Holy Sepulchre Church, Jerusalem
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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem — venerated as the place where Jesus Christ died and rose again — contains a bewildering conglomeration of 30-plus chapels and worship spaces.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The 29 steep steps descend to the underground Armenian Chapel of St Helena. This was the crypt of the emperor Constantine’s 4th-century basilica and is therefore the oldest complete part of the entire building.
The Armenians have re-named the chapel to honour their national patron, St Gregory the Illuminator. The left-hand altar is dedicated to St Dismas (the Good Thief).
In an ancient quarry behind a wrought iron gate (open only with permission from the Armenians) is the Chapel of St Vartan and the Armenian Martyrs.
On a stone in a second-century wall is a drawing of a sailing vessel with a Latin inscription usually rendered as DOMINE IVIMUS (“Lord, we will go”). One interpretation is that it is a pilgrim’s reference to Psalm 122 (“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Statue of St Helena holding the Cross of Christ, in Chapel of the Finding of the Cross
From the right of the chapel, another steep staircase of 22 steps leads to the Franciscan Chapel of the Finding of the Cross. This rough-walled area has been built within part of the ancient quarry, apparently later converted into a cistern for water storage.
Here, according to tradition, St Helena (Constantine’s mother) discovered the True Cross and other instruments of the Passion and crucifixion. A statue behind the altar shows her holding the Cross. Remnants of 12th-century frescoes are displayed behind glass walls. After ascending all the steps to the ground floor again, immediately on the left is the Greek Chapel of the Derision. It commemorates the mocking of Jesus by the Roman soldiers. Under the altar is a fragment of a column, said to be the one Jesus sat on when the crown of thorns was put on his head.