Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the holiest places in the world for Christians and an important pilgrimage site since the fourth century, is revealing more of its secrets. Ongoing archaeological investigations related to the restoration of the basilica’s floor are at a turning point, with many surprises coming to light.
The latest — and one of the most significant — findings emerged during the investigations conducted during the second half of June in the area in front of the edicule — the small shrine/temple that encloses the tomb of Jesus located in the center of the rotunda, under the big dome of the basilica.
The excavations have exposed the marble steps leading to the edicule and a coin deposit, which were most recently minted during the reign of Emperor Valens (364–378). This allows archeologists to accurately date the early Christian edicule to that period.
Located in the northwest quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Constantine the Great built the first church there, dedicated in about 336 A.D. His mother, St. Helena, was believed to have found a relic of the cross of Christ’s crucifixion on the site. Almost 300 years later, the Persians burned the church down, after which it was restored, destroyed again, and restored once more. The Crusaders in the 12th century undertook a rebuild of the site, which included a chapel in St. Helena’s honor. Since that time, frequent restorations and repairs have taken place.
Other discoveries that emerged during the first year of work involve the remains of the early Christian liturgical basilica — a construction site of the Constantinian age — and the foundations of the northern perimeter wall of the complex and the water drainage system in the northwestern area of the rotunda, next to the edicule.
Archeologists also discovered that the quarry in the southern part of the rotunda, an area outside the city walls, was used as a cave. The cave was dismantled in the first century B.C. and transformed into an agricultural and burial area.
“We are gaining an in-depth understanding of the entire stratigraphic sequence [the order and position of layers of archeological remains]: from the use of the quarry in pre-Constantinian times to the restoration work during the British Mandate [for Palestine],” Francesca Romana Stasolla, the leader of the team from the Department of Ancient Sciences at the University of Rome Sapienza responsible for the archaeological research, told CNA in an interview. Stasolla said her team can now trace “the entire material history of the religious complex.”
The recent plan to restore the Holy Sepulcher’s floor, along with concurrent archaeological, structural, and waterworks investigations, was determined by the three Christian churches responsible for the basilica: the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholic (Custody of the Holy Land), and the Armenian Apostolic churches. Operations are coordinated by the Common Technical Bureau, an office of experts representing the three communities.
The University of Rome Sapienza is responsible for the excavations. In addition to archaeologists from the Department of Ancient Sciences, the team also includes engineers, historians, philologists, geologists, paleobotanists, and archaeobotanists from the same university. The interdisciplinary team addresses, analyses, and interprets everything that emerges during the excavations.
By Marinella Bandini | Catholicnewsagency.com