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The Holiest site of Christendom


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Site of the Crucifixion, Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus

All Christian pilgrims to the Holy City of Jerusalem do their best to visit the holiest shrine of Christendom. On arriving in Jerusalem you feel compelled to walk through the Turkish walls that surround the Old City and as you repeat to yourself the psalmist's words "I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord' (Ps 122,1) you keep walking towards "the tomb of the Lord".

You get carried away by the masses that throng the narrow streets of the city. You look around you and see the hundred shops proudly displaying their merchandise in your face, in your way, over your head. You are almost carried away by the sweet smells of spices that mingle in the air with those of a roofed market.

The Square of the Holy Sepulchre

The Square of the Holy Sepulchre
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After a few minutes you find yourself in a square and in front of a shabby façade with a cut off belfry. You start wondering how could it be, that at this site there was a hill, a garden and a new tomb. You almost give in to the temptation of completely ignoring what the guides say because this shocking experience has left you speechless and confused.

But you muster your courage and venture inside. You see a Greek Orthodox monk lighting candles. You hear the Armenian Orthodox choir singing their Liturgy. You pass by a small chapel where a Copt Orthodox priest devoutly says his prayer and nearby a Syrian Orthodox monk recites his. You continue on and meet a Franciscan friar preparing an altar for the celebration of the mass.

A Franciscan Friar (Roman Catholic)

A Franciscan Friar (Roman Catholic)

A Greek Orthodox Monk

A Greek Orthodox Monk

An Armenian Orthodox Monk

An Armenian Orthodox Monk

A Copt Orthodox Monk

A Copt Orthodox Monk

A Syrian Orthodox Monk

A Syrian Orthodox Monk

This is too much for your pious expectations. Where have you ended up? Is this the place that has played such an important role during the centuries? Is this what you had expected to see? But then, all of a sudden it dawns on you and it starts to sink in.

The Plan of the Holy Sepulchre today

The Plan of the Holy Sepulchre today
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HERE, at this site an important event took place. An event of LIGHT, a reality of LIFE, the mystery of SALVATION. You walk towards the shabby aedicula over the empty tomb and upon stepping in you almost hear for yourself the echo of the voice "He has risen! He is not here!". You kneel down and without being disturbed by the decorations put up at this spot you realize you are in the tomb where the Lord of Life lay dead and from where the Lord of Love triumphed over the powers of evil, the power of death! "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1Cor 15,55)

The aedicula on the Tomb of Jesus

The aedicula on the Tomb of Jesus
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As you kneel down in silence, you hear the voice of Peter proclaiming "God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him."(Acts 2,24) or the voice of Paul: "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."(Rom 6,4). And when you come out of the tomb you realize that you are in the New House of the Lord at the site where the "New and eternal Alliance" was established between God and mankind through Jesus Christ.

Again the Scripture echoes: "People will come from the towns of Judah and the villages around Jerusalem, from the territory of Benjamin and the western foothills, from the hill country and the Negev, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings, incense and thank offerings to the house of the Lord." (Jer 17,26)

Inside the Tomb of Jesus

Inside the Tomb of Jesus
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Now you start to appreciate the coming and going of people from all nations and facing the tomb under the newly decorated resplendent dome you recite the prayer said at this spot by Pope Paul VI on January 4th 1964:

"This is the place, where You, O Lord, were accused;
(Here) You, the just one, were put to judgement;
(Here) You, Son of man, were tormented, crucified and put to death.
(Here) You, Son of God, were blasphemed, laughed at and repudiated;
(Here) You, the light, were put off;
(Here) You, the King, have been exalted on a cross;
(Here) You, Life, met with death, and (Here) You, dead, rose to life...
We adore You, o Lord Jesus. We came (here) to beat our breasts,
to ask Your forgiveness, to implore your mercy...
because you are our redemption and our hope"
(Paul VI - 4 January 1964)

The entrance to the Basilica

The entrance to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre
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By now you got over your initial amazement and you want to know more, you desire to understand this site and how it ended up the way it is today. But above all you want to feel the inner warmth it instills in those who with faith read the Gospels and realize they are the fulfilment of God's love for humanity.

The Crusader façade

The Crusader façade of the Church as it stands today
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© Text prepared by John Abela ofm based on articles and research by Virgilio Corbo ofm, Michele Piccirillo ofm and Eugenio Alliata ofm
Hi-Res pictures prepared by Michael Olteanu - Other pictures prepared by John Abela ofm and Michael Olteanu
B&W pictures courtesy of SBF-Jerusalem Archives - A joint project betweeen the Franciscans and Christusrex

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Created / Updated Wednesday, December 26, 2001 at 20:31:31 by John Abela ofm
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