the agreement, the Edicule was literally dismantled and reassembled, in order to reinforce its structure. The marble slabs that cover it were cleaned, restored and then reassembled by fixing them with titanium bolts; repairs were made with materials consistent with the old ones. While the work was being completed, pilgrim access to the Basilica was maintained, because the workers assigned to the Edicule worked mostly during the night. The restoration lab, set up in the upper gallery of the Latin church, on the other hand, worked during the day.

The work in the Sepulcher involved about 70 people, mostly stonemasons and marble workers from the Acropolis in Athens; some workers specialized in masonry and restoration came from Greece, and then some restoration specialists were also part of the team, two of whom came from the Italian Ministry of Culture. In addition, some workers were hired locally.

The work group from the University of Athens should not be forgotten either. It was composed of 27 members including architects and experts from various disciplines. Each of the Churches—Latin, Greek and Armenian—appointed its own experts to evaluate and verify the entire process.
After the historic reopening of Christ’s tomb, the opening of the restored Edicule took place on March 22, 2017, with an ecumenical celebration.

On May 27, 2019, the leaders of the Christian communities in charge of the Status Quo announced the signing of a new agreement for the restoration and rehabilitation of the foundations of the Holy Tomb and the floor of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Two high-level Italian academic and scientific institutions will perform the studies and carry out the work under the supervision of the joint committee of the three Communities.

Parvis and entry

Through the narrow streets of the Souk of the Old City, teeming with vendors, religious souvenirs and intrigued pilgrims, one arrives almost unexpectedly before the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. At the front of a small paved square enclosed by buildings, the facade of the Crusader church appears with its two entry doors, of which only the left is open, and with its upper-level arched windows adorned with vegetable motifs. 
The two Crusader-era doors were embellished with decorated lunettes: the door on the right had a mosaic portraying the Virgin Mary, while on the left door the imprint of the opus sectile made of precious marbles can still be seen. When they had completed the facade, the Crusaders joined it to a bell tower in the left corner of the square, today missing its upper level which collapsed in 1545.
On the right, an open staircase leads to a small domed structure which served as the original external access to Calvary. It was subsequently transformed into the small Chapel of the Franks, owned by the Latins and dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. At the entrance to the Parvis (entry courtyard), beside the steps leading down to the pavement, one can still see the bases of the columns that supported the Crusader arcade. The columns were removed and sent as a gift to Mecca at the behest of the Khwarezmids in 1244. 
Along the east and west sides of the Parvis are the entrances to the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Ethopian chapels, while the Greek Monastery lies on the east side. The only access to the Sanctuary, an entrance door with two wooden panels, has since the time of Saladin been entrusted to two Muslim families, Judeh and Nuseibeh. Passing on the tradition from one generation to the next, each morning and evening they carry out the ritual opening and closing at the entrance of the church. 
Just inside the door, on the left, there is a bench, “the divan used by Muslim doorkeepers”, where today the pilgrims and the clergy of the religious communities serving in the Basilica sit.

Bell tower

After the facade had been completed, in 1172 the Crusaders erected a bell tower on its left, thereby modifying the facade’s symmetry by giving it a vertical thrust that today can no longer be seen. 

In fact, the artistic beauty of the tower, with its simple and solid walls 29 meters high, lay in the bells and the polygonal dome of its upper levels which collapsed in 1545, and were never replaced.  The bell tower also carried the name of the firm that had built it: “Jordanis me fecit”, Jordan built me.

After Saladin’s arrival in 1187, the 18 bells that chimed the hours and announced the services were melted down and not replaced until the 19th century when the current ones were installed.

Chapel of the Franks

The stairs to the right on the outer facade lead to a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows – known as the Chapel of the Franks – which used to give access directly to Calvary, thus allowing medieval pilgrims to discharge their vows and acquire indulgences even when the church was closed, or when they lacked the money to pay the entrance fee. Directly beneath is an oratory dedicated to St. Mary of Egypt.

Passion, crucifixion and anointing

Once inside, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre opens itself to the pilgrim with its wealth of memories gathered together in the place where they actually occurred: here Jesus was crucified and won the battle against death.

On the right unfold the memories linked to the passion, death and anointing of Jesus. 

Up a number of steep stairs, to the right of the entrance, is “mount” Golgotha. The rock on which the cross was raised, and which at the time of the pilgrim Egeria was still out in the open, today rises 5 meters and is visible at several points behind glass plates. 
The elevated surface created by the Crusaders is divided into two naves: to the right is the Chapel of the Crucifixion, belonging to the Latins, in which the 10th and 11th Stations of the Way of the Cross are celebrated commemorating Jesus being stripped of his garments and his crucifixion, as depicted in the mosaic at the rear; to the left is the Chapel of Calvary, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox, where the faithful can kneel before the altar in order to touch the rock, through a silver disk, at the place in which the cross of martyrdom of Jesus was raised. Here is carried out the 12th Station of the Way of the Cross where the dying Jesus consigned his soul to the Father, while the 13th Station is in front of the Altar of Our Lady of Sorrows. 

The chapel beneath Calvary is dedicated to Adam, the progenitor of humanity. It is here that the Crusaders placed the remains of Godfrey de Bouillon and Baldwin, first King of Jerusalem. The Crusader tombs were destroyed by the Greek Orthodox at the time of the restoration following the 1808 fire. Ancient Jerusalem traditions are represented in a number of chapels placed along the eastern ambulatory: starting with the Chapel of Adam one comes upon the Chapel of Derision, the Chapel of the Division of the Holy Robes and the Chapel of St. Longinus, before arriving to the Prison of Christ. Entering the small room of the Prison one passes through a portal decorated with Crusader capitals depicting an unusual version of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

The Stone of the Anointing, which is located directly ahead upon entering the church and was mentioned for the first time by the pilgrim Riccoldo da Monte Croce in 1288, commemorates the anointing of the lifeless body of Jesus and is especially venerated by Orthodox pilgrims. On the wall behind the stone, the scenes depicted in the modern mosaic allow one to follow the path of Jesus being taken down from the cross, sprinkled with perfumed oils and placed in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

According to the Gospels, several women followed the events from a short distance away: thus the commemoration of the “three Marys” placed underneath the small canopy not far from the Stone of the Anointing in the direction of the Anastasis, in front of the Armenian mosaic of the crucifixion which dates from the 1970s.

Chapel of Calvary

"It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"; and when he had said this he breathed his last." (Luke 23: 44-46)

Going up a steep staircase one comes to the Altar of Calvary, which rises above the rock on which Jesus’ cross was raised.
The rock is visible through glass plates on either side of the altar. Pilgrims can touch the rock through an opening in the silver disk beneath the altar, the point where the Cross stood, according to tradition. 
It is here that pilgrims discharged their vows, by placing on the altar the small wooden crosses given to them in their country of origin at the beginning of their voyage.
The chapel belongs to the Greek Orthodox and is decorated with lamps and candles according to their tradition.

Chapel of the Crucifixion

"Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle." (John 19: 16-18)

The chapel to the side, which belongs to the Franciscans, commemorates the crucifixion. The silvered bronze altar was a gift of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinando de’ Medici (1588).
The decorations and mosaics are 20th century restorations, apart from the mosaic on the vaulted ceiling depicting the Ascension which dates from the 12th century. 
Between the two chapels is the Altar of Our Lady of Sorrows. The bust of the Virgin is a gift of Queen Maria of Portugal (1778). 
A second steep staircase leads downstairs again.

Chapel of Adam

"And Jesus answered and said: Blessed art thou, Bartholomew, my beloved, because thou sawest this mystery, and now will I tell thee all things whatsoever thou askest me. For when I vanished away from the cross, then went I down into Hades that I might bring up Adam and all them that were with him, according to the supplication of Michael the archangel. "(The Apocryphal Gospel of Bartholomew)

Directly beneath Calvary, the Chapel of Adam is one of the oldest in the church.
In the apse can be seen the crack in the rock caused, according to the earliest Christian tradition, by the earthquake which occurred at the moment of Jesus’ death. The crack was said to have allowed Christ’s blood to fall upon, and thereby redeem, Adam who was thought to have been buried here. 
For the first Christians this was also the origin of the name Golgotha: the place of the skull. This tradition has inspired the iconography of the Cross, which places a skull and rivulets of blood at the foot of the Cross, and frequently a small cave.

Stone of the Anointing

“And in the meantime they carefully wrapped him, together with spices and myrrh, in a new linen cloth, that had never been used by anyone.” (Apocryphal Gospel of Gamiliel)

On entering the church, directly ahead is the Stone of the Anointing (or Unction), in memory of the piety of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who prepared Jesus’ body for burial. 
Highly venerated by the Orthodox, it is decorated with candlesticks and lamps. 
A mosaic on the inner wall depicts the scene.

Burial and resurrection


The Tomb that contained the body of Jesus and was inundated with the light of Christ’s resurrection is the heart not only of the entire church, but of all Christianity that for centuries has responded to the angel’s invitation: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay (Matt 28:5-6).”

After entering the church, to the left is the way to the Anastasis, the Constantinian Rotunda, with the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre at its center towered over by the dome that was restored and inaugurated in 1997.

The Rotunda is one of the areas of the sanctuary that has undergone the fewest changes in terms of layout since the time of Constantine: a series of three columns alternating with pillars supports a flight of arches that opens onto an upper gallery that has been divided between the Latin and Armenian communities. Cosmatesque mosaics from the 11th century were uncovered when the galleries were being restored.

The massive columns of the Rotunda, which replaced the original ones damaged by age and fire, are decorated with modern capitals sculpted in the Byzantine style of the 5th century. In Constantine’s design, the columns separated the center of the rotunda from a circular ambulatory, permitting the pilgrims to move freely about the Edicule. Over time this latter area has been transformed into a series of closed spaces reserved to the Greek, Armenian and Coptic sextons. 

The only space accessible to pilgrims is the room to the rear of the Edicule known as the “Chapel Saint Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea”, occupying the western apse of the Rotunda. A low and narrow door leads from this to a shaft (or kokhim) tomb from the time of Jesus, said to be that of Joseph of Arimathea.

At the center of the Rotunda is the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre. The tomb of Jesus, which was separated from the surrounding rocks by Constantine’s architects, has through the centuries been the object of destructions, reconstructions, embellishments and restorations. It is now contained in the Edicule built by the Greek Orthodox following the 1808 fire, which replaced that of the Franciscans from the 16th century. 
The Edicule, with its onion-shaped cupola, consists of a vestibule or passageway, the Chapel of the Angel, that leads to the narrow burial chamber where on the right is the rock-cut marble bench on which the body of Christ was laid. 

Attached to the rear of the Edicule is the Chapel of the Copts, who since 1573 have had an altar there for services inside the church. Beneath the altar, exposed to the veneration of the faithful, is a portion of the bed of rock from which the tomb of Christ’s burial was excavated.

Edicule of the Tomb

"Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it (in) clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed." (Matt 27: 59)

The Edicule of the Tomb, shared among the religious communities, once again has the layout of a tomb from the time of Jesus, formed by a passageway in which the body was anointed and wrapped in a linen cloth, and by a separate burial chamber. In the case of that of Jesus, the tomb is believed to have been of the arcosolium type, with a burial bench or shelf parallel to the wall. 
In 1808 there was a devastating fire and the present Edicule was built in 1810 by the Greek Orthodox community. 
The Edicule is covered by a flat roof with a small Russian-style dome at its center whose “onion” is supported by narrow columns; the side panels are decorated with inscriptions in Greek inviting peoples and nations to praise the Risen Christ. 
Behind the candlesticks of the different religious communities, the facade of the Edicule appears framed by an architectural style characterized by twisted columns, carved ornaments, cornices, inscriptions, paintings and oil lamps. Since the period of the British Mandate, the Edicule has been encased in a cradle of steel girders due to concerns about its stability. 
It is today in need of a complete restoration. Visits during the day are regulated by the Greek Orthodox community and pilgrims enter in turn. 
The Latin community carries out Eucharistic celebrations inside the Edicule each morning between 04.30 and 07.45 (standard time).

Chapel of the Angel

"On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed." (Mark 16: 5)

On entering the Edicule one finds oneself in the vestibule known as the Chapel of the Angel, in memory of the young man clothed in white robes who the women saw sitting in the tomb the morning following the Sabbath, and from whom they heard the announcement of the Resurrection.

The small room, approximately 3.50 meters long by 4 meters wide, is decorated with white marble sculptural panels interspersed with columns and pillars. At its center is a pedestal containing a fragment of the rock that was used to seal the entrance to the Tomb, a rock that had been conserved in its entirety until the church’s destruction in 1009.
The original subterranean antechamber was destroyed at the time of Constantine, who envisaged an area in front of the burial chamber that would be free of walls and surrounded by balustrades.
The Crusader Edicule had three entry doors into the antechamber that were subsequently closed off in the 16th century. The current arrangement of the burial antechamber thus represents a relatively version of the Edicule.

Room of the Tomb

"Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him." (Mark 16: 6)

A low door made out of white marble decorated with a bas-relief of the Resurrection, partly worn away by the touch of pilgrims, leads to the small and simple room that on its right has the marble slab that covered the original rock bench on which the body of Jesus was laid.
The walls are adorned with white marble panels and red marble pilasters. Above the marble slab are several paintings and bas-reliefs framed in silver depicting the triumph of the Risen Christ coming out of the tomb.
Forty-three votive lamps, belonging to the different communities that guard the Tomb, are suspended from the open ceiling under the small dome.



Rotunda or Anastasis

"But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus." (Luke 24: 1-2)

The Rotunda, known as Anastasis (Greek for “resurrection”), respects the design of the original imposing Roman-Byzantine structure, in which pillars, groups of columns and large windows alternated in a regular order. 
Unfortunately, as a result of the various restorations over the centuries, the windows have lost their direct sunlight and the circular ambulatory has been divided into two levels by a mezzanine.
During the last restoration the twelve columns of the lower level were restored to their original form. 
The two columns near the Altar of Mary Magdalene were, in all likelihood, two parts of a single column belonging either to the original Constantinian complex or to Hadrian’s temple. 
The restoration of the dome was completed in the 1990s.

Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea

"Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council, had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God." (Luke 23: 50-51)

Passing between the pillars of the Rotunda and entering the room at the western extremity, one is immediately struck by the fact that it is dark and poorly maintained. 
This is the so-called chapel “of the Syrians”, a religious community that has lost various rights that it formerly enjoyed within the church. The conflict between Syrians and Armenians over the ownership of the room has led to its degradation.
A small passageway in the wall leads to the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea: according to tradition, having offered his own tomb to Jesus and not wanting to be buried in the same tomb, the representative of the Sanhedrin had him placed in this tomb. Certainly the discovery of this tomb confirms the usage of this side of Mount Gareb as a burial area.
It is here that the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan celebrates mass each Sunday with the adherents of this rite.

Appearances after the resurrection

What occurred early in the morning of the day following the Sabbath, must have taken place in that “garden” in which the tomb donated by Joseph of Arimathea for the burial of Jesus was located.

The area to the north of the Rotunda resonates with the memories of the announcement of the Resurrection.
According to the Synoptic Gospels, the women were the first witnesses to the announcement when, having gone to the Tomb to anoint the body of their Master, they discovered the stone rolled away from the tomb and an angel in dazzling garments who told them: “He is not here, He is risen”. 
As John the Evangelist tells us, Mary Magdalene was the first to encounter the risen Jesus who had not yet ascended to the Father, and he entrusted to her the task of announcing the Resurrection.

Passing beyond the columns of the Rotunda one enters into the area belonging to the Franciscans. The altar to the right is dedicated to Mary Magdalene. In this area, in addition to celebrating the majority of their services at the Tomb, it is customary to encounter Franciscan fathers engaged in meeting pilgrims and hearing their confessions. From here one enters the Latin Chapel of the Apparition of Jesus to his Mother. This ancient memory is not reported in the Gospels but has been handed down in this chapel, where the Column of the Flagellation is preserved. 

Behind these areas is located the Franciscan Monastery where the fathers serving in the church live permanently. The north aisle of the church is formed by a series of arches, said to be “of the Virgin” because they commemorate the visits of the Virgin Mary to the Tomb. This memory is linked to the five smaller columns alongside the Crusader pillars. 
The columns are the remains from Monomachus’ 11th century arcade that, like the original Constantinian design, surrounded the open area in front of the Anastasis on three sides.

Chapel of Mary Magdalene

"Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni," which means Teacher." (John 20: 17)

This chapel belongs to the Latins and is dedicated to the encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, as transmitted to us by the Gospel of John. 
Above the altar is a modern bronze statue depicting the encounter of the Magdalene with her Master, a work by the Franciscan artist Andrea Martini. 
High on the opposite side is the organ that accompanies services in Latin conducted by the friars.
The pavement in black and white stone is a copy of that from the 11th century and consists of two circular sectors indicating the positions, at the time of their encounter, of Jesus, at the point encircled by rays, and Mary Magdalene, at the center of three circles.

Chapel of the Apparition of Jesus to his Mother

“Then Jesus said to Mary: ‘You have shed enough tears. He who was crucified is alive and speaks to you and consoles you, it is he whom you are seeking, it is he who is wearing the heavenly purple. He whose tomb you seek is the one who has shattered the bronze doors and liberated the prisoners from Hell.’” (Apocryphal Gospel of Gamiliel)

Known as the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament or the Chapel of the Apparition of Jesus to his Mother, it commemorates an event narrated in the apocryphal “Book of the Resurrection of Christ by Bartholomew the Apostle”.
The chapel has existed since the 11th century restoration of Constantine Monomachus, and was restored during the 1980s by the Franciscans. It is adorned with a modern bronze statue of the Stations of the Cross by Father Andrea Martini.
To the right of the altar is the Column of the Flagellation, a piece of the red porphyry column, venerated for centuries by the Latin faithful in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, brought to this location in 1553 by Father Custos Boniface of Ragusa.

Arches of the Virgin

"When the day dawned, while his heart was broken and sad, from the right of the entrance he penetrated into the tomb an aromatic fragrance: it seemed the spread of the perfume of the tree of life.The virgin turned and stood, near a bush of incense, saw God dressed in a beautiful dress of heavenly purple He said to her: "Woman, why are you crying and lamenting so sadly on a tomb that has no corpse?" (Apocryphal Gospel of Gamaliel)

Passing through the north aisle, elements from earlier constructions can be distinguished. From the back wall, which dates from the original Constantinian complex, Byzantine columns and pillars from the Crusader transept stand out. 
On the wall itself holes can be seen, where the multi-colored marble that at one time adorned the building was attached.
Five columns distinct from the others, smaller and with a rough exterior, form the socalled Arches of the Virgin, which commemorate the visits of the Mother of the Lord to the tomb of the Son. This memory was evidently considered to be authentic by the Crusaders, as this was the only part of Constantine’s Triportico they chose to preserve.

Finding of the True Cross

From the eastern ambulatory a staircase descends to the chapel dedicated to St. Helena. The walls of the staircase are covered with small crosses carved over the centuries by Armenian pilgrims as testimony to their people’s devotion to the Cross.

In 327, Empress Helena, Constantine’s mother, came as a pilgrim to Jerusalem and wished to search for the Holy Cross. The historical account narrates the discovery of three crosses in an ancient cistern, together with nails (one of which is incorporated in the Iron Crown kept in the Cathedral of Monza, another is in the Duomo in Milan, and a third is in Rome) and the titulus – the tablet or plaque which, at the request of Pontius Pilate, gave the reason for the condemnation in three languages (a fragment of this is kept in Rome, at the Church of the Santa Croce). A miracle allowed the Cross of Christ to be identified. 

The chapel has three naves, with four columns supporting the dome, and dates back to the twelfth century; it is the property of the Armenians. Historical sources and archaeological excavations confirm that the hall was already used in some manner as part of Constantine’s project. 

The chapel is adorned with hanging lamps, in the Armenian style. From the Armenian Chapel of St. Helena one descends to the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross, where each year on 7 May the discovery of the Holy Cross is commemorated, with the relic of the wood of the Cross of Christ being carried in procession by the Franciscan Father Custos to the point where, according to tradition, it was found.

Chapel of St. Helena

Built by the Crusaders, today it is the Armenians who officiate at the Chapel of St. Helena. The floor mosaic depicts the principal churches of the Armenian nation. 
The four columns are crowned with Byzantine capitals, two in Corinthian style and two “basket” capitals which the Crusaders took from the ancient Al-Aqsa Mosque. 
The windows in the dome receive light from the raised courtyard of the Deir es-Sultan Monastery, located behind the apse of the church, with its small cells for Ethiopian monks.
From a door at the rear one enters the Chapel of St. Vartan and the Armenian Martyrs, open only upon request, where an ancient drawing of a boat was found bearing the inscription Domine Ivimus, «Lord, we went», believed to be the oldest mark of veneration left by an ancient pilgrim prior to the construction of the church.

Chapel of the Finding of the Cross

"Inventio sanctae crucis dicitur, quia tall die sancta crux inventa fuisse refertur. Nam et antea fuit inventa a Seth, filio Adam, in terrestri paradiso, sicut infra narratur, a Salomone in Libano, a regina Saba in Salomonis templo, a Judaeis in aqua piscinae, hodie ab Helena in morte Calvarie". (Jacopo da Varagine, Legenda Aurea, LXVIII)

Descending further – and this is the lowest point of the entire church – one reaches the rock-cut Chapel of the Finding of the Cross. The traditional spot of the discovery of the relics is set off by railings. 
The walls preserve faint traces of 12th century frescoes, while on the ceiling tool marks can be seen on blocks from the ancient stone quarry. The plaster on the walls, made from a hydraulic material rich in ash commonly used at the time of Christ, is evidence that this underground area was at that time used as a cistern.


In front of the Edicule opens the space reserved to the Greek Orthodox, the Katholikon, occupying the center of the church where the Crusaders had built their Choir of the Canons. 

The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, formed by Greek Orthodox monks and presided over by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, has the responsibility for the account of the Greeks for taking care of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and carries out most of its own services in the Katholikon.

The dome, recently adorned with Byzantine-style mosaics depicting Christ Pantocrator surrounded by the bishops and patriarchs of Jerusalem, is supported by arches joined with pendentives to the Crusader columns on which the Evangelists are depicted; at certain times of the day rays of light enter through the windows, cutting through the atmosphere and creating suggestive effects.

At the rear of the Katholikon is the iconostasis, divided into two by a patterned series of red marble arches and columns, behind which are located the traditional Greek Orthodox icons. On either side of the iconostasis are the two Patriarchal thrones reserved for visits of the Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem. To the rear of the iconostasis, beyond a sail vault, is the Crusader apse, whose ribbed ceiling is interspersed with windows that illuminate the church.

A rose-colored marble basin containing a circular stone marked with a cross is known as the Omphalos, the Navel, the center of the world: based on various Biblical references, this was seen to be the geographical center of the world that came to coincide with the site of the divine manifestation. 

This notion was already present in the Jewish religion which considers the entire city of Jerusalem to be the center of the world; for Muslims, the center of the world is marked by the rock at the center of the Dome of the Rock. In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the cross of Christ is the center of the world from which the arms of the Savior extend to embrace it in its entirety. 

During the excavations carried out in 1967-68 beneath the floor of the Katholikon, the Greek architect Athanasios Economopoulos discovered the apse from Constantine’s Martyrium Basilica, near the point of the current Crusader apse.

Franciscan Monastery

The buildings to the north of the Rotunda house the Franciscan Monastery in which the friars in charge of officiating at the Tomb live. The buildings were initially the residence of the Constantinian Patriarch, the seat of the Bishop of the Mother Church. 

In the original Constantinian design, a series of rooms on several floors overlooked a courtyard, an open quadrilateral around the Anastasis which served to give light to the windows of the apse of the Rotunda.  Of the imposing structure which was the Patriarch’s residence, the ground-floor walls and those of a mezzanine nearly 11 meters high have been preserved. Archaeological investigations were carried out throughout the area of the Monastery by Father Corbo. Abbot Modestus, in the 11th century, had the Chapel of St. Mary built: from the Monastery one can see the still-intact portal with three openings, constructed from reused Roman columns and Byzantine capitals, allowing external entry into the chapel. In addition, a stairway, now blocked, permitted the Bishop of Jerusalem to enter the church directly from the Christian Souk road via the Crusader-built St. Mary’s Gate.

Christian pilgrims can pass through the Monastery to reach the Hall of the Crusaders, where it is possible to celebrate Mass.

Chapel of the Crusaders

Repaired following the archaeological excavations and the restoration of the Franciscan monastery, the Chapel of the Crusaders is an imposing Constantine structure covered by a segmental vault built during the restoration carried out by Modestus. 
The chapel, formed by a large hall connected to a room reduced in size by a wall separating the properties of the Franciscans from those of the Greeks, formed part of the vast residential complex of the Constantinian Patriarch. It was connected to a courtyard through a series of doors. The area, unknown until 1719, was initially used as a storeroom and, after its restoration, as a chapel for celebrating Holy Masses for groups of pilgrims. A door at the rear of the hall leads to one of the numerous cisterns carved out of the rock and used for storing rainwater.
The smaller room that today is the site of the altar was formerly part of a larger space, where archaeological excavations have uncovered remains of equipment for pressing grapes and olives connected to tanks in which the squeezed products were collected and stored. The wine and oil produced were necessary both for the liturgy within the large Constantinian complex, and for the well-being of the clergy.

The Status Quo is a collection of historical traditions and influences,
of rules and laws, which establish the relations, activities, and movements that are carried out in those parts of the church where ownership is shared by different Christian denominations.
For centuries, the different Christian communities have lived side by side under Islamic domination, despite their profound differences in dogma, ritual and language. The Franciscans, who have been in the Holy Land since 1335, had over time acquired ownership of numerous places within the Holy Sites, and from 1516 to 1629 were in fact the
largest owners.
Following the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, the Greek Patriarch, who had thereby become a subject of the Ottoman Empire, was granted jurisdiction over all Greek Orthodox adherents throughout the Empire. With the Turkish conquest of Palestine in 1516, this jurisdiction expanded to include the Orthodox
Christians of the Holy Land. From that point, with the approval of the Ottoman Sultan, the Orthodox Patriarchs of Jerusalem were Greek. In 1622, at a time of bitter conflict between the Western powers and the Ottoman Empire, a dispute arose over the ownership of the Holy Places. 
The Franciscans, vulnerable to accusations of being spies for foreign powers, were placed in a difficult position, and in order to protect
their rights had to appeal to the ambassadors of the European powers. The Greeks had the support of Russia, and the Holy Places became almost a traded commodity, particularly in the period
from 1690 to 1757. In the first half of the 19th century, the alliance between Turkey and Russia had direct consequences on the question of the Holy Places, and in 1852 the Sultan promulgated the Status Quo nunc, freezing the conditions existing at the moment of the agreement, as had been sought by the Greeks. 

The Status Quo was confirmed as a legal instrument and continues to the present day as the sole frameof reference for resolving litigations and disputes.
In the absence of official texts, notes of a private nature have to be relied on, often leaving the legal situation confused and uncertain.
Two Muslim families have the privilege of guarding the door of the church, which is opened according to a schedule agreed to by the three largest religious communities. At the end of the First World War, with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and with the Holy Land becoming a British Mandate, the problems of the Holy Places became international ones. The Mandatory Power was unwilling or unable to act, and the Jordanian Government, which succeeded it in 1948,
continued the same policy. The United Nations intervened on numerous occasions, naming commissions and pleading for the internationalization of Jerusalem, but without achieving any concrete
At present, the three principal communities – Greek, Franciscan and
Armenian – have managed to reach an understanding for the restoration of the church. The restoration works, which began in 1961, continue to the present day, albeit at a relatively slow pace.

Religious Communities


They are the Friars Minor and have been mandated to protect the places in the Holy Land which Jesus consecrated by his presence. It is a special mission that has been confided to them by the Holy See since 1342, as a legacy of the prophetic visit of St. Francis to the sultan of Egypt in 1219. 

The Franciscans at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre celebrate daily the Roman Catholic liturgy and provide assistance to the pilgrims who throng the Shrine. Their life here is regulated by the liturgical functions of the various hours of the day and night. 
The Status Quo sets forth how, when and where the different religious communities are to take turns for praying, regulating not only the liturgical calendar but also the major part of what takes place every day, month and year.

The Franciscans begin their celebration of Mass after the Armenians, at 4.30 in the morning, and conclude their services with a solemn community Eucharist at the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre at 7.15 in the morning. For other prayers, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is used.

Among the liturgical celebrations is the procession led by the Franciscans each afternoon throughout the Shrine, between four and five o’clock, incensing the altars and chapels. The evocative ritual, with groups of pilgrims joining in, commemorates with hymns, antiphons and prayers the moments of the passion, death, burial and resurrection of the Lord.


Since the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD there has been a succession of Orthodox patriarchs of the Chalcedonian faith.

The position of the Greek Church, which was established by 1533, explains how the community of the local church came to be called “Greek Orthodox”. In the 15th century the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem established the “Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre” dedicated to protecting the Holy Places: the presence of the overlapping letters OT, Hàghios Tàphos (Holy Places) indicates those places in the church where the Greek presence has left its mark.

Within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which the Greek Orthodox call the Church of the Resurrection (Anastasis), the Patriarch has his own cathedral located in the large area of the Katholikon. 
For Orthodox throughout the world, the most evocative and anticipated religious ceremony takes place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where on Easter Saturday thousands of faithful wait for the Greek Patriarch who, after having prayed in the Edicule of the Tomb, emerges with two bundles of candles so that the Holy Fire may be distributed to all. 

The Orthodox Church celebrates its prayers, services and holidays according to the Byzantine tradition and following the Julian calendar.


The Armenian Church belongs to the group of three “ancient Eastern” Christian churches, descending from the Armenian, Alexandrian and Syrian traditions, whose rites express specific ethnic and national characteristics. 

The Armenian people, the first to embrace Christianity as a national religion, have been present in Jerusalem since the 5th century, when they established their first communities and developed an entire quarter around the Cathedral of St. James, a quarter that still occupies today a sixth of the entire Old City. 

Along with the Latins and the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox are one of the three religious communities subject to the Status Quo at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the sanctuary which in Armenian is called “Surp Harutyun”.

The myriad of small crosses (khachkar) carved in stone that accompany the pilgrim in the Armenian Chapel of St. Helena are a clear sign of that nation’s devotion to the cross.

It is not unusual to arrive at the Tomb and see young Armenian seminarians dressed in their blue cassocks, in the midst of their rituals and chanted liturgies in the ancient Armenian language.

The Armenian presence in the church is also recognizable by their characteristic cross without the figure of Christ, in which floral motifs branch out from the four arms, signifying the origin of life and salvation in the Crucified One.


The Coptic Orthodox Church, which like the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches makes reference to Alexandrian tradition, has its origin in Egypt. A tradition holds that the Copts arrived in Palestine in the 4th century, as a result of the visit of Saint Helena (Constantine’s mother) although, in all probability, their first contacts with the Holy Places occurred through monastic experiences.

The Copts, who today in Jerusalem number about 5,000 concentrated around their archbishop who resides in the Monastery of Saint Anthony beside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, have use of the altar attached to the rear of the Edicule.

A Coptic monk is always present at the altar, recognizable by his gold-embroidered black hat.

Their services, which take place every Sunday in front of their altar, are held in Arabic with a portion in Coptic, a language formed from ancient Egyptian mixed with Greek.


The Syriac (or Syrian) Orthodox Church of the Antiochene Rite is the direct heir of the ancient Judeo-Christian Church, and today represents Syriac-speaking Christians spread throughout many Middle Eastern countries. The language of its liturgy is Syriac, a language closely related to Aramaic, the ancient language spoken by Jesus.

A document attests to the presence in Jerusalem of a Syrian bishop already in the 6th century, alongside the Byzantine Patriarch. The seat of the Syrian bishop is at the Church of St. Mark, located between the Armenian and Hebrew quarters, which according to an ancient Jerusalem tradition was the house of Mary, mother of the Evangelist Mark.

In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the Syriac Orthodox officiate in the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, located behind the circular ambulatory to the rear of the Edicule of the Tomb, whose ownership is contested by the Armenians. 


The Ethiopians (or Abyssinians) represent the first Christian country in Africa. This Church, with its Alexandrian origins, is distinguished by its having preserved Old Testament customs such as circumcision and the Levitical laws governing food and ritual purity.

Their community, imbued with the monastic spirit, has been present in Jerusalem since the 4th century, contemporaneous with the arrival of St. Jerome.
In 1283 they had their first bishop, an indication of the important rights that they enjoyed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre throughout the medieval period, rights which, however, were lost during the Ottoman era.

Today a small community of monks lives in poverty in cells on the roof above the Chapel of St. Helena, a monastery complex that they call Deir es Sultan (“of the Sultan”).

At Easter many Ethiopian men and women come to Jerusalem, cloaked in white stoles, and with dances and songs in the ancient Ge’ez language celebrate on Saturday evening the ritual “searching for Christ’s body”.

«Opening» of Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Each day the opening and closing of the Church repeats itself in a complex “ritual”. 

As has been noted, the custody of the door and the key for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is entrusted to two Muslim families (Nuseibeh and Judeh). The Egyptian Sultan Malek-Adel – according to the historian Jacques de Vitry – had a large number of sons for whom he arranged various donations and privileges; two came to be rewarded with the paid guardianship of the door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 
Following the Khwarezmian invasion (1244) the Sultan Ayyub wrote to Pope Innocent IV to apologize for the damages suffered by the church, assuring that he would repair it and that the keys would be entrusted to two Muslim families who would open the door for pilgrims. Since that time this right has been transmitted from one family to another.

In the past it was necessary to pay an entrance fee in order to have the door opened and to be allowed to enter into the church: according to Fidentius of Padua this amounted to approximately 80 gold francs. This entrance fee was collected by the Muslim custodians beside the door, where there was a stone bench.

The entrance fee was abolished in 1831 by Ibrahim Pasha. The door is now opened every day, and one must keep in mind that in addition to the rights of the two Muslim families, there are also various rights for the three religious communities that hold services in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Latins (Franciscans), Greeks and Armenians. 

This explains why the opening of the door of the church brings with it numerous complications, along with a ritual that to many might appear strange and pointless. 

There are in fact two manners of “opening” the door: 

  • simple opening takes place when the sexton of the religious community that plans to open the door carries out all the rituals by himself, opening only one of the door leaves.
  • solemn opening takes place in the same manner but with the opening of both door leaves: the sexton opens the left leaf while the Muslim doorkeeper opens the right one.

  • Each day on which there is no special feast or occurrence, the opening take place at 4.00 in the morning and the closure according to a official time.
    For the evening closure of the church, the three religious communities have arrived at an agreement, according to which between October and March the closure takes place at 7.00 pm, and at 9.00 pm between April and September.

    Every evening, at closing time, each of the three sextons is present and they agree among themselves as to who will perform the opening on the following day: specifically, the opening is carried out in a cyclical fashion by the three communities; the one who will have the right of opening takes the ladder and places it against the center of the closed door.

    For the closure, both simple and solemn, the same “ritual” is followed as for the opening, but in reverse order.

Time at the church and of the services

The pilgrim is frequently astonished to discover that time at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre does not always coincide with that of his or her own watch, since inside the church “winter” time is always used, as the agreed rules do not allow for changing to “summer time”. As a result, times of summer services are one hour later (by the watch) than in the winter.

Mass presided by the Latins in the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre begins at 4.30 each morning and is repeated each half hour until 7.45.
At 6.30 the friars celebrate the Solemn Mass for the day in the space in front of the Edicule.  Masses are also held at Calvary, in the right nave, from 5.00 to 8.30.
On Friday the Solemn Mass at 06.30 is held at Calvary. 

Also on Fridays, the communities take turns in carrying out the task of cleaning the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre.
The friars, following tradition, make the Way of the Cross each Friday through the streets of Jerusalem, departing at 15.00 from the Column of the Flagellation and terminating in front of the Edicule, where the Resurrection of Our Lord is proclaimed.

Following the completion of the Latin morning services, management of the Edicule passes into the hands of the Greek Orthodox.

Each afternoon at 16.00 the Franciscan community leads a procession throughout the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, departing from the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and stopping in each of the chapels along the eastern ambulatory, descending also to the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross and exiting from Calvary to rejoin the Edicule of the Tomb. The procession concludes with the Eucharistic Blessing at the point of departure. Pilgrims from all of the different nationalities form an integral part of this daily ritual.

Of the other two rites that share the Holy Sepulchre, only the Armenians carry out a mobile precession in the church, which takes place the last three days of the week.

After the closing of the church, the services of the three communities continue, beginning at 23.30 with the various incensations and the night services. The first mass is celebrated by the Greek Orthodox at half past midnight, followed two hours later by the Armenians so as to arrive once again at the opening hour and the beginning of daily life at the Holy Sepulchre.

The Death on the Cross

Gospel of St. Matthew (Matthew 27: 57-61)

And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of the Skull), they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink. After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, (and) come down from the cross!" Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way. From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Some of the bystanders who heard it said, "This one is calling for Elijah." Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, "Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him." But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.


Gospel of St. Mark (Mark 15: 22-37)

They brought him to the place of Golgotha (which is translated Place of the Skull). They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it. Then they crucified him and divided his garments by casting lots for them to see what each should take. It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross." Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves and said, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him. At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Some of the bystanders who heard it said, "Look, he is calling Elijah." One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down." Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.


Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 23: 33-46)

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. [Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."] They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God." Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews." Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"; and when he had said this he breathed his last.


Gospel of St. John (John 19: 16-30)

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews." Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that he said, 'I am the King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written." When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, "Let's not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be," in order that the passage of scripture might be fulfilled (that says): "They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots." This is what the soldiers did. Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I thirst." There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished." And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

The burial

Gospel of St. Matthew (Matthew 27: 57-61)

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it (in) clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.

Gospel of St. Mark (Mark 15: 42-47)

When it was already evening, since it was the day of preparation, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was amazed that he was already dead. He summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus had already died. And when he learned of it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. Having bought a linen cloth, he took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb.Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses watched where he was laid.

Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 23: 50-56)

Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council, had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried. It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.

Gospel of St. John (John 19: 38-39)

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.

Jesus’ Resurrection

Gospel of St. Matthew (Matthew 28: 1-7)

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, "Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.' Behold, I have told you."

Gospel of St. Mark (Mark 16: 1-8)

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, "Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, "Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'" Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 24: 1-12)

But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day." And they remembered his words. Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone; then he went home amazed at what had happened.

Gospel of St. John (John 20: 1-18)

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him." So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned home. But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" She thought it was the gardener and said to him, "Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni," which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, "Stop holding on to me, 10 for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and what he told her.

Francis of Assisi and his friars came to the Holy Land with the wish to be able to “breathe” in these Places that had been sanctified by the presence of the man Jesus. The daily procession at the Holy Sepulchre, which passes through the places of the passion-death-resurrection of Christ, is a way of recalling to pilgrims the need to constantly meditate on the humanity of Jesus, who in these places suffered his Passion and manifested himself in his Resurrection. In a similar manner to the Way of the Cross, the daily procession commemorates the importance of the devotion to the cross, a cherished theme for the Saint from Assisi and Franciscan spirituality.
The procession was not created as a practical ritual for the community of friars at the Holy Sepulchre, nor is it a “liturgy” for worship only by local Christians, but it is instead intended for all Christian pilgrims who come to the church. This aspect has helped to preserve the origin of the sanctuaries as a heritage of the Universal Catholic Church. This is also testified to by the patient and persevering presence of the community of Friars Minor at the Tomb.
The structure of the procession has undergone a series of changes and variations over the course of the various historical periods which have allowed the practice of the daily Procession to survive to the present day. 
The procession can be seen as fulfilling a function strongly linked to the devotion to these places as “relics” of the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus Christ, while at the same time linked to the individual actors in these moments (Mary Mother of Jesus, John, Mary Magdalene, etc.). The Word of God appears as a fundamental element in this processional practice, and is frequently announced and re-read in a poetic manner.

Historical and liturgical tradition

The ancient custom described by Egeria of visiting all of the Holy Places of the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus has over the centuries become a tradition of great importance. According to Egeria’s testimony, the entire community was present during the procession, and formed a cortege to escort the Bishop who moved among the various sanctuaries in the city to celebrate the liturgy, reciting songs, psalms and hymns. Following the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem, external manifestations of Christian worship were forbidden, so that all services henceforth had to be carried out in the interior of churches.
The procession continued to be carried out during the Crusader era, in a similar and very simple manner, particularly after the Latins were given the right to freely move about the Tomb.
With the arrival of the Friars Minor at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (already present there for some time, they were formally recognized by the Pope in 1342), Christian worship was re-established in the Holy Places, which for a considerable period of time had been under Muslim control. The friars were entrusted with the tasks of guarding the sanctuaries and celebrating the liturgy. The oldest text concerning the procession dates from 1431, in the diary of Mariano da Siena. The community of friars welcomed pilgrims, guiding them through the Holy Places. After entering in the afternoon, pilgrims would complete their visit to the sanctuary by taking part in a procession; following a night of prayer in the church, the peregrinatio would conclude with a solemn and communal Eucharist celebrated by the Franciscan Guardian.
Beginning in the 16th century, with the increase in the number of religious residents at the Tomb, but above all due to the arrival of the Ottoman Empire, the procession began to become a daily practice of the community, rather than a ritual specifically linked to the arrival of pilgrims. In this manner, for historical reasons that are now apparent, it lost part of its pastoral character.
The procession was substantially revised in 1623 by Custos Thomas Obicini, under whose care an official processional, Ordo Processionalis, was published. 
In 1924 the then Custos Father Ferdinando Diotallevi added an additional station to the daily procession, that of Our Lady of Sorrows on Calvary. The following year a new version of the procession was introduced in which modifications were made to the hymns to bring them into conformity with the official edition of the Roman Antiphonal.


At the sound of the bells, the community of friars comes to the choir to recite the Liturgy of the Hours. Immediately following this, they exit the choir and initiate the procession which consists of fourteen stations and terminates at its starting point, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament (also known as the Chapel of the Apparition of the risen Jesus to his Mother). Participating in the procession are the friars from the community as well as some coming from St. Saviour’s. At each station a hymn appropriate to the place is recited or sung, followed by an antiphon and the collect, and at the end a Pater, Ave e Gloria is recited. Until the seventh station the procession is recited recto tono, i.e., always using the same note, after which point it is sung.
In earlier days priests from other denominations also participated in the procession, but over time this practice fell into disuse.
The friars also have the right to incense and pray at altars of other Christian denominations. 

The procession follows the itinerary given below: 

  • I. Altar of the Blessed Sacrament
  • II. Column of the Flagellation
  • III. Prison of Christ
  • IV. Altar of the Division of the Holy Robes
  • V. Crypt of the Finding of the Cross
  • VI. Chapel of St. Helena
  • VII. Chapel of Derision
  • VIII. the site of the Crucifixion on Calvary
  • IX. the site where Christ died on the Cross
  • X. Altar of Our Lady of Sorrows
  • XI. Stone of the Anointing
  • XII. the glorious Tomb of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • XIII. the site of the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene
  • XIV. Chapel of the Apparition of the risen Jesus to his Mother

On days of great solemnity in the church, the procession is eagerly anticipated and assumes a solemn nature. Participating alongside the Friars Minor is a prelate who is solemnly welcomed to the church.

Ordo Processionis in Basilica Sancti Sepulcri


Opening and closing times of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Summer hours (April - September): 5.00 - 21.00 daily. - September 5:00 - 20:30
Winter hours (October - March): 4.00 - 19.00 daily.

Extraordinary opening hours:
Christmas (25/12) 8:00 - 19:00
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (2/2) 8:00 - 19:00
Holy Thursday: The basilica closes after the celebration, ie at 11:00 (or 12:00)
Good Friday: The basilica closes briefly at 7:00 (or 8:00) and closes closed for the rest of the day.
Orthodox Good Friday: 8:45 (or 9:45) - 20:00 (or 21:00)
Orthodox Holy Saturday: the basilica is closed until the end of the celebration of the holy fire (3:00 pm or 4:00 pm) and then remains open until the evening of the following day (Orthodox Easter Sunday)

Sunday Mass
Summer hours (April - September): 5.30 - 6.00 - 6.30 (Solemn Mass in Latin) - 18.00
Winter hours (October - March): 4.30 - 5.00 - 5.30 (Solemn Mass in Latin) - 17.00

Weekday Mass:
Winter hours (April - September): 5.30 - 6.00 - 6.30 - 7.00 - 7.30 (Solemn Mass in Latin), Saturday 18.00
Winter hours (October - March): 4.30 - 5.00 - 5.30 - 6.00 - 6.30 (Solemn Mass in Latin) - 7.15, Saturday 17.00

Daily Procession:
Summer hour (April - September): 17.00 daily; 
Winter hour (October - March): 16.00 daily.

Reservations for Masses for priests and Catholic groups, certificates for pilgrimages in the Holy Land
Franciscan Pilgrims' Office - FPO
tel: +972 2 6272697 E-mail:

To receive information: 
CIC - Christian Information Centre 
(located inside Jaffa Gate, opposite the Citadel)
tel: +972 2 6272692 fax: +972 2 6286417

All day long, some priests are at disposal to hear confessions and administer the sacrament of Reconciliation.