26 March 2005

History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a very interesting building in Jerusalem, as interesting as the Dome of the Rock in its own way. I didn't expect to like it much the first time I went there. I had always heard it described as too dark, too smelly, too crowded, or worse.

I loved it though. When I got back to the US, I read everything I could about the Church. The work on the Rotunda had been completed by the time I got back the second time, and the Church was much lighter and felt more open. But it's the history of the Church that I love the most.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been built, destroyed, rebuilt, remodeled, and fought over for nearly 1700 years. Today, the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Armenians control and share most of the Church. The Copts, Syrians, and Ethopians all have minor rights in the Church or on its roof. In the past the Russian Orthodox, Georgians, and others have had some level of control. Protestants have no rights in the Church at all, except to visit (this was a major reason why the Garden Tomb was established).

The Christian sects have rarely been able to work together in the Church. Worship times are strictly alloted, and outright violence has sometimes resulted. Foreign political powers got involved at times, and the Crimean War was fought in part because of disputes over the holy places, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Ottoman Empire. Two Muslim families hold the keys to the Church and lock and unlock it daily since each sect wouldn't allow any other to hold the keys.

Today, though, these individual sects are generally working together better. (At least the three main ones are. The Copts and Ethopians still seem to enjoy locking each other out of varoius chapels.) Most of the most important parts of the Church are common areas. The divisions within the Church are leftover from the Ottoman days and referred to as the "Status Quo."

These are some books I've read about the Church:
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Martin Biddle
The Tomb of Christ by Martin Biddle
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by Charles Couasnon
Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem : the archaeology and early history of traditional Golgotha by Shimon Gibson
Golgotha and the Holy Sepulchre by Sir Charles William Wilson

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