New Treasures Discovered at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher
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Dating back to the fourth century, the Church of the Holy SepulcherÂ is a sacred place has long been a focal point of faith and devotion. As ongoing archaeological investigations continue to unravel its mysteries, a plethora of surprises have recently come to light.
The most significant revelation emerged during investigations conducted in the latter half of June, right in front of the edicule--a small shrine or temple that encloses the tomb of Jesus, nestled beneath the grand dome of the basilica. As the excavation progressed, it revealed a set of marble steps leading to the edicule and a remarkable coin deposit. These coins, bearing the imprint of Emperor Valens (364-378), provide a pivotal clue in dating the early Christian edicule to that specific period.
Nestled in the northwest quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is believed to be the hallowed ground where Jesus was crucified, entombed, and subsequently resurrected. Its rich history dates back to the era of Constantine the Great, who constructed the initial church around 336 A.D. According to legend, his mother, St. Helena, discovered a fragment of the cross used in Christ's crucifixion on this very site. Over the centuries, the church faced devastation at the hands of the Persians, only to be painstakingly restored, destroyed once more, and then rebuilt by the Crusaders in the 12th century. Since then, the basilica has undergone numerous restorations and repairs, each layer adding to its mystique.
The ongoing archaeological endeavor is led by a team from La Sapienza University, who have made remarkable strides in uncovering the basilica's hidden history. In their first year of work, they unearthed remnants of the early Christian liturgical basilica, a construction dating to the time of Constantine. Additionally, they revealed the foundations of the northern perimeter wall of the complex and a sophisticated water drainage system in the northwestern corner, adjacent to the edicule. Another astonishing discovery was the revelation that the southern part of the rotunda, once a quarry situated beyond the city walls, had been transformed into a cave. This cavern, dismantled in the first century B.C., was repurposed as both an agricultural and burial site.
Francesca Romana Stasolla, the leader of the excavation team from the Department of Ancient Sciences at the University of Rome Sapienza, shared insights into their remarkable journey. "We are gaining an in-depth understanding of the entire stratigraphic sequence, from the use of the quarry in pre-Constantinian times to the restoration work during the British Mandate for Palestine," she explained. Stasolla emphasized that her team now possesses the tools to trace "the entire material history of the religious complex."
The ambitious plan to restore the Holy Sepulcher's floor has been executed in tandem with archaeological, structural, and waterworks investigations, all under the auspices of the three Christian churches responsible for the basilica: the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholic (Custody of the Holy Land), and the Armenian Apostolic churches. Coordination of these multifaceted operations falls to the Common Technical Bureau, a consortium of experts representing these three faith communities.
The University of Rome Sapienza bears the responsibility for the excavation efforts. Comprising archaeologists, engineers, historians, philologists, geologists, paleobotanists, and archaeobotanists, this interdisciplinary team diligently examines, analyzes, and interprets every facet of their findings. Together, they are piecing together a vivid tapestry of Jerusalem's sacred past, one layer at a time.