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What is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Question: "What is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?"

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or Church of the Resurrection) is a church and shrine in Jerusalem that is supposedly built around the empty tomb of Jesus. It is possible that this church is built on the original tomb site, but it is also possible that the site of the tomb has been lost to us and that this shrine was developed in the way that so many other relics of the church were accumulated—which is to say fancifully, if not fraudulently. There are other traditions that identify another site as Jesus’ empty tomb.

According to the historian Eusebius, the Roman emperor Hadrian had a temple dedicated to Venus built on the site of Jesus’ tomb in order to obscure the site of Jesus’ burial. After his conversion, Emperor Constantine began building churches and shrines throughout the empire, and he replaced the temple to Venus with a church commemorating the site. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre became a destination for pilgrimages and still is to this day.

Over the years the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been damaged, rebuilt, and expanded so that now the church also covers the supposed site of the crucifixion and even contains the stone table on which Jesus’ body is said to have been anointed for burial. The control of the site is shared by several religious and civil authorities, but it is the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

While it would be interesting to know the exact site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, such knowledge is not necessary for our faith. What is more important is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification (Romans 4:25) and that He is present with us today through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4:6). We do not need to make a pilgrimage to any “holy site” to be in His presence.

Recommended Resource: The Holy Land for Christian Travelers: An Illustrated Guide to Israel by John Beck

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