Dedication of the Holy Sepulchre: First and Foremost a Place of Worship

From the Custos earlier this week:

Every fifteenth of July the Diocese of Jerusalem commemorates the day that the Crusaders’ Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was consecrated as a religious building. In the same way as the Church joins together every November 9th to celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, all the parishes and Catholic communities present in the Holy Land celebrate the Dedication of the Holy Sepulchre. As mass is sung daily by the Franciscans in front of Christ’s tomb in the small hours of the morning, the Latin Church of Jerusalem joined the conventual community to celebrate this anniversary.

The dedication goes back to the year 1149, when the Crusaders consecrated the altar and sprinkled holy water in the newly rebuilt basilica. As Fra Stéphane reminds us, “We are not celebrating the glory of the Crusades. When the Franciscans came here in the 14th century and began to serve in the Holy Sepulchre, they were inserted into the country with their own values and ways of behaving: respect for others, dialogue and perseverance. This dedication recalls the primary purpose of the basilica—celebrating worship, a worship to which all the Christians in the world are invited.”

The Custos of the Holy Land being on a pastoral visit to Syria and Cyprus at the moment, the Custodial Vicar, Fra Dobromir Jasztal, officiated for the celebration. In his homily, Fra Dobromir recalled that over the centuries there have been several dedications. Orthodox Christians commemorate, for example, the dedication of the Byzantine basilica by Constantine on September 14th. “Several dedications, several basilicas, but only one tomb and one mystery; that is the essence,” he declared. Pilgrim or parishioner, everyone who prays at the Holy Sepulchre becomes a “witness of the Resurrection,” he concluded.

This mystery of the Lord is celebrated every day in the Holy Sepulchre in different languages and according to different rites, as defined in the Status Quo of 1842. The worship is sometimes “inconvenient” or at least surprising to the crowd of impatient pilgrims waiting to enter the tomb who quickly move to one or another of the chapels or simply remain in place in pious silence. This Dedication of the Holy Sepulchre reminds us that public worship takes priority over the private desires of individuals: a precious time of encounter in the place where God renewed his covenant with his people.

… public worship takes priority over the private desires of individuals.



Holy Fire!

Celebrated by Orthodox Christian in the Holy Sepulchre. RT has this stunning video:

Thousands of Orthodox Christian braved hours of waiting to witness the Holy Fire ceremony in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre – an important annual rite for the Church’s eastern denominations.

In what believers regard as a miracle, every year the day before Orthodox Easter, an unlit blue fire from a stone in the Church descends from the dome and ignites a candle held by the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

Around 10,000 people squeezed into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre– regarded by many as the place where Jesus was laid to rest and resurrected – with about as many waiting outside.
As the Patriarch received the fire, he passed it around, to other clergymen from other denominations (six of them share the church and consider it a holy site) and onto the gathered pilgrims.

The appearance of the flame is symbolic of Jesus’ rise from the dead three days after his funeral.

More photos here.



Patriarch Kirill Sorts Out the Holy Sepulcher’s Debt

The Russian Patriarch is a powerful and influential man, make no doubt about it…

The conflict over unpaid water bills of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has been resolved, the spokesman for Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said.

“The Holy Sepulchre Church’s water debts have been written off, not without the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church after Patriarch Kirill met with Israeli President Shimon Peres,” Deacon Alexander Volkov said on Wednesday while summing up the five-day visit by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to the region.

Volkov, who heads the Patriarch’s press service, added that the news was announced by Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov at his meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Russian Church’s Department of External Church Relations.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has for centuries been one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for millions of Christians as the purported site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, earlier in November threatened to close its doors as its bank account was frozen over a debt to an Israeli water company.

The church had been exempt from water charges in a tacit agreement with Jerusalem authorities for decades but the Hagihon company, which took over water supply to Jerusalem in the late 1990s, recently demanded payment of a $2.3 million bill dating back 15 years, including interest.

Volkov said the Israeli authorities have written off the Holy Sepulchre Church’s water debt for the past seven years…

Patriarch Kirill arrived in Jerusalem on November 9. It was his first visit to the Holy Land since he was elected to head the Russian Orthodox Church in 2009. During his stay, the Patriarch visited Christian holy sites in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan. He also met with Peres and Jordanian King Abdullah II.



Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Row Over Water Bill

And their bank account blocked:

Standoff over unpaid water bill could result in closure of revered church believed to be site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial.

The Guardian:

One of the most venerated sites in the Christian faith, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, buried and resurrected, is facing a financial crisis over an unpaid water bill in a row that could result in its closure.

The church, which attracts more than 1 million pilgrims each year, has been issued with a 9m shekel (£1.5m) water bill, backdated 15 years to when the supply was taken over by a new company, Hagihon.

As a result of the church’s failure to pay, Hagihon has secured the freezing of the bank account of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which is jointly responsible for the church’s administration.

The standoff was confirmed by the spokesman for Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, following a report in the Israeli paper Maariv. “It is completely true,” Issa Musaleh told the Guardian. “They have frozen our account. This is a flagrant act against the church.”

According to Maariv, the move has resulted in standing orders being rejected and cheques bouncing. Services which have been affected include telephones, internet and electricity, as well as companies supplying food.

“The church is completely paralysed. We can’t pay for toilet paper. Nothing. Hagihon has declared war on us,” a Patriarchate official told Maariv…

Read on here.

Thousands of Christian pilgrims and tourists jostle each day inside the gloomily lit spaces beneath the church’s dome. Despite the chaotic queues for the most revered sites within the church and the cacophony of chanting priests, tour guides and camera-clicking tourists, for many it is a deeply emotional and spiritual experience.

The original church was built on the site of Jesus’s crucifixion, which was then outside the city walls, in the fourth century.


Bible Archaeology

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Two Online Resources

Via Bible X:

ATS pro Terra Sancta have a couple of publications that they have placed online related to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The Holy Sepulchre: The Pilgrim’s New Guide. This is a small book containing some attractive pictures and helpful diagrams. You can access it here. I have included a screen capture of one of the book’s diagrams below.

The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This short four-page flyer can be accessed here.


Church of the Holy Sepulchre Comes Alive at Night in Jerusalem

In the Huffington Post:

Jerusalem –  After the last tourists leave the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City at nightfall, a little-known but centuries-old tradition unfolds at one of Christianity’s holiest sites.

Clerics from the three largest denominations represented in the church – Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic – gather each night for special prayers reserved for the men who take care of the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

Starting at midnight, clerics and monks sing and pray for hours, their chants echoing through the cavernous chambers of the Holy Sepulcher’s darkest rooms.

“The door of the church is closed, no pilgrims, no tourists, it’s very quiet,” said Father Isidoros Fakitsas, the superior of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate at the church. “It’s amazing to feel the liturgy with no people, only the monks.”

Isidoros said he has attended the services for 21 years.

The preparations require a rigid routine. Before the first prayers of the new day, the Christian shrine needs to be cleaned, and maintenance work has to be done.

The clerics sweep the floors, replace oil lamps and clean candle holders, after thousands of pilgrims visited throughout the previous day. Occasionally a small number of devoted pilgrims help them with the cleanup and are permitted to stay and pray inside the church all night.

The early morning mass is a tradition associated with monastic life, said Father Eugenio Alliata, professor of Christian Archaeology at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem. “Mostly monks and religious people want to pray not only all the day, but also all the night, or part of the day or part of the night. It is part of the desire to pray without ceasing because prayers to God must be given all the time, day and night,” Alliata said.

Father Fergus Clarke, the guardian for the Franciscan community inside the Holy Sepulcher, said the night prayers require a certain amount of personal sacrifice, but also bring greater spiritual fulfillment. “That’s a wonderful vocation … to be able to do something like that, to know that while people are sleeping, others are praying,” he said.

The night liturgies inside the Holy Sepulcher are regulated by a consolidated tradition: The Greek-Orthodox start to celebrate mass inside Jesus’ Tomb at 12:30 a.m., before handing over to the Armenians and then the Franciscans. The Greek Orthodox liturgy at the tomb is the longest, lasting for about three and a half hours; the Armenians then take over for an hour and a half and the Franciscans for another half hour.

The night service is subject to some variations. On the feast of Saint Matthias on the morning of May 14, for example, Catholics lead a procession to Jesus’ tomb during the Greek Orthodox liturgy.

Sounds collided with one another that night. The celestial voices of Armenian priests rose from their wing of the Church as the sound of a Franciscan pipe organ came from the opposite direction.

Competing for attention is nothing new in the ancient church. The three main denominations that share the church jealously guard their turf, and an air of mistrust lingers as each group makes sure no one else crosses into their space.

While the Tomb of Jesus and the main passages of the Holy Sepulcher are considered common spaces, the three main religious communities each own a part of the church: The Chapel of Saint Helen, near the place where Jesus’ cross is said to have been found, belongs to the Armenians; the Greek-Orthodox Church has ownership over the largest part of the church, including the Altar of the Calvary, where Jesus’s cross was raised; the Franciscans own the Chapel of the Crucifixion where Jesus was crucified, along with the northern part of the Church, where according to tradition Jesus appeared to his mother.

The church was first built by Roman Emperor Constantine in 325, at the site where the tomb of Jesus was believed to have been found.

Constantine’s structure was destroyed in 1009 by Muslim Caliph al-Hakim. A 12th century restoration by the Crusaders gave the Holy Sepulcher its current appearance.

Life inside the Holy Sepulcher is regulated by a complex maze of norms that are often subject to different interpretations, said Father Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian Superior of the Holy Sepulcher. At times, tensions have even spilled over into violence, with monks pushing and punching each other.

“We keep almost awake at night here to see that things are done properly, on time, that no one will trespass the other’s right by doing things that he’s not supposed to do,” said Father Samuel.  “So we have to be careful and watch what we do or what they do.”



New Website for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Launched

By the Custody of the Holy Land:

The site, with enhanced graphics, offers numerous updated materials in four languages ― Italian, English, Spanish, French ― along with a rich selection of images and downloadable photos of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The contents, organized thematically in a simple and intuitive manner, will accompany visitors in their discovery and understanding of the single most important place in all Christianity.

One of the highlights of the site is the Virtual Photo Tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a fascinating tool which allows everyone to visit the church, entering into the architectural areas and the sacredness itself of the place. Using the player on the Home Page one can follow all the events of Easter 2012 in Jerusalem, thanks to the videos produced by the Franciscan Media Center. In addition, the news box allows one to always keep up to date on the latest news from the Custody and the Holy Land.

The unveiling of the site is the first stage of a larger Project for renovating the Internet sites of the Sanctuaries, a project designed to assist pilgrims coming to the Holy Land, as well as all those who are simply looking for information on the Sanctuaries.


To see and touch the very places that were themselves touched and transformed by Christ’s presence is a desire shared by all Christians. Since the very beginning, Christians have come to the Holy Land to tread upon, and follow in, the footsteps of Jesus’ disciples.

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which has the responsibility for caring for the Sanctuaries and welcoming pilgrims, also wishes to accompany the faithful in their discovery and learning about the Holy Places via the Web. For this purpose, it is carrying out a Project for renovating the Internet sites of the Sanctuaries which today sees the launch of the first site, dedicated to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The numerous contents offered on the site move through the “History” of the church, from its original construction at the wish of Emperor Constantine to the present-day coexistence among the Christian communities that officiate at the Tomb.

One section is dedicated to a “Visit” of the facility, allowing the visitor to undergo a 360o learning experience by means of a virtual photo tour and the wide range of information provided. The heart of the site is the section dedicated to “Spirituality” which allows one to review the evangelical facts that lead to the “empty tomb” of the Risen One and the Christian memories safeguarded within the church.

Finally, a series of passages selected from the works of both ancient and modern pilgrims is provided in the section “Testimonies”.

During the course of the next quarter we will be launching sites for the sanctuaries of Capernaum, Gethsemane, the Nativity and the Annunciation.

You can visit the website here.