“And they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, The place of a skull,” (Matthew 27:33)
Jesus was crucified at Golgotha, known in the New Testament (Matt. 27:33–35; Mark 15:22–25; John 19:17–24) as “the place of the skull”. This location lay outside the perimeter of the city walls at the time and was an abandoned stone quarry.
Around a decade later, a wall was built which enclosed the site inside what we know today as Jerusalem’s Old City.
It is customary for pilgrims to kneel and kiss the stone on their arrival at this location within the church. This tradition stems from John 19:40:
“Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury”.
The kneeling action is also represented in the large mosaic above the Stone of Unction, which depicts subjects kneeling alongside the stone.
The tomb itself was discovered in the process of building a church ordered by Roman Emperor Constantine I. This then became the first Church of the Holy Sepulchre which could be accessed by a set of steps which rose from one of Jerusalem’s main streets.
Early pilgrims would have walked through a basilica and the ‘holy garden which contained ‘the rock of Golgotha, before reaching the Holy Sepulchre.
A small building was built around the tomb, which was originally exposed. The relic of the cross of Jesus, another important feature of the church, is said to have been discovered by Saint Helena, Constantine’s mother, in 326.
In the 11th century, the Chapel of the Invention of the Cross was founded, in a cave deep beneath the basilica’s ruins, which is still present today.
A number of destructions and restructurings have taken place at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, including a 614 ransacking by a Persian Army, a 966 fire which destroyed the dome in anti-Christian riots, and a complete dismantling by fanatical Arab leader Fatimid caliph al-Hakim in 1009.
Today pilgrims often light a candle, make a prayer or take part in a procession around the site. The experience is very emotional for some, evocative for others, and gives Christians the chance to communicate with God and ask for what is in their hearts. For those who are far away, we are offering the pilgrims experience as an online option.