Sepulchre of Christ

Sepulchre Of Christ.

This has. been alluded to in the foregoing article, but the interest of the subject demands a fuller treatment. The traditional 'site is now occupied by the "Church of the Holy Sepulchre," and the question of the identity of the locality is fully discussed under CALVARY; GOLGOTHA. Its general position is sufficiently indicated under JERUSALEM, and in the maps accompanying that article and PALESTINE. A full description of the building is given by Porter, Handbook for Palestine, p. 155 sq.; also in the various books of travels in the Holy Land. We have only space for a brief outline of this extensive and interesting structure, which will be intelligible by the aid of the annexed plan.

1. Exterior. — The approach to it from every direction lies through narrow, filthy lanes, and small bazaars generally filled with ragged Arab women, the venders of vegetables and snails, the latter of which are much eaten here, especially during Lent. After many crooked turnings we arrive in the large square court in front of the church. Here the scene exhibited, in the height of the pilgrim season, is of the most motley and extraordinary appearance. On the upper raised steps are tables spread with coffee, sherbet, sweetmeats, and refreshments; throughout the court are seated peddlers and the Bethlehemite venders of holy merchandise, such as crosses, beads, rosaries and amulets, and mother-of-pearl shells, which are generally brought from the Red Sea, and engraved with religious subjects chiseled in relief; models of the Holy Sepulchre in wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and drinking cups from the deposits of the Jordan, with verses from the Bible engraved on them; they are nearly as black as ebony, and take a fine polish. Through these wares hundreds of persons pass and repass — pilgrims of many nations in their different costumes; Latin, Armenian, Russian, Greek, and Coptish friars, with Turkish, Arnaout, and Arab soldiers — all forming the most extraordinary scene that could be found in any spot upon the globe; and a polyglot language is heard such as few other places in the world could exhibit.

The key of the church is kept by the governor of the city; the door is guarded by a Turk, and opened only at fixed hours, and then only with the consent of the three convents and in the presence of the several dragomans, an arrangement which often causes great and vexatious delays to such as desire admittance. This formality was probably intended for solemnity and effect, but its consequence is exactly the reverse; for as soon as the door is opened the pilgrims, who have almost all been kept waiting for some time and have naturally become impatient, rush in, struggling with each other, overturning the dragomans, and are thumped by the Turkish doorkeeper, and driven, like a herd of wild animals, into the body of the church.

2. First Interior Room. — Supposing, then, the rush over, and the traveler to have recovered from its effects, he will find himself in a large apartment, forming a sort of vestibule; on the left, in a recess in the wall, is a large divan, cushioned and carpeted, where the Turkish doorkeeper is usually sitting with half a dozen of his friends, smoking the long pipe and drinking coffee, and always conducting himself with great dignity and propriety. Directly in front, within the body of the church, having at each end three enormous wax candles more than twenty feet high, and a number of silver lamps suspended above it of different sizes and fashions — gifts from the Catholic, Greek, and Armenian convents — is a long flat stone called the "Stone of Unction," and on this it is said the body of our Lord was laid when taken down from the cross and washed and anointed in preparation for sepulture. This is the first object that arrests the pilgrims on their entrance, and here they prostrate themselves in succession, the old and the young, women and children, the rich man and the beggar, and all kiss the sacred stone. It is a slab of polished white marble, and only does duty as a substitute for the genuine stone, which is said to be beneath it: but this consideration in no degree affects the multitude or the fervor of the kisses it receives. As you advance towards the stone you have Mount Calvary immediately on your right hand.

Beyond the Stone of Unction the traveler finds himself in the body of the church, a space of about 300 feet in length and 160 in breadth. In front his progress is arrested by the southern exterior of the Greek Chapel, which occupies more than half the great area; on his left, at the western end, is a circular space about 100 feet in diameter, surrounded by clumsy square columns, which support a gallery above, and a dome 150 feet high, of imposing appearance and effect. This is the Latin Chapel, in the center of which, immediately below the aperture that admits light through the dome, rises a small oblong building of marble, twenty feet long, twelve broad, and about fifteen feet in height, surmounted by a small cupola standing on columns. This little building is circular at the back, but square and finished with a platform in front. Within it is what passes for the Holy Sepulchre. We reserve its description for the last.

3. Holy Objects in Detail. — Leaving for a moment the throng that is constantly pressing at the door of the sepulchre, let us make the tour of the church, beginning from the southwest and proceeding by the north to the east, and so round to our starting point. The church, be it observed, faces the four cardinal points.

The first object we have to notice is an iron circular railing, in the shape of a large parrot's cage, having within it a lamp, and marking the spot where Mary watched the crucifixion "afar off." In the arcades round the Latin dome are small chapels for the Syrians, Maronites, and other sects of Christians, who have not, like the Catholics, Greeks, and Armenians, large chapels in the body of the church. The poor Copts have nothing but a nook, about six feet square, in the western end of the sepulchre, which is tawdrily adorned in the manner of the Greeks. The Syrians have a small and very shabby recess, containing nothing but a plain altar; in the side there is a small door opening to a dark gallery, which leads, as the monks say, to the tombs of Joseph and Nicodemus, between which and that of the Savior there is a subterranean communication. The tombs are excavated in the rock which here forms the floor of the chamber.

Farther on, and nearly in range of the front of the sepulchre, is a large opening, forming a sort of court to the entrance of the Latin Chapel. On one side is a gallery containing a fine organ; and the chapel itself is neat enough, and differs but little from those in the churches of Italy. The chapel in which the organ stands is called the "Chapel of the Apparition," where Christ appeared to the Virgin. Within the door on the right, in an enclosure completely hidden from view, is the Pillar of Flagellation, to which our Savior was tied when he was scourged, before being taken into the presence of Pontius Pilate. As in this instance the holy object cannot be reached by the lips of the faithful, it is deemed equally efficacious to kiss it through another medium. A monk stands near the rail, and, touching the pillar with a long stick that has a piece of leather at the point of it, like a billiard cue, stretches it towards the lips that are ready pouting to receive it. Only half the pillar is here; the other half is in one of the churches in Rome; where may also be seen the table on which our Savior ate his last supper with his disciples, and the stone on which the cock crowed when Peter denied his Master.

Leaving the Chapel, of the Apparition and turning to the left with our faces due east, we have on the right hand the outside of the Greek Chapel, which occupies the largest space in the body of the church, and on the left is a range. of chapels and doors, the first of which leads to the prison where they say our Savior was confined before he was led to the crucifixion. In front of the door is an unintelligible machine, described as the stone on which he was placed when put in the stocks.

In the semicircle at the eastern part of the church there are three chapels: one of these contains the stone on which our Lord rested previously to ascending Mount Calvary; another is the place where the soldiers parted his raiment among them; and the third marks the spot where Longinus, the soldier who pierced his side, passed the remainder of his days in penance. Beneath one of the altars lies a stone having a hole through it, and placed in a short trough, so that it seems impossible for anything but a specter to pass through the hole. Nevertheless, the achievement was a customary penance among the Greeks, and called by them "purgatory;"' but latterly the Turks have in mercy guarded the stone by an iron grating.

In this part also is the entrance to one of the most holy places in the church, the Chapel of the Cross. Descending twenty-eight broad marble steps, the visitor comes to a large chamber eighteen paces square, dimly lighted by a few distant lamps; the roof is supported by four short columns with enormous capitals. In front of the steps is the altar, and on the right a seat on which the empress Helena, advised by a dream where the true cross was to be found, sat and watched the workmen who were digging below. Descending again fourteen steps, another chamber is reached, darker and more dimly lighted than the first, and hung with faded red tapestry; a marble slab, having on it a figure of the cross, covers the mouth of the pit in which the true cross was found.

On reascending into the body of the church and ap preaching the vestibule through which we first entered, we find Mount Calvary on our left. This we ascend by a narrow marble staircase of eighteen steps, formed of a single stone, a fact to which the pilgrim's attention is solicited by the monks as a proof that the chapel at the top is really founded on the natural rock. But this fact would prove nothing; for there is a staircase in the Ruspoli Palazzo at Rome of one hundred and twenty steps, cut from a single block of white marble. Every visible part of the chapel is a manifest fabric. To this objection it is answered that "the stonework cases the rock," which may or may not be true; but wherever examination might be allowed it seems to be purposely withheld. The chapel is about fifteen feet square, paved with marble in mosaic, and hung on all sides with silken tapestry and lamps dimly burning; it is divided by two short pillars, hung also with silk and supporting quadrangular arches. At the extremity is a large altar, ornamented with paintings and figures, and under the altar a circular silver plate with a hole in the center, indicating the spot in which rested the step of the cross. Behind the altar and separated from it by a thin wall is a chapel, in the center of which is a stone marking the exact spot where Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac; and the monks state that when the cross was laid down, before it was raised, our Lord's head rested upon this point; they seem to consider the establishment of this fact necessary to the complete fulfilment of the type.

Descending to the floor of the church, we are shown another rent in the rock, said to be a continuation of the one above, but so guarded by an iron grating that examination is out of the question, as it can only be examined by thrusting a taper through the bars. Directly opposite the fissure is a large monument over the head of Adam.

The little chapel on the spot where Mary stood when St. John received our Lord's dying injunction to protect her as his mother is an appendage to Mount Calvary.

4. The Tomb itself. — The reader will probably think that all these things are enough, and more than enough, to be comprised under one roof. Having finished the tour of the church, let us return to the great object of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem — the Holy Sepulchre. Taking off the shoes on the marble platform in front, the visitor is admitted by a low door, on entering which the proudest head must needs do reverence. In the center of the first chamber is the stone which was rolled away from the mouth of the sepulchre — a square block of marble cut and polished; and, though the Armenians have lately succeeded in establishing the genuineness of the stone in their chapel on Mount Zion (the admission by the other monks, however, being always accompanied by the assertion that they stole it), yet the infatuated Greek still kisses and adores the block of marble as the very stone on which the angel sat when he announced to the women, "He is not dead; he is risen; come and see the place where the Lord lay." Again bending the head, and lower than before, the visitor enters the inner chamber, the holiest of holy places. The sepulchre "hewn out of the rock" is a marble sarcophagus, somewhat resembling a common bathing tub, with a lid of the same material. Over it hang forty-three lamps, which burn without ceasing night and day. The sarcophagus is six feet one inch long, and occupies about one half the chamber; and, one of the monks being always present to receive the gifts or tribute of the pilgrims, there is only room for three or four at a time to enter. The walls are of a greenish marble, usually called verd-antique, and this is all. It will be borne in mind that all this is in a building above ground, standing on the floor of the church.

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