Facets of Faith: Jesus’ tomb sacred site

Editor’s note: In May, Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, met in Jerusalem with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “first among equals” among the various patriarchs of 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Advocate photographer Bill Feig was there. This is the first in an occasional series of photos from Feig’s journey.

When I asked photographer Bill Feig what one place stood out to him on his recent trip to Jerusalem, he didn’t hesitate: “The Holy Sepulchre.”

This site is inside The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be where Christ was crucified, buried and where He rose again.

The site is not beyond a doubt Christ’s burial place, but is considered to have the weightiest claims by many scholars.

In the first century, the church area was a quarry just outside the city walls. The quarry held burial chambers in the first centuries BC and AD.

Early historians say that the Christians in Jerusalem held worship services there until 66 when a temple to Venus was built over the site by emperor Hadrian.

In the 300s, Constantine tore down that temple to build the church.

It has been rebuilt several times because of war, fire and earthquakes and has grown to three connected churches.

Chapels and other spaces have been built in the church to accommodate six denominations — Armenians, Greeks, Copts, Roman Catholics, Ethiopians and Syrians — who share custody of the building.

As part of the many renovations and reconstructions, a shrine was added over the tomb after a fire in 1808, replacing one from 1555 and several others dating to the fourth century. In 1810, a marble slab, called the Stone of Unction, was placed over the spot believed to be where Jesus was laid in the tomb.

Greeks, Armenians, Copts and Roman Catholics control the tomb and have two chapels in the shrine.

The church building also covers the site of the Crucifixion: Golgotha, in Hebrew, or Calvary, in Latin. The top of this hill is glassed in and can be seen at a Greek Orthodox altar in the church.

Since 1192, two Muslim families have acted as a neutral intermediary to lock and unlock the church every day. Armed Israeli soldiers escort a member of the Joudeh family with the key to the building. Then a member of the Nuseibeh family unlocks the door. The six Christian groups share an uneasy truce over the building. Sometimes, the smallest action, such as moving a chair, sets off a dispute.

Sources: Jerusalem & the Holy Land, Dorling Kindersley Travel Guides; Sacred Places, Philip Carr-Gomm; Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, by Karen Armstrong