The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem

As mentioned in my Jerusalem Travel Guide page, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or "Holy Sepulcher") is the holiest site in Christianity. The church is located in the Old City of Jerusalem and has been a pilgrimage site for over 1,600 years.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre signChurch of the Holy Sepulchre sign

Significance and Attractions

Did you know that there is an alternative site where Jesus is believed to have been buried? The Garden Tomb, only 13 minutes away by foot (to the north, via the Damascus Gate), is where some people say his remains were laid to rest. Worth a look while you're in the area...

The site the church stands on includes Jesus’ burial place as well as the spot in which he was crucified. Unlike other historic religious sites, the Holy Sepulchre is agreed by most experts and archaeologists to be the actual burial place of Jesus.

Inside the church you will find plenty of interesting sections, including 5 of the Stations of the Cross. The main attractions are:

  • The Stone of the Unction: This limestone slab represents the place in which the anointment of Christ’s body took place before he was buried.
  • Golgotha: Also known as Calvary, this is the place in which Jesus was crucified.
  • Chapel of Adam: Located right under the Calvary. It is believed by Christians that Jesus was crucified at the burial place of Adam.
  • Edicule: Right under the large dome is the tomb of Jesus, which sits in a big shrine.
Women over the Stone of the UnctionWomen over the Stone of the Unction


The Edicule - tomb of JesusThe Edicule - tomb of Jesus

The history of the place probably started with the first Christians, who celebrated at the site after Christ’s resurrection and until the city was taken by the Romans. In 135 AD the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a temple to Aphrodite (Greek goddess of love, desire and beauty), on top of the burial site.

In 312 AD Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity. Excited about his new religion Constantine ordered to build several churches and the most important of those was this Church. The pagan temple was cleared and the church was built between 326-335 AD. It is believed that during the initial building of the church the Golgotha – or Calvary was found. The Golgotha is the place in which Jesus was crucified.

The fate of the church’s structure until modern times wasn’t that great. It was ruined by a crazy Muslim ruler – caliph Hakim in 1009 AD. It was later on restored by the crusaders after they conquered Jerusalem. In 1808 the church was damaged by fire and again in 1927 by an earthquake. The three main Christian custodians of the church are the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Apostolic churches. In 1959 those churches agreed on a major renovation plan that led to the way the church looks today.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has quite a unique look due to the history of the church and the shared ownership by the above churches. It is somewhat of a mix between medieval/crusader/Byzantine styles, which might look a little odd to you. It does to me anyway. However, I can totally see how a visit to this church can be extremely meaningful, especially if you are Christian.

Take my advice and visit the church even if you aren’t Christian (if you are I’m sure you will…) – it is quite an experience.

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