The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jeruzalem


+972 2 6272697

Summer hours (April – September): 5.00 – 21.00 daily. Winter hours (October – March): 4.00 – 19.00 daily.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre  – Room of the Tomb

“Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16: 6) A low door made out of white marble decorated with a bas-relief of the Resurrection, partly worn away by the touch of pilgrims, leads to the small and simple room that on its right has the marble slab that covered the original rock bench on which the body of Jesus was laid.

The walls are adorned with white marble panels and red marble pilasters. Above the marble slab are several paintings and bas-reliefs framed in silver depicting the triumph of the Risen Christ coming out of the tomb. Forty-three votive lamps, belonging to the different communities that guard the Tomb, are suspended from the open ceiling under the small dome.

See more Catholic Shrines and pilgrimages in the Holy Land.

See top 15 Catholic shrines in the world.

The Grace of the Holy Sepulchre

In Jerusalem, in the Basilica of the Resurrection it is always the Passover of the Lord. The empty Tomb is witness to it, the Gospel proclaims it: “The Lord is truly risen!”.

For Christians, Jerusalem has a heart: the church containing Calvary and the Tomb of Christ. These are memorials of the last events of the earthly life of the Lord, who was made man for our salvation, died, and on the third day rose again, according to the Scriptures.

They are Holy Places of Christ supremely Just One, declared by the holy Fathers to be the center and navel of the earth, the sources from which man receives salvation and life. These two Holy Places are interlinked and inseparable, as is the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was fulfilled, and is continuously fulfilled.

Daily Procession in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Francis of Assisi and his friars came to the Holy Land with the wish to be able to “breathe” in these Places that had been sanctified by the presence of the man Jesus. The daily procession at the Holy Sepulchre, which passes through the places of the passion-death-resurrection of Christ, is a way of recalling to pilgrims the need to constantly meditate on the humanity of Jesus, who in these places suffered his Passion and manifested himself in his Resurrection.

In a similar manner to the Way of the Cross, the daily procession commemorates the importance of the devotion to the cross, a cherished theme for the Saint from Assisi and Franciscan spirituality.

The procession was not created as a practical ritual for the community of friars at the Holy Sepulchre, nor is it a “liturgy” for worship only by local Christians, but it is instead intended for all Christian pilgrims who come to the church. This aspect has helped to preserve the origin of the sanctuaries as a heritage of the Universal Catholic Church. This is also testified to by the patient and persevering presence of the community of Friars Minor at the Tomb.

The structure of the procession has undergone a series of changes and variations over the course of the various historical periods which have allowed the practice of the daily Procession to survive to the present day.

The procession can be seen as fulfilling a function strongly linked to the devotion to these places as “relics” of the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus Christ, while at the ame time linked to the individual actors in these moments (Mary Mother of Jesus, John, Mary Magdalene, etc.). The Word of God appears as a fundamental element in this processional practice, and is frequently announced and re-read in a poetic manner.


At the sound of the bells, the community of friars comes to the choir to recite the Liturgy of the Hours. Immediately following this, they exit the choir and initiate the procession which consists of fourteen stations and terminates at its starting point, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament (also known as the Chapel of the Apparition of the risen Jesus to his Mother).

Participating in the procession are the friars from the community as well as some coming from St. Saviour’s. At each station a hymn appropriate to the place is recited or sung, followed by an antiphon and the collect, and at the end a Pater, Ave e Gloria is recited. Until the seventh station the procession is recited recto tono, i.e., always using the same note, after which point it is sung.

In earlier days priests from other denominations also participated in the procession, but over time this practice fell into disuse. The friars also have the right to incense and pray at altars of other Christian denominations.

Passion, Crucifixion and Anointing

On the right unfold the memories linked to the passion, death and anointing of Jesus.

Up a number of steep stairs, to the right of the entrance, is “mount” Golgotha. The rock on which the cross was raised, and which at the time of the pilgrim Egeria was still out in the open, today rises 5 meters and is visible at several points behind glass plates. The elevated surface created by the Crusaders is divided into two naves: to the right is the Chapel of the Crucifixion, belonging to the Latins, in which the 10th and 11th Stations of the Way of the Cross are celebrated commemorating Jesus being stripped of his garments and his crucifixion, as depicted in the mosaic at the rear; to the left is the Chapel of Calvary, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox, where the faithful can kneel before the altar in order to touch the rock, through a silver disk, at the place in which the cross of martyrdom of Jesus was raised.

Here is carried out the 12th Station of the Way of the Cross where the dying Jesus consigned his soul to the Father, while the 13th Station is in front of the Altar of Our Lady of Sorrows. The chapel beneath Calvary is dedicated to Adam, the progenitor of humanity. It is here that the Crusaders placed the remains of Godfrey de Bouillon and Baldwin, first King of Jerusalem. The Crusader tombs were destroyed by the Greek Orthodox at the time of the restoration following the 1808 fire.

Ancient Jerusalem traditions are represented in a number of chapels placed along the eastern ambulatory: starting with the Chapel of Adam one comes upon the Chapel of Derision, the Chapel of the Division of the Holy Robes and the Chapel of St. Longinus, before arriving to the Prison of Christ. Entering the small room of the Prison one passes through a portal decorated with Crusader capitals depicting an unusual version of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. The Stone of the Anointing, which is located directly ahead upon entering the church and was mentioned for the first time by the pilgrim Riccoldo da Monte Croce in 1288, commemorates the anointing of the lifeless body of Jesus and is especially venerated by Orthodox pilgrims. On the wall behind the stone, the scenes depicted in the modern mosaic allow one to follow the path of Jesus being taken down from the cross, sprinkled with perfumed oils and placed in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

According to the Gospels, several women followed the events from a short distance away: thus the commemoration of the “three Marys” placed underneath the small canopy not far from the Stone of the Anointing in the direction of the Anastasis, in front of the Armenian mosaic of the crucifixion which dates from the 1970s.

Sunday Mass

  • Summer hours (April – September): 5.30 – 6.00 – 6.30 (Solemn Mass in Latin) – 18.00
  • Winter hours (October – March): 4.30 – 5.00 – 5.30 (Solemn Mass in Latin) – 17.00

Weekday Mass:

  • Summer hours (April – September): 5.30 – 6.00 – 6.30 – 7.00 – 7.30 (Solemn Mass in Latin), Saturday 18.00
  • Winter hours (October – March): 4.30 – 5.00 – 5.30 – 6.00 – 6.30 (Solemn Mass in Latin) – 7.15, Saturday 17.00

All day long, some priests are at disposal to hear confessions and administer the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Daily Procession:
Summer hour (April – September): 17.00 daily;
Winter hour (October – March): 16.00 daily.

Reservations for Masses for priests and Catholic groups, certificates for pilgrimages in the Holy Land
Franciscan Pilgrims’ Office – FPO
tel: +972 2 6272697 E-mail: [email protected]

Parvis and entry

Through the narrow streets of the Souk of the Old City, teeming with vendors, religious souvenirs and intrigued pilgrims, one arrives almost unexpectedly before the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. At the front of a small paved square enclosed by buildings, the facade of the Crusader church appears with its two entry doors, of which only the left is open, and with its upper-level arched windows adorned with vegetable motifs.

The two Crusader-era doors were embellished with decorated lunettes: the door on the right had a mosaic portraying the Virgin Mary, while on the left door the imprint of the opus sectile made of precious marbles can still be seen. When they had completed the facade, the Crusaders joined it to a bell tower in the left corner of the square, today missing its upper level which collapsed in 1545. On the right, an open staircase leads to a small domed structure which served as the original external access to Calvary. It was subsequently transformed into the small Chapel of the Franks, owned by the Latins and dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows.

At the entrance to the Parvis (entry courtyard), beside the steps leading down to the pavement, one can still see the bases of the columns that supported the Crusader arcade. The columns were removed and sent as a gift to Mecca at the behest of the Khwarezmids in 1244.

Along the east and west sides of the Parvis are the entrances to the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Ethopian chapels, while the Greek Monastery lies on the east side. The only access to the Sanctuary, an entrance door with two wooden panels, has since the time of Saladin been entrusted to two Muslim families, Judeh and Nuseibeh. Passing on the tradition from one generation to the next, each morning and evening they carry out the ritual opening and closing at the entrance of the church. Just inside the door, on the left, there is a bench, “the divan used by Muslim doorkeepers”, where today the pilgrims and the clergy of the religious communities serving in the Basilica sit.

Chapel of the Franks

The stairs to the right on the outer facade lead to a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows – known as the Chapel of the Franks – which used to give access directly to Calvary, thus allowing medieval pilgrims to discharge their vows and acquire indulgences even when the church was closed, or when they lacked the money to pay the entrance fee. Directly beneath is an oratory dedicated to St. Mary of Egypt.

Finding of the True Cross

From the eastern ambulatory a staircase descends to the chapel dedicated to St. Helena. The walls of the staircase are covered with small crosses carved over the centuries by Armenian pilgrims as testimony to their people’s devotion to the Cross.

In 327, Empress Helena, Constantine’s mother, came as a pilgrim to Jerusalem and wished to search for the Holy Cross. The historical account narrates the discovery of three crosses in an ancient cistern, together with nails (one of which is incorporated in the Iron Crown kept in the Cathedral of Monza, another is in the Duomo in Milan, and a third is in Rome) and the titulus – the tablet or plaque which, at the request of Pontius Pilate, gave the reason for the condemnation in three languages (a fragment of this is kept in Rome, at the Church of the Santa Croce). A miracle allowed the Cross of Christ to be identified.

The Church of the Holy SepulchreThe chapel has three naves, with four columns supporting the dome, and dates back to the twelfth century; it is the property of the Armenians. Historical sources and archaeological excavations confirm that the hall was already used in some manner as part of Constantine’s project. The chapel is adorned with hanging lamps, in the Armenian style. From the Armenian Chapel of St. Helena one descends to the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross, where each year on 7 May the discovery of the Holy Cross is commemorated, with the relic of the wood of the Cross of Christ being carried in procession by the Franciscan Father Custos to the point where, according to tradition, it was found.

Chapel of St. Helena
Built by the Crusaders, today it is the Armenians who officiate at the Chapel of St. Helena. The floor mosaic depicts the principal churches of the Armenian nation. The four columns are crowned with Byzantine capitals, two in Corinthian style and two “basket” capitals which the Crusaders took from the ancient Al-Aqsa Mosque. The windows in the dome receive light from the raised courtyard of the Deir es-Sultan Monastery, located behind the apse of the church, with its small cells for Ethiopian monks.

From a door at the rear one enters the Chapel of St. Vartan and the Armenian Martyrs, open only upon request, where an ancient drawing of a boat was found bearing the inscription Domine Ivimus, «Lord, we went», believed to be the oldest mark of veneration left by an ancient pilgrim prior to the construction of the church.

Chapel of the Finding of the Cross
Descending further – and this is the lowest point of the entire church – one reaches the rock-cut Chapel of the Finding of the Cross. The traditional spot of the discovery of the relics is set off by railings.
The walls preserve faint traces of 12th century frescoes, while on the ceiling tool marks can be seen on blocks from the ancient stone quarry. The plaster on the walls, made from a hydraulic material rich in ash commonly used at the time of Christ, is evidence that this underground area was at that time used as a cistern.


In front of the Edicule opens the space reserved to the Greek Orthodox, the Katholikon, occupying the center of the church where the Crusaders had built their Choir of the Canons. The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, formed by Greek Orthodox monks and presided over by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, has the responsibility for the account of the Greeks for taking care of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and carries out most of its own services in the Katholikon. The dome, recently adorned with Byzantine-style mosaics depicting Christ Pantocrator surrounded by the bishops and patriarchs of Jerusalem, is supported by arches joined with pendentives to the Crusader columns on which the Evangelists are depicted; at certain times of the day rays of light enter through the windows, cutting through the atmosphere and creating suggestive effects.

At the rear of the Katholikon is the iconostasis, divided into two by a patterned series of red marble arches and columns, behind which are located the traditional Greek Orthodox icons. On either side of the iconostasis are the two Patriarchal thrones reserved for visits of the Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem. To the rear of the iconostasis, beyond a sail vault, is the Crusader apse, whose ribbed ceiling is interspersed with windows that illuminate the church. A rose-colored marble basin containing a circular stone marked with a cross is known as the Omphalos, the Navel, the center of the world: based on various Biblical references, this was seen to be the geographical center of the world that came to coincide with the site of the divine manifestation.

This notion was already present in the Jewish religion which considers the entire city of Jerusalem to be the center of the world; for Muslims, the center of the world is marked by the rock at the center of the Dome of the Rock. In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the cross of Christ is the center of the world from which the arms of the Savior extend to embrace it in its entirety. During the excavations carried out in 1967-68 beneath the floor of the Katholikon, the Greek architect Athanasios Economopoulos discovered the apse from Constantine’s Martyrium Basilica, near the point of the current Crusader apse.

Timeline Holy Sepulchre

In approximately 33 AD, Jesus of Nazareth was condemned to death, crucified on Mount Golgotha and buried in a tomb that had been excavated in a nearby garden. After three days he rose from the dead. From this moment the Tomb of the Resurrection became the central place of faith for all Christianity.

130 AD – Aelia Capitolina
In 132 AD Emperor Hadrian founded the city of Aelia Capitolina. Memories of the Jewish and Christian presence were obliterated. The site of Golgotha and the Tomb disappeared under the mass of the new temple dedicated to Venus Aphrodite.

335 AD – The era of Constantine
The pagan temples having been destroyed at Constantine’s request, the venerated tomb was brought to light and the magnificent complex of the Holy Sepulchre, with the Anastasis as its focal point, was inaugurated in 335 AD.

614 AD – The Persian invasion
The Persian invasion led to the first destruction of the Constantinian complex of the Holy Sepulchre. The relic of the True Cross, stolen during the Persian incursions, was later returned to Jerusalem by Emperor Heraclius.

1009 AD – The destruction of al-Hakim
The destructive rage of Caliph al-Hakim led to the nearly complete devastation of the Constantinian Church, which was never reconstructed in its original form. The newly-restored Church was inaugurated by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Monomachus in 1048.

1099 AD – The Crusader transformation
“Free the Holy Sepulchre of Christ from the infidels!”: this was the rallying cry that sustained the Crusaders in their enterprise. In 1099 Jerusalem was taken by storm and the Holy Sepulchre once again became the heart of all Christianity, the place to go for receiving forgiveness for sins.

1187 AD – A difficult period
First Saladin in 1187, then the Khwarezmian invasion in 1244 and finally the Mamelukes: Jerusalem was under Islamic control. It was a period of ever-changing circumstances in which the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was subdivided into areas allocated to the different Catholic and Orthodox religious communities.

1342 AD – The Franciscans at the Holy Sepulchre
By a papal bull issued by Pope Clement VI, the religious order founded by St. Francis of Assisi was entrusted with the guardianship of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the other Holy Places. Since that time a Franciscan community has been present within the venerated Church.

1517 AD – Under Turkish domination
The period of Ottoman domination was marked by frequent reversals in the favors accorded by the Sultans, above all those affecting the Latin and Greek communities. The Franciscans, supported by the European powers, were able to build a new Edicule of the Tomb in 1555 and to restore the dome of the Anastasis in 1719.

1922 AD – The period of the British Mandate
During the British Mandate over Palestine the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was continually monitored out of fear that the old structures might collapse, especially following the major earthquake in 1927. A protective system of scaffolding and supports was put in place.

1948 AD – From 1948 to the present
In recent decades the history of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has happily been marked by agreements undertaken by the three principal religious communities to restore the Church, and by the numerous pilgrims from throughout the world who tirelessly come to pray at the holy sites of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Appearances after the Resurrection

What occurred early in the morning of the day following the Sabbath, must have taken place in that “garden” in which the tomb donated by Joseph of Arimathea for the burial of Jesus was located. The area to the north of the Rotunda resonates with the memories of the announcement of the Resurrection.

According to the Synoptic Gospels, the women were the first witnesses to the announcement when, having gone to the Tomb to anoint the body of their Master, they discovered the stone rolled away from the tomb and an angel in dazzling garments who told them: “He is not here, He is risen”.
As John the Evangelist tells us, Mary Magdalene was the first to encounter the risen Jesus who had not yet ascended to the Father, and he entrusted to her the task of announcing the Resurrection.

Passing beyond the columns of the Rotunda one enters into the area belonging to the Franciscans. The altar to the right is dedicated to Mary Magdalene. In this area, in addition to celebrating the majority of their services at the Tomb, it is customary to encounter Franciscan fathers engaged in meeting pilgrims and hearing their confessions. From here one enters the Latin Chapel of the Apparition of Jesus to his Mother. This ancient memory is not reported in the Gospels but has been handed down in this chapel, where the Column of the Flagellation is preserved. Behind these areas is located the Franciscan Monastery where the fathers serving in the church live permanently.

The north aisle of the church is formed by a series of arches, said to be “of the Virgin” because they commemorate the visits of the Virgin Mary to the Tomb. This memory is linked to the five smaller columns alongside the Crusader pillars. The columns are the remains from Monomachus’ 11th century arcade that, like the original Constantinian design, surrounded the open area in front of the Anastasis on three sides.

The Grace of the Holy Sepulchre

In Jerusalem, in the Basilica of the Resurrection it is always the Passover of the Lord. The empty Tomb is witness to it, the Gospel proclaims it: “The Lord is truly risen!”. For Christians, Jerusalem has a heart: the church containing Calvary and the Tomb of Christ. These are memorials of the last events of the earthly life of the Lord, who was made man for our salvation, died, and on the third day rose again, according to the Scriptures. They are Holy Places of Christ supremely Just One, declared by the holy Fathers to be the center and navel of the earth, the sources from which man receives salvation and life. These two Holy Places are interlinked and inseparable, as is the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was fulfilled, and is continuously fulfilled.

The Calvary
Let us focus our attention on Calvary, the focal point of the Crusader church. This preserves for us half of the Paschal mystery, that part which is painful and meritorious: the crucifixion and death of Christ, new Adam and our destiny of salvation and glory.

The word Calvary comes from Latin.  It is a translation of the Hebrew term Golgotha, which means “skull”. The name was due to the appearance of the site, an ancient abandoned quarry filled with rough-hewn rocks. John, an eyewitness to the Passion, tells us that “the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha” was closeby Jerusalem.  Today Calvary is within the walls of the Old City.

The Cross
Jesus died on the Cross which he himself had carried, helped by a certain Simon of Cyrene, symbol of the disciple who carries the cross behind Jesus. The Cross was a post with two overlapping beams.  In the second century St. Irenaeus of Lyon gave it the following simboli meaning: “The incarnate Word, suspended from a tree in order to redeem us and give us life, brought together the two peoples, Jews and pagans, through the extension of the arms. For there were two arms because there were two peoples scattered to the ends of the earth, but at the center there was but one head.”

The time
Jesus was crucified at noon and died at three in the afternoon. It was a Friday, the eve of Passover, on the 13th of Nisan, probably Friday 7 April 30 AD. It was the time, according to the Jewish ritual, in which all fermented things had to be removed from the house to make way for the unleavened bread of Passover. For the New Testament, these rituals were symbols of the Christian mystery: the sacrifice of Jesus, our Passover Lamb, marked the beginning of the new and eternal alliance between God and man.

The scene
Calvary is the altar of the world. Christ crucified is both priest and victim of the sacrifice by which the work of redemption was accomplished.  Everything on Calvary revolves around the Crucified One, Lord of nature and history. Everything and everyone acquire meaning fro him: his Mother, the pious women, John, the crucifiers, the bystanders, humanity and the entire creation. We are now in the fullness of time.

Posted in The Holy Land and Top Shrines