Church of the Holy Sepulcher & the Crucifixion of Christ
Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the most important archeological site in Jerusalem and the importance of this building lies in Christian belief that this could be the place where Christ was crucified and buried. The building is being controlled by Christians of different denominations today and the keys to the Church remained with the Muslims for eights centuries. this demonstrates the power of one place to unite people of different backgrounds and faith. Church of Holy Sepulcher has witnessed many conflicts and has undergone many destructions and restorations, but it still is the one of those holy places in the world, which has become object of intense human devotion.
Jerusalem has always been the center of attention as an important religious lace for the followers of all three primary religions. It is because of this that Jerusalem boasts of a history, which no other place in the word has witnessed. It has religious significance for the all three faiths and many religious wars have been fought over the city in the past. Jerusalem also houses some of the oldest and holiest buildings including the Church of Holy Sepulcher. This church is of immense importance to Christians, as it is believed to be the place where Jesus Christ is buried. Though no one knows for sure if this place is indeed the ace of his crucifixion but many would love to believe that this is Jesus' resting place.
THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER
The church was specifically built after it was identified as the crucifixion site by hints given in the Bible. It was after years of controversies surrounding Jesus' burial place that Constantine the great in the 326 A.D. called important religious figures from all over the Roman Empire. His purpose was to look for hints in the Bible and find out where Jesus could possibly be buried. The mother of Emperor, Queen Helena, already converted to Jerusalem and when she heard of the neglected sites in Jerusalem, she decided to visit the place and invest in the restoration of some sites.
It was there that she identified the place as the crucifixion site of Jesus and the emperor decided to mark the importance of this site by building a shrine there. This shrine became the holiest religious place for Christians and was named the church of the holy Sepulcher. John L. Lyons (1997) writes, "In the vicinity, directly under the temple of Venus erected by Hadrian, Empress Helena claimed to have found the cross upon which Jesus died. Constantine had the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built over the proposed site of the Crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Various Christian groups, including Greek, Latin, Coptic, Jacobite, Armenian, and Ethiopian ones, have tended to the church over the centuries, and each controls some aspect of its present form." But this religious site has not been revered by all, as over the period of time, it was destroyed and rebuilt quite a few times as rulers of Jerusalem changed.
The church was of immense importance to the Christians but with the Persians taking over the city in 614, it was destroyed but within few years some parts of the church were restored. Reconstruction of the church was needed again in 1048 when in 1010; it was demolished by the Caliph Hakim of Egypt. The Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachus undertook the reconstruction work. The reconstruction history of this Church is available from the historical documents dating back to the days of Byzantine era.
For example Persian traveler Nasir-i-Khusrau in 1047 described the church as:
most spacious building... capable of containing eight thousand persons built with the utmost skill, of coloured marbles, with ornamentation and sculptures, inside everywhere adorned with Byzantine brocade, worked in gold with pictures.... There are also pictures [i.e. mosaics] of the prophets." (Biddle, 1999)
The Crusaders fully rebuilt the site again a century later but since then the site has become victim of neglect. The repair is rarely ever undertake and even when this site is considered holy by all Christians, Jesus' tomb is not being taken care of in the appropriate manner.
The real reason why the place is in ruins is because for several centuries, Protestants and Catholics had separate places as Jesus tomb. When during an interview in 1995 Archaeologist Hershal Shank named the church of Holy sepulcher as the most important archeological site in Jerusalem. He said, "the most important is the site of Jesus' tomb, and I think that here, archaeology has made an enormous contribution, because until recently, you had two sites, one favored by Protestants and the other favored by Catholics. One is called the Garden Tomb, and it has a beautiful setting. It is just what you would imagine the tomb looked like if you read the New Testament, and the other is this Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is dark and dank and the thing that makes it so unlikely is that it's in the middle of the city, and we know that Jesus was not buried in the city. Buildings are crowding up around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. You really can't get a good view of it because of that. Well, it turns out that that really is the site, because now archaeologists have shown that at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, that site was not in the walled city, and moreover, underneath it, we now have located first century tombs, so it's pretty certain that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher really is the site where Jesus was buried." (Morning Edition (NPR), 1995)
The church today is surrounded by so many shops and buildings that if someone does not really know its exact location, he can easily walk past it without spotting it. The place is not the kind of place someone would associate with Jesus as he holds such an important place in the history of Jerusalem and three faiths. The site is an ordinary mediocre building with nothing fascinating on the exterior but it is a large huge building, which has only one entrance, and interior is beautiful and magnificent.
It is unfortunate that the location of this church is not such that it would make the site very prominent and the only entrance of the church is a side door. The one door entrance is what caused a major disaster in the church in the year 1840 when dozens of visitors were trampled and stampeded to death. The building is currently in its Crusade days form, and the stone decorations and impressive work done on the facade are also date from the times of the First Crusade.
The most interesting thing about the church is that its keys remained in the control of two Muslim families for eight centuries. This is something truly awe inspiring and shows that sometimes even in the midst of worst religious crisis, people can learn to trust those who do not hold the same beliefs or follow the same religion. While Jerusalem has been fought over and the church has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, no one really raised a voice against the idea of Muslim families retaining the keys to the doors of the holiest Christian site. In the 12th century A.D Christians from various sections were fighting over the control of keys and it was then that the Muslim ruler Saladin decided to hand over the keys to two Muslims families of Nuseibeh and Joudeh.
The building is huge and is not controlled by one community and neither does the control of keys by Muslims follow that they have any power over the place. Different communities simultaneously control the building. Florida Today reported on June 1999, "Muslim control of the key, however, does not mean Muslim control of the Church. Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Orthodox groups share the main control of the church, while the Ethiopian, Egyptian Copt and Syrian churches still maintain a presence. Christian sects have, for centuries, guarded their corners of the shrine."
It is because of the significance of the city itself that the importance of this church has increased manifold. We must understand that Jerusalem occupies a pivotal place in all three faiths and while the church may hold attraction for Christians only, it is believed to be a holy site of importance by other faiths too. When one studies the history of the Church, it becomes clear that it has been crowd puller for centuries and has been able to bring the people of three religions together from time to time. Religious conflicts of the past have only added to the significance of this site. While wars have been fought in the name of religion and Muslims and Christians have been in major religious conflicts in the past, still Muslims showed respect for the place when during the reign of Caliph Umer, he visited the Church but refused to pray on the site knowing that…