In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

  • Introduction
  • The Byzantine Church of the Holy Sepulchre (1009–1099)
  • The Crusader Church of the Holy Sepulchre (1099–1291)
  • The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Post-Crusade to Present Day)
  • Copies of the Holy Sepulchre
  • Liturgy and Ritual at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Medieval Studies The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Lynn Jones
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0044


For the Christian faithful, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is and has been since the 4th century the locus of sites associated with Christ’s death and resurrection. While the religious significance of the church has remained constant, the form has not. Founded by the Roman emperor Constantine I, “the Great,” and consecrated in 335, the original was not one church but a complex of structures. It fronted the main street, or cardo, of Jerusalem and was entered through a monumental eastern gateway which led to a courtyard. Next to that was a basilica, modeled on those current in Rome. It was grand in scale, with five aisles and a central western apse. Beyond the basilica was a second courtyard; the rock of Golgotha, or Calvary, was located in the southeastern corner. Attached to the western side of the courtyard was a semicircular structure, the Anastasis, or Resurrection, Rotunda. In the center of the rotunda was the tomb of Christ, contained within an aedicule. Ancillary chapels on three sides of the rotunda and the residence of the patriarch of Jerusalem completed the complex. The Constantinian complex was largely maintained until its destruction in 1009. It was rebuilt and rededicated c. 1048 by the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos. While the Byzantine Church of the Holy Sepulchre was reduced in scale, its symbolic significance was increased. The gateway and basilica were not rebuilt; instead, architectural emphasis was placed on the Anastasis Rotunda, which was still entered through a courtyard but to which was added an eastern apse, providing the “correct” orientation lacking in the original. Additional chapels, fronting the courtyard and flanking the rotunda, testify to the multiplication of sites associated with events of the Passion and the proliferation of relics of the Passion. In addition to the rebuilt patriarchate to the north, a baptistery complex was added to the southern side of the rotunda. In 1099 the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was again rebuilt, this time under Crusader rule to conform more closely to the architectural styles current on the European continent and to accommodate Latin liturgy. It was rededicated in 1161. The reconfigured church deemphasized the courtyard, adding a choir to the east of the rotunda. The semicircular shape of the rotunda was now matched by a semicircular ambulatory with radiating chapels on its eastern side. New sites, particularly those identified with Saints Mary and Helena, were enclosed in chapels. The Crusader Church of the Holy Sepulchre united the sites of Golgotha and the Anastasis in one building for the first time. This Crusader church is essentially the same structure that exists today, at least in plan. The division of the interior to accommodate the multiple resident Christian communities reflects modern rather than medieval practice. A new dome was added in the 19th century, reflecting the style favored by the Ottoman Empire.

The Constantinian Complex (335–1009)

The earliest extant descriptions of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are found in pilgrim guidebooks and accounts, in official imperial biographies and ecclesiastic letters. This contemporary interest in the church complex is reflected in modern scholarship, where identification of the form and constituent parts of the Constantinian original are given more attention than later iterations of the church.

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