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Tomb of the Kings, St. Stephen, "Garden Tomb"

We walk out of Herod's Gate and start our visit of the area North of the Old City walls. Looking for the antiquities, we will go to see many tombs of different historical periods. We will also come across the remains of a wall constituting the furthermost defensive line of first century Jerusalem. Click on the photos to enlarge.

Topographical and archaeological plan. A: Damascus Gate; B: Zedekiah Grotto / Solomon Quarries; C: Herod's Gate; D: Israelite tombs; E: Northern defensive line (Josephus' "Third Wall"); F: Tomb of Queen Helen of Adiabene (Tomb of the Kings); G: Gate in the Third Wall.

Monumental stairs to the Tombs of Queen Helen. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus relates the conversion of Queen Helene of Adiabene to Judaism in the 1st cent. AD. She came to live in Jerusalem and was of great help in assisting the poor during an emergency (cf. Rm 15;26).

By means of rock-cut channels, enough water was gathered in cisterns to be used for ritual baths and funerary procedures. The cisterns still keep water at present.

From a historical point of view, the monument must be dated to the Herodian period (1st cent BC - 1st cent. AD), however, it has traditionally been identified with the tombs of the last kings of Judah (8th - 7th cent. BC). From there the name of Tombs of the Kings (Qubûr es-Salatîn in arabic). The plan and sections above give you an idea of the monument's structure and size.

We find ourselves into a vast, rock-cut, square courtyard (with sides of about 28 m). The two central pillars of the portico in front of you are lost. What mostly remains, nonetheless, are the beautiful decorations that are finely sculptured in the same rock.

An ingenious mechanism, part of which consisted in one heavy rolling stone, once sealed the entrance to the tomb. One by one, every person in the group passes through the small opening and goes into the tomb.

We are now in the tomb's antechamber, where corpses were made ready for burial. Several passages connect the antechamber with the many rooms from which the necropolis is made of.

The rooms have either funerary niches of the kokhim type (above) or of arcosolia type (below). Few sarcophagi (now in the Louvre Museum, Paris) were also found.

The corpses, anointed with perfumes and wrapped in linen cloths, did rest on these benches until their decomposition. The bones were then collected in small recesses or placed into stone ossuaries, fragments of which were actually found inside the tomb.

Traces of a large and strongly built defensive wall were found in the course of excavations conducted by different archeologists, each of them coming often to different conclusions. We are probably seeing the remains of Jerusalem's "Third Wall".

Atrium and façade of the Dominican Fathers' church (École Biblique). In the late 19th cent. edifice are preserved the vestiges of the Byzantine basilica of St. Stephen built by Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem and Empress Eudocia during the 5th cent. AD.

Several fragments of the original mosaic floor are still visible inside the church.

From the "Life of Peter the Iberian" (5th cent. AD), we know that relics of St Stephen's body were kept there within a crypt. A Latin inscription now informs us that in its place is buried "Fray Joseph-Marie Lagrange, founder of the Biblical School of Jerusalem and an untiring interpreter of the Holy Scriptures".

Some of the scholars from the Dominican Order which have made famous in the world the Biblical School of Jerusalem are buried in an underground cemetery few steps far from the church. We can read the names of Louis-Hugues Vincent (1872-1960), Felix-Marie Abel (1878-1953), Roland de Vaux (1903-71), Pierre Benoit (1906-87), Raymond Jacques Tournay (1916 - 1999) etc.

In the same place is open to the visitor (on appointment) the Israelite necropolis (8th cent. BC). Technical characters and superior workmanship point to ownership from some very high social status (royal tombs?).

The rock-cut sepulcher which is shown in the Anglican property nearby ("Garden Tomb") should be considered part of the same historical and archaeological context.

According to the property owners, the actual Tomb of Jesus Christ may have indeed been found in this very place. A large number of visitors, but almost exclusively from a variety of Protestant confessions, come to see this place every day.

An ancient cistern and a wine-press, discovered inside the garden, attest to some agricultural activity practiced in this area. This reminds us of Joseph of Arimathaea who owned a garden with a tomb which was newly hewn out from the rock (Mt 27:36).

A ledge of the rock under the Muslim cemetery of es-Sahira correspond to the place of the Skull or Golgotha. General Gordon, who came to Jerusalem in 1883, was led by the natural appearance of this place to propose this identification for the first time.

 SBF main, Index

Biblical Escursions


1. City Walls (North)

2. City Walls (South)

3. City of David

4. Ophel

5. Jewish Quarter

6. Mount Zion

7. Armenian Quarter

8. Holy Sepulchre

9. Via Dolorosa

10. Probatica

11. North Jerusalem

12. Gethsemane

13. Mount of Olives

14. Ascension, Bethphage, Bethany

15. West Jerusalem

16. Ain Karem

17. Bethlehem

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Created/updated: Sunday, December 16, 2001 by J. Abela ofm / E. Alliata ofm
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