The site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is identified as the place both of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.
According to the New Testament, Jesus was crucified at Golgotha, “the place of the skull” (Matt. 27:33–35; Mark 15:22–25; John 19:17–24). This has been identified as an area of abandoned stone quarries just outside the city wall of the time.
About 10 years after the crucifixion, a third wall was built that enclosed the area of the execution and burial within the city, and this accounts for the Holy Sepulchre’s location inside the Old City of Jerusalem today.
Roman emperor Constantine I, a convert to Christianity, had the temple of Venus in Jerusalem demolished to make way for a church. In the course of the demolition a tomb was discovered that was thought to be the tomb of Jesus.
The first Church of the Holy Sepulchre was approached by a flight of steps from the Cardo, main street of Jerusalem.
Then pilgrims went through a narthex; a basilica; and an open area, the “holy garden,” which had in it the rock of Golgotha, finally reaching the Holy Sepulchre itself.
In 614, a Persian army destroyed the church but in 631 the Byzantine emperor Heraclius negotiated its return. The Arab conquest in 638 was initially less disruptive, as Christians were treated with tolerance, but 300 years later the entrance to the basilica was converted into a mosque, and in 966 the dome was destroyed by fire during anti-Christian riots.
The Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus (1042–1055) funded its rebuilding, but on a different plan, with the entrance on the south side.
The liberation of the holy places, the foremost of which was the Holy Sepulchre, was an important motivation for the First Crusade between 1096 and 1099.
After the capture of the city by the crusaders in 1099, eyewitnesses tell how the survivors of the expedition prayed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which struck them as unusual because it was open to the sky.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was reconsecrated on July 15, 1149, 50 years to the day after the capture of Jerusalem by the First Crusade, but in fact work continued on the building for some years afterward. Nevertheless, the church of the crusaders is essentially the church that is to be seen today.
A visit to the church is a standard inclusion in all of Selah’s Holy Land tours to Israel.