A visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The very stones below this historical church in Jerusalem give testimony to Christ’s passion, death and resurrection


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A lifelong Catholic scholar and historian offers the following photos and recollections from his visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem:

“Amor Christi Crucifixi Traxit Nos.”

For almost 1,700 years, worldwide pilgrims have been validating the inscription on an official papal medal.

Below the word “Jerusalem,” followed by a ribbon with an artistic depiction of a palm branch, is a 3.73-inch badge affixed to a metal cross with four equally branched crosses, with text stating in Latin:

“The Love of Christ Crucified Attracts Us.”

That love is expressed with medieval splendor throughout the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which surrounds the place where Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried.

The pilgrims arrive through a relatively simple entrance.

Rising prominently from the center of the domed, circular main floor of the church is the Chapel of the Tomb of Jesus.

The chapel stands right above the grave where Jesus died and rose from the dead.

The chambers below end at a marble cover dating from fourth-century Emperor Constantine of Rome.

For centuries, Roman Catholics together with Orthodox, Byzantine and Coptic rites have divided the times and places for their respective liturgies.

Come and see

Soon after peace under Constantine began, pilgrims were attracted to Jerusalem. Many of their accounts still exist in ancient texts.

One memorable record that I recall but cannot find now concerns a German mother of 14 children; she visited the Holy Land between the First and Second Crusades; she had lost a son in the First.

I do have the record of another German woman, Sophia von Looz, wife of Heinrich von Schwalenberg, who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1159 after the Second Crusade (1146-48) before Saladin had threatened the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.

In the third small room of the “chapel” is a stone atop the burial site. The location allows for the offering of prayers directly above the place where Jesus Christ, divine Savior and Redeemer of the human race, rose from the dead.

From a side of the chapel, a shaft leads down to the Constantinian marble, allowing for the lowering of religious articles to the top of the tomb.

Sorrowful Mother

Pilgrims entering the Church pass a 17-step staircase on the right, leading to the top of Mount Calvary.

The first altar, for Roman Catholic Masses, commemorates where the Blessed Mother stood as she watched the slow, tortuous death of Jesus.

The second altar to the left has a circular opening, through which one can lower a religious article to touch the top rock of Calvary.

Let there be light

Concerning the stone rolled to close Jesus’s tomb: some preserved tombs from the time of Jesus in Jerusalem have a huge round stone about 6 feet in diameter and about 1 foot in width.

To roll that weight, estimated at about 1.5 tons, up an inclined plane, to open the entrance would be a nearly impossible task.

When Jesus arose, a real light at least flashed in the tomb. The proof lies in a positive image of the face of Jesus on the napkin that covered Jesus’s face (John 20:6-7).

That folded napkin, commonly referred to as “True Icon,” is now preserved in a shrine near the village of Manoppello, about 100 miles eastward from Rome.

It is noteworthy that a detectable flash of light also occurs at the moment of human conception, signaling the beginning of life.

The napkin and the burial shroud of Jesus, preserved in Turin, have detailed matches on the same type of cloth found in Judea at that ancient time.

We shall surely follow

Hopefully, these remembrances about Jerusalem help to attract you to the empty tomb of Jesus during a joyful season in which we remember the Christ’s passion, death and resurrection in our liturgies, family gatherings and even our secular customs.

“I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for He has been raised just as He said. Come and see the place where he lay,” (Matthew 28:5-6).

Mr. Bode is a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish in Jefferson City.