Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The church is located in the heart of the old city of Jerusalem, Jerusalem
The first construction AD 326-335. The present construction inaugurated in AH 543 / AD 1149
The construction was supervised by Qasis of Constantinople, also known as Eustathius. The engineer/designer was known as Zanobious from Palmyra (today Tadmur in Syria).
The church dates back to the Byzantine period but several renovations were implemented in subsequent periods
Emperor Constantine (r. AD 308–37) and his mother, Helena.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre enjoys a rich history and has extraordinarily distinguished artistic and architectural traits. The church is sacred to all the Christian faiths as, as is evident from the name, it is revered as the site of the Resurrection of Jesus following his Crucifixion, his suffering and death. According to Christian belief Jesus was buried (the sepulchre) in this church. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a large architectural complex that includes a number of smaller chapels; in total the area exceeds 5000 sq m.
When the first church was founded on this site during the Byzantine period it included four elements: atrium, basilica, open courtyard and the sepulchre or holy tomb. In AD 614 the Persians set fire to the church, badly damaging it; the church was repeatedly thereinafter partially destroyed and repaired over the next 400 years. The Patriarch, Modestus undertook restoration of the church following the attack, and made alterations to it, decreasing the scale of the original plan. The Caliph 'Umar Ibn al-Khattab (r. AH 13–23 / AD 634–4), who was notoriously protective of Christian sites, refused to pray in the church when the Patriarch Sophronius suggested he did so; apparently he was eager to protect the city's Christian rights.
The Crusaders made alterations and additions to the church, the initial implementation of which had been the ambitious project of Constantine IX Monomachos and which transformed the design of the church once again. A new church was erected in AH 543 / AD 1149, which was known as the Church of Nisf al-Dunya (Church at the Centre of the Universe, a catholicon used by monks), in the Romanesque style. The church was built around the rocky hill of the Crucifixion, the Rock of Calvary (Golgotha) overlooking the Rotunda. Similarly, the alterations included those made to the entrance leading to the place of Crucifixion within the church building, while the level underneath it was made the burial place of some of the Frankish kings. A bell tower, the doors of which opened to the south instead of the east, was added in AH 566 / AD 1170. Despite these important changes, the most prominent features of the Church remained until AH 583 / AD 1187. Saladin followed the example of 'Umar Ibn al-Khattab and was tolerant of Christians and respected their rights to worship.
Entrance to the church is by way of a great portal, above which there is a huge stone lintel. The lintel is carved with decoration in low relief portraying scenes from the Bible. On entering the portal, there is a modern staircase that leads up to the site of the Crucifixion, which today is divided into two sections: east and west. What remains of the Rock of Calvary is found in the west-facing Greek area surrounded by a glass frame. The Rock is cracked and according to the Christian faith the crack occurred when Christ was stabbed by a Roman soldier and was stripped of his cloak.
A descending staircase confronts the ascending stairwell and leads to the Stone of Anointing where, to the west of the Stone, a wall has been erected that divides the entrance from the Church of Nisf al-Dunya. A little to the south is the holy dome covered by a large semi-circular stone dome with a cylindrical drum supported by a series of pillars. A central window opens onto the pivot of the dome, which is decorated with 12 petals in gold leaf, symbolising the 12 apostles of Christ. In addition to those areas discussed here, there are a number of other cells, rooms, halls and chapels in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
This holiest of holy Christian sites is revered as the site of the tomb and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is set almost in the centre of the old city of Jerusalem. The church is a great complex that includes a number of chapels, oratories, cloisters and subterranean chambers and holds many icons, mosaics and important religious statues. Renovations since its original construction has given it stylistic variety and it is now predominantly in the Romanesque and Gothic. The church has number of divisions which are imperceptible except by the religious raiment of each Christian sect that controls that section.
The building was dated by means of historical sources.
Al-Natsheh, Y., Kanisat al-Qiyama [Church of the Holy Sepulchre], Jerusalem, 2002.
Yusuf al-Natsheh "Church of the Holy Sepulchre" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. 2022. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;pa;Mon01;20;en
Prepared by: Yusuf Al-NatshehYusuf al-Natsheh
Yusuf Said Natsheh is a Palestinian and since 1997 he has been Director of the Department of Islamic Archaeology in al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem. He is a lecturer at al-Quds University. He was educated in Jerusalem and Cairo and in 1997 obtained his Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Dr Natsheh is a council member of many Palestinian societies for architectural heritage and a consultant for various projects on Jerusalem. He has written books and more than 40 articles about Jerusalem's architectural heritage including the architectural survey of Ottoman architecture in R. Hillenbrand and S. Auld (eds) Ottoman Jerusalem: The Living City 1517–1917 (London: Altajir World of Islam Trust, 2000). He has contributed to many international and national conferences. He supervised the restoration project, sponsored by the Arab League, on Mamluk monuments in and around al-Haram al-Sharif, and was Palestinian expert for the UNESCO mission to Jerusalem in 2004.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: PA 20
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Pilgrimage | The Holy Land of Three Faiths Al-Franj: the Crusaders in the Levant | Pilgrimage to the Holy Land The Umayyads | Christian Subjects under Umayyad Rule
Related MWNF Tour Related MWNF Travel Book
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)