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Holy SepulcHoly Sepulchrehre

century christ tomb architectural

The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is the tomb of *Christ. Presumably a rock-cut cave, the location was reidentified by the empress Saint *Helena during her *pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 326 and became the site of successive architectural constructions through the medieval period. The original church (dedicated c.335) consisted of a large basilica, courtyard, and a domed, centrally planned rotunda of the *Anastasis which enclosed the tomb of Christ. This structure was destroyed by the Persians, rebuilt in the early seventh century, remodelled in the mid-eleventh century, enlarged in the early twelfth century, and rebuilt again in the early fourteenth century. (Enlargements and alterations have gone on continuously through the modern period.)


In early Byzantine illustrations of Christ’s *Deposition and *Entombment, the Holy Sepulchre is often represented as a cave although it is also shown in art as early as the third century as a small architectural structure, for example, in scenes of the *Three Marys at the Tomb. From the fourth century, it is recognizable by its domed, rounded, or otherwise centrally planned appearance, which inspired numerous architectural “copies” in Byzantium and western Europe. Chapels of the Holy Sepulchre were frequently used, especially from the tenth century in the west, in liturgical ceremonies for Good Friday and Easter. A *cross or host (eucharistic wafer, was buried in the chapel on Good Friday, exhumed and carried to the altar on Sunday morning. Small, free-standing sculptures of the Holy Sepulchre, including the sarcophagus, reclining figure of Christ, *angels, and holy women, were also produced from the late thirteenth century onward.

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