23 January 2018

The ancient quarries inside the Holy Sepulcher

Visiting with the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum some of the lesser known places in Jerusalem: Inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, there are trails that date back to over two thousand years ago.

Archaeology, Culture, and other Religions

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"Jesus suffered outside the gates”, says St. Paul in one of the letters to the Jews. "Jesus went out to the place called Calvary, in Hebrew Golgotha”, the Gospel of John announces. In the holy scriptures, various geographical hints, linked to the passion and death of Christ, can be presently found in the basement of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, in Jerusalem.

By participating in an excursion [organized by] the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, in places that are, at times, inaccessible to pilgrims, it was possible to make a journey back in time. We have thus established that the places that would later become Calvary and Holy Sepulcher were originally part of a quarry of building stones, still visible in at least three points.

Br. GIANANTONIO URBANI, ofm
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum
"We are in the cistern of St. Helena, here in a Coptic property, in an Egyptian church. Here, we can see the transformation of a stone quarry into a water cistern, obviously not an ancient tank, but a modern one, which collects water. "

The transformation into a cistern is one of the possible destinies of the ancient quarries. This one, which presumably dates back to the first century BC, shows at least three different layers of plaster, which are a trace of the interruption of the carvings.
The characteristics of the place (including the continuous penetration of water from the ceiling) guarantee exceptional acoustics.

Once you descend into the Armenian chapel of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, another trace of the ancient quarry is visible. The same type of rock is present in the whole area, therefore, it is presumably the same rock in which the sepulcher of Jesus was excavated.

Fr. GIANANTONIO URBANI, ofm
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum
"We are in the chapel of St. Helena and St. Dismas, one of the thieves who were crucified with Jesus. The chapel of St. Vartan, used as quarry and stone, is behind this area. The tradition of the Church has great places of pilgrimage here, where we see signs of the Byzantine era in this 'Domine ivimus' graffiti, a stylized boat telling the story of people who arrived at the holy place. We can also see the crosses along the steps that descent into this area, where every pilgrim left their vow, entrusted to the Lord's passion ".

The Latin chapel of St. Helena is the place where, according to tradition, the holy cross was found. The woods of the crucifixes were in fact thrown here. The darker color of the rocks and the traces of frescoes on the walls are an indication of the historicity of the Gospels and they are a further sign of the devotion that has perpetuated over the centuries.