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Topographical description of the region of Golgotha


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"If Christ is the true sun and the true day no hour can pass for the Christian without adoring his God" - (Cyprian of Carthage)

The last chapters of the Four Gospels have scanty information about the site of the Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection of the Lord. But these are the first sources we have to look at in order to get a clear idea about this site.

The site of Calvary today

The site of Calvary today
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1. The Gospels call this site Golgotha. (Aramaic "Golgotha"; Greek "Kranion" (skull), from which we get Calvary, from the Latin root "calva", the scalp without hair. Our common word Mount is not used (Mount started to be used only in the 4th century, when the surrounding rock was removed, leaving the rock of the crucifixion an isolated knoll about 6 meters high). It is simply called a place: a place called Golgotha to indicate the spot where the cross was raised and the nearby rural property of Joseph from Arimathea:

"They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull)" (Mt. 27,33)
"They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull)" (Mk. 15,22)

"When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals - one on his right, the other on his left" (Lk. 23,33)

"Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)" (Jn. 19,17)

2. The Gospels also affirm that at the site there was a Garden:

"At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden" (Jn 19,41)

3. This Garden of Golgotha lied outside the city but close enough to allow passers-by to read the notice (titulus) prepared by Pilate and fastened to the cross:

"Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek" (Jn 19,20).

4. The Gospels affirm also that close to the "Skull" where Jesus was crucified there was a new tomb hewn in the rock:

"At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid" (Jn 19,41).

"Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock" (Mt. 27,59).

"Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid" (Lk 23,53)

New Tomb

The "New Tomb" in which Jesus was laid
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5. The entrance to the tomb was sealed by a slab.

"He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away" (Mt. 27,61).

"When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away" (Mk 16, 1-4).

"On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus" (Lk 24,2).

6. The Gospels also provide a description of the inner chamber of the tomb. From this description some scholars deduct that the tomb might have been of the arcosolio type and not the kokhim (oven-shaped) tombs. This is deduced from the account given by Arculf. Here is what the Gospel says about this space:

"Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot". (John 20,11-12)

"As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed". (Mk 16,5).

7. The last information we deduct from the Gospels is that the tomb in which the Lord was laid belonged to Joseph from Arimathea

"Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb" (Mt. 57,59-60).

Here ends the information about the site of the crucifixion and burial of the Lord as we find it in the Gospel. Looking at today's monument it becomes even more difficult to imagine how the site presented itself almost 2000 years ago. Pious Christians have raised upon this site various monuments and constructions that have helped to transform completely the "bare" area outside the city walls of the first century Jerusalem.

One cannot understand its transformation without keeping in mind the architectural transformation of the whole city of Jerusalem. We have also to keep in mind that since the fourth century, this site has become the focal point of the whole city as well as the focal point of the history of Palestine. It was the site of many protracted wars between Christian and Moslem powers.

The bare rock of Calvary

The bare rock of Calvary unearthed by the Greek Orthodox community
(site of the Crucifixion of the Lord)

In order to fully understand the topography of this site we need the help of the detailed archaeological studies carried out by the late Fr. Virgilio Corbo ofm (his findings are published by the Franciscan Printing Press of Jerusalem in a three volume work entitled "Il Santo Sepolcro di Gerusalemme", Jerusalem, 1981-1982). He was the person entrusted with the archaeological research in various areas of this monument, research that was carried out in multiple stages due to the complexity of the building.

We cannot see today the spur of Calvary and the Tomb dug in the rock; we can, however, form a fairly exact picture of the topography of the place.

The Altar of the Crucifix

The Altar of the Crucifix on Calvary
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The Icon of the Virgin Mary
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The Icon of St. John
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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 20:31:37 by John Abela ofm
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