Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is Christianity’s holiest site. It is located inside the walled Old City in Jerusalem. The site is venerated as Golgotha, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, and is also said to contain Jesus’ burial site, or sepulcher. Pilgrims have come to the church since the 4th century. It is now the headquarters of Jerusalem’s Orthodox Patriarchy as well as the Catholic Archpriest of the Basilica.
History of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
In the 2nd century, the site was a temple to Aphrodite, but in the 4th century the emperor Constantine assigned his mother Helena to build a church to commemorate Jesus Christ. Helena was reportedly present in the year 326 during construction. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was also founded by the emperor Constantine and Helena, commemorating Jesus’ birth. The church was built in commemoration of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The church was damaged in 614 with the Persian invasion of Jerusalem, but in 630 the emperor Heraclius restored the cross to the rebuilt church. It remained a Christian church under Muslim rule, but in the year 966 the roof and doors were damaged in a riot. Just over 40 years later, Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the complete destruction of the church, an act that eventually led to the Crusades.
The rebuilt church was renovated in the mid 1100s, and Franciscan friars did another renovation in 1555 due to the wear and tear from all the pilgrims. In 1808 the structure was once again severely damaged, this time by fire. The Rotunda had to be rebuilt, and were designed in the Ottoman Baroque style, which was popular at that time. Parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher still date to the 1555 restoration.
The dome that stands today was built in 1870, and was restored from 1994-1997.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher Today
There is a single entrance to the church today: a door in the south transept. Custodianship of The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared among the Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Eastern Orthodox churches. Since the 19th century, some responsibilities have lain with the Ethiopian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Coptic Orthodox churches as well. In common areas, the times and places of worship are strictly prescribed.
None of the churches controls the church’s main entrance. Back in 1192, responsibility for the church’s entrance was assigned to two Muslim families who lived close by. The key was held by the Joudeh, and the Nusseibeh were entrusted with keeping the door, and had been church custodians since the 600s. Through all the changes, destructions, and reconstructions, the arrangement has persisted until current times. Two times every day, a member of the Joudeh family brings the key. Then a Nusseibeh locks or unlocks the door.