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Church of the Holy Sepulchre could be located over the tomb of Christ

By Catholic Online
February 11th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is thought by many to have been built over the actual tomb of Christ. The early Christian community of Jerusalem appears to have held liturgical celebrations at Christ\'s tomb from the time of the resurrection until the city was taken by the Romans in 66 AD. Less than a century later, in 135 AD, Emperor Hadrian filled in the quarry to provide a level foundation for a temple to Aphrodite.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The site remained buried beneath the pagan temple until Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in 312 AD, when he began to show an interest in the holy places associated with his new faith, and commissioned numerous churches to be built throughout the Holy Land.

The most important of these, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was begun in 326 AD.

The Constantinian church was much larger than the one that stands today, but had a simpler layout. The church consisted of an atrium, a covered basilica, an open courtyard with the stone of Golgotha in the southeast corner, and the tomb of Christ, enshrined in a small, circular edifice. The tomb of Christ was not completed until 384 AD, well after the dedication of the church, because of the immense labor involved in cutting away the rock cliff in order to isolate the tomb.

It wasn't until 1959, when the three major communities, including the Latins, Greeks, Armenians decided on a major renovation plan. The guiding principle was that only elements incapable of fulfilling their structural function would be replaced. Local masons were trained to trim stone in the style of the 11th century for the rotunda, and in the 12th-century style for the church.

Visitors to the church today are acutely aware of the Byzantine, medieval, Crusader, and modern elements mixed into an odd mish-mash of styles. Each governing Christian community has decorated its shrines in its own distinctive way. In many ways, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is not what one would imagine for the holiest site in all Christendom, and it can easily disappoint. But at the same time, its noble history and immense religious importance is such that a visit can also be very meaningful.

Immediately inside the entrance to the church is the Stone of Unction, which commemorates the preparation of Jesus\' body for burial. This limestone slab dates from 1808, when the prior 12th-century slab was destroyed. Ownership of this site has varied over the centuries, but it now belongs to the four main sects: the opulent lamps that hang over the stone slab are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

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