The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
I am standing transfixed in front of a stone that is easily thousands of years old but still has a sense of new. Perhaps it is the vivid red streaks in the smooth brown marble that is giving me this sense. And make no mistake I am not looking at any ordinary slab of stone. I am at The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and this is the Stone of Anointing, the same stone where Jesus Christ’s body was kept after his crucifixion. Little wonder then that the crowds just continue to swell around here and people kneel down and bow to arguably one of the most revered sights of Christianity. Coming back to the slab itself, I could not take my eyes off the red marks on the cracked stone. I could almost feel Jesus Christ lying down here and I am overcome by a sense of sadness. But before my thoughts started to wander, my guide Shelly’s voice tells me that this is the place where people place their rosaries and souvenirs for it to be blessed which is why so many people make a stop here. Likewise it is common to see people rubbing a piece of cloth on the stone to receive blessings too.
Dating back to the 4th century, this Church has two of the holiest sites of Christianity – one is the Calvary or the Golgotha where Jesus was crucified and Jesus’s empty tomb where he was buried before his resurrection. The Church has however been rebuilt several times over past centuries and has also seen a 9 month long renovation before it reopened in March 2017. Interestingly as part of this exercise, the researchers discovered slabs dating back to the time when Roman Emperor Constantine built this Church in the 4th Century. Accessing this church through an old souk or market place, it is impossible not to miss the fusion of different architectural styles in this Church.
Within the Church you will see four Stations of the Via Dolorosa or the stations of the Cross – the path Jesus took as he walked along on the day of his crucifixion. Ownership of this Church is among the Greek Orthodox, Catholics and Armenian Orthodox. Within the Church there are numerous chapels that mark important events in Jesus’s last days. The Chapel of the Franks is the tenth station of the cross was where Jesus was stripped of his garments. The Catholic Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross is the site of the Eleventh Station of the Cross when Jesus was nailed to the cross. The Greek Chapel of the Crucifixion is the Twelfth Station of the Cross, the place when Jesus died on the cross. Between the two chapels, a Catholic altar of Our Lady of Sorrows is the Thirteenth Station when Jesus is taken down from the cross.
In the centre of the ground floor is the stone edicule or little house whose entrance has rows of huge candles and is said to be the Tomb of Christ where he was buried for three days before he rose from the dead. This is the place where photography is strictly prohibited (you can take pictures elsewhere in the Church) and is usually manned by Greek Orthodox priests who regulate the queue of people entering this tomb. You are allowed to enter this individually and spend a few seconds to pray. This is a tiny place and standing here all alone even for those few seconds is certainly a feeling that transports you to another world. Likewise below the elaborate altar at chapel of crucifixion or the 12th station there is the hole in which the cross stood. You are allowed to bend down and look down the hole that has an aroma that will stay with you much after you have left the place. And at the end of my visit here, my mind is filled with a strange sense of happiness and hope – the power of resurrection perhaps. If there was one place that is surely resonating with a sense of positive power, it is certainly here. So, make sure you visit this and check out the vibes yourself on your next visit to Jerusalem. And if you cannot just request a prayer here.
This story was originally written in The Speaking Tree here