The Church Of The Holy Sepulcher
The second sacred site in Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to have been constructed on the site of Jesus' crucifixion and interment. In some respects, as the historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith points out, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the original version of which was built by Helen, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, in 330, can be regarded as the successor to the Second Temple. Indeed, it immediately became the single most important Christian pilgrimage site (the second was the equally ancient Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem) and thus carried on the tradition that Jerusalem was a supremely sacred place among adherents of the new religion.
The original church, built in the Byzantine style, was destroyed by the Persians in 614. It was rebuilt in the same style shortly thereafter and, although severely damaged by an earthquake in 808, managed to survive until the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim destroyed the building again in 1009 and along with it the cave that was the presumed tomb of Jesus. In 1244 the Crusaders rebuilt the church, in the Romanesque style, and it has remained essentially intact ever since, despite several attempts at restoration.
In the interior, the site of Golgotha, the traditional location of Jesus' crucifixion is marked by a Greek Orthodox chapel, and his tomb, or Sepulcher, called in Greek the Anastasis, or "Place of Resurrection," is located beneath a rotunda surrounded by columns supporting an ornamented, domed roof. The Sepulcher itself is marked by a structure known as the Edicule, which is believed to be directly above the cave destroyed in 1009.
A unique—and not always happy—feature of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is that it is jointly owned by three major Christian denominations: the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Roman Catholic Churches. Other communities—the Egyptian Coptic, the Ethiopian Orthodox, and the Syrian Orthodox Churches—also possess certain rights and small properties in or near the building. For example, the Copts share a small area on the roof. The rights and privileges of all of these communities are protected by the Status Quo of the Holy Places (1852), as guaranteed in the Treaty of Berlin (1878), although the several communities jealously guard their spaces and rarely agree on even the smallest matters of basic maintenance. Indeed, at various times the secular authority, as of the early 2000s wielded by the State of Israel, has been forced to intervene in these disputes and subsidize needed repairs and renovations.
Nevertheless, despite the recent political upheavals in the region and the ongoing squabbles among its owners, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher remains the foremost Christian pilgrimage site in the world and is indeed a worthy successor to its vanished neighbor, the ancient Hebrew Temple.
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