The Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre (The Tomb of Christ) with the Dome of the Rotunda visible above. Jerusalem, Israel. The Middle East 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.com
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection by Eastern Christians, is a church within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It is a few steps away from the Muristan.
The site is venerated as Golgotha (the Hill of Calvary), where Jesus was crucified, and is said also to contain the place where Jesus was buried (the sepulchre). The church has been an important Christian pilgrimage destination since at least the 4th century, as the purported site of the resurrection of Jesus. Today it also serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, while control of the building is shared between several Christian churches and secular entities in complicated arrangements essentially unchanged for centuries. Today, the church is home to Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Anglican and Protestant Christians have no permanent presence in the church.
In the early 2nd century, the site of the present Church had been a temple of Aphrodite; several ancient writers alternatively describe it as a temple to Venus, the Roman equivalent to Aphrodite. Eusebius claims, in his Life of Constantine, that the site of the Church had originally been a Christian place of veneration, but that Hadrian had deliberately covered these Christian sites with earth, and built his own temple on top, due to his hatred for Christianity. Although Eusebius does not say as much, the temple of Aphrodite was probably built as part of Hadrian's reconstruction of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina in 135, following the destruction of the Jewish Revolt of 70 and Bar Kokhba's revolt of 132–135.
Emperor Constantine I ordered in about 325/326 that the temple be demolished and the soil - which had provided a flat surface for the temple - be removed, instructing Macarius of Jerusalem, the local Bishop, to build a church on the site. Constantine directed his mother, Helena, to build churches upon sites which commemorated the life of Jesus Christ; she was present in 326 at the construction of the church on the site, and involved herself in the excavations and construction.
During the excavation, Helena is alleged to have rediscovered the True Cross, and a tomb, though Eusebius' account makes no mention of Helena's presence at the excavation, nor of the finding of the cross but only the tomb. According to Eusebius, the tomb exhibited a clear and visible proof that it was the tomb of Jesus; several scholars have criticised Eusebius' account for an uncritical use of sources, and for being dishonest with Edward Gibbon, for example, pointing out that Eusebius' chapter headings claim that fictions are lawful and fitting for him to use.
Just as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (also founded by Constantine and Helena) commemorated the birth of Jesus, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre would commemorate his death and resurrection.