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Tomb of Christ - Where Is It ?

Tomb of Christ

In the fourth century, the Byzantines claimed to have found, on Golgotha ​​Hill, not only the True Cross but also the burial place of Jesus. What elements make it possible to designate this place as that of the true tomb of Christ?

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

One of the hotspots of Christianity, this basilica, located in Jerusalem, was built on the very spot where the episodes of the Passion of Christ, on Golgotha ​​Hill, would have taken place. The Bible gives fairly numerous and convergent indications concerning its location. Thus the evangelist John states that the crucifixion took place on a hill called Golgotha ​​(John, XIX, 17) outside the city (John, XIX, 20) and that the tomb was nearby (John, XIX, 41). This information is corroborated by the other Gospels. The Epistle to the Hebrews further adds that this place is located near one of the gates of the city. However, looking at a map of the Roman Jerusalem, one realizes that the Holy Sepulcher is in the middle of the city. This major objection is raised by archaeologists of the twentieth century who can demonstrate that this space was integrated in Jerusalem only after the death of Jesus, when King Herod Agrippa (AD 41-44) raised a new belt of walls.

Anyway, historians now think that the tomb of Jesus was known and was the subject of a form of worship from the end of the first century, as echoed by the Gospels written at the same time. Let us add that later legends make Golgotha ​​the place where the skull of Adam would have been deposited. Jesus, shedding his blood on the cross, would at the same time have redeemed the original sin of the first of men. That is to say that this site appears as a summary of all Holy History.

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A statue of Jupiter on the tomb ...

It is probably because the burial of Jesus aroused a strong current of religious devotion that the Roman emperors wanted to establish there their highest place of worship. In 132, in favor of a Jewish uprising quickly crushed by Rome, emperor Hadrian decides to Romanize Jerusalem: he razes the Jewish capital to replace it with a Roman city named Aelia capitolina. It is on the site of Golgotha ​​that he builds his capitol. St. Jerome reports in his correspondence that a statue of Venus was enthroned on the hill while the tomb of Jesus was surmounted by a statue of Jupiter. For the supporters of the present Holy Sepulcher it is further proof of the location of the tomb of Christ.

In the fourth century, the fate of the Empire rocked. The emperor Constantine converts to Christianity and brings together a council of all Christendom in Nicaea in 325. The bishop of Jerusalem / Aelia capitolina goes there and pleads for the restoration of their dignity to the places of the Passion of Christ. Constantine dispatched workers who destroyed the Roman capitol to exhume the sepulcher. The best source on this subject, the historian Eusebius of Caesarea (v. 265- v. 340), leaves the testimony of the gigantic work carried out under the impulse of the Emperor. However, he does not say how the Byzantines identify with certainty the tomb they discover under the Roman building because this area, which was an old cemetery, had several tomb. Perhaps graffiti left by early Christians attest to the nature of the tomb.

What was the appearance of this tomb?

According to the remains that we have of it, it is an arcosolium burial type, that is to say of a table surmounted by a vaulted arch on which one deposited the body. It had to be accessed by a kind of vestibule.

Around this tomb, Constantine organizes the construction of a monumental church of about 140 meters long and about 40 meters wide. The building has 4 parts: an entrance leading to a courtyard, a basilica, an interior atrium and finally a rotunda surrounded by Byzantine columns that surmounts a dome. This ensemble, called "the Holy Resurrection" which enchass and isolates the sepulcher itself, is surrounded by an ambulatory that allows pilgrims to walk around the tomb. The Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher was inaugurated by Emperor Constantine himself on September 17, 335.

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A dramatic story

After the Persian invasion of the seventh century which caused significant destruction, it was destroyed by order of the Caliph Hakim in 1009. During the crusades, Jerusalem which became Christian again had a facelift: the rotunda was restored, the basilica rebuilt and extended. In 1808, finally, a fire ravaged the building which forced to rebuild the edicule which sheltered the tomb.

Thanks to recent archaeological research at the end of the twentieth century, it seems that neither the Muslim conquest nor the fire of the nineteenth century completely destroyed the rocky table of the tomb, still considered the true saint of Christian saints. Nevertheless, it is still impossible for us to be absolutely certain that this burial, dating back to the beginning of our era and venerated by Catholics, Orthodox, Armenians, Copts and Ethiopians, is the true tomb of Christ.

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