The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the holiest sites in Christendom. It is located in the Christian quarter (there are four quarters) of the old city of Jerusalem. While the Church is famous for the site of the crucifixion, the spot where Jesus was taken down from the cross and embalmed and also the burial spot, it is also famous for several events that took place at the time of the crucifixion and several days after the death of Jesus.
Most visitors to Jerusalem are unaware that the city was razed and rebuilt as a Roman city named Aelia Capitolina by the Emperor Hadrian (after his family name Aelias and the Roman triune gods Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva) sometime after 117 A.D. According to Eusebius, the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Venus in order to bury the cave in which Jesus had been buried and thus prevent Christians from venerating this holy site. Ironically, in doing so he inadvertently preserved the holiest shrine in Christendom.
The Hadrianic temple was completely destroyed by the Emperor Constantine 180 years later. He ordered that the temple be replaced by a Church. While demolishing the structure, a tomb was discovered that was thought to be the tomb of Jesus. Constantine’s architects designed an imposing series of structures over the site. Covering the tomb itself he built an edicule, meaning a little house. This edicule has been rebuilt each one over the other like four nested Russian dolls, one outside the other, since the first edicule of Constantine in the fourth century till the last one of the 19th century which is seen today; the second and third edicule being built in the eleventh and sixteenth century.
In 614 the Persians pillaged the city of Jerusalem and sacked it for three days. The true cross of Christ was stolen only to be returned several years later. However the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was torched and Christians who took refuge in it were murdered.
In the year 1009, the fanatic Al-Hakim, the Caliph of Egypt, ordered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem destroyed. The demolition of this site, so holy to Christians, began with the empty tomb where Jesus had been buried, and continued with the dome. All of the furnishings were either stolen or destroyed. Destruction however, was not total, because as the high parts fell, rubble blocked the workmen from getting to the lower parts. For close to forty years, Christians were forbidden to visit the site.
Fr. Warner D'Souza is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bombay. He has served in the parishes of St Michael's (Mahim), St Paul's (Dadar East), Our Lady of Mount Carmel, (Bandra), a ten year stint as priest-in-charge at St Jude Church (Malad East) and at present is the Parish Priest at St Stephen's Church (Cumballa Hill). He is also the Director of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum and is the co-ordinator of the Committee for the Promotion and Preservation of the Artistic and Historic Patrimony of the Church.