Crucifixion Altar
The Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre - Jerusalem

Crucifixion Altar - The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre is believed by most of the Christian world to encompass the sacred site of Calvary (Golgotha).*

The last chapters of the Four Gospels have scanty information about the site of the Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection of the Lord.  But these are the first sources we have to look at in order to get a clear idea about this site.

The Gospels call this site Golgotha.  (Aramaic "Golgotha"; Greek "Kranion" (skull), from which we get Calvary, from the Latin root "calva", the scalp without hair.  Our common word Mount is not used (Mount started to be used only in the 4th century, when the surrounding rock was removed, leaving the rock of the crucifixion an isolated knoll about 6 meters high).  It is simply called a place: a place called Golgotha to indicate the spot where the cross was raised and the nearby rural property of Joseph from Arimathea:

"And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull), they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when he tasted it , he would not drink it.  And when they had crucified him, . . ."  Matthew 27:33-35.

"And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).  And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh; but he did not take it.  And they crucified him, . . ."  Mark 15:22-24.

"And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left."  Luke 23:33.

"So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha.  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.  Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, 'Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.'"  John 19:17-19.

Here ends the information about the site of the crucifixion of the Lord as we find it in the Gospel.  Looking at today's monument it becomes even more difficult to imagine how the site presented itself almost 2000 years ago.  Pious Christians have raised upon this site various monuments and constructions that have helped to transform completely the "bare" area outside the city walls of the first century Jerusalem.

One cannot understand its transformation without keeping in mind the architectural transformation of the whole city of Jerusalem.  We have also to keep in mind that since the fourth century, this site has become the focal point of the history of Palestine.  It was the site of many protracted wars between Christian and Moslem powers.

The altar of the Crucifixion

Tradition places the erection of the cross and the death of Jesus in the eastern part of the nave on the left.  A silver disk with a central hole, underneath the Greek Orthodox altar, marks the spot where the Cross Stood.

Here Jesus expired

On each side on the altar a black marble disk recalls the memory of the two thieves crucified with Jesus, "one on the right, the other on the left" (Mark 15:27).  To the right of the altar an opening in the pavement show the cleft that an old theological tradition links to the earthquake mentioned in Mathew 27:51. 

Here Jesus dies on the Cross

The site of the crucifixion has been fixed since Constantine's time when at this site he had erected a wooden cross replaced in 417 by the Emperor Theodosius II with another cross made of gold and precious stones.


Subject Gallery

Text and Photographs courtesy of Christus Rex, Inc.  Used by permission of Michael Olteanu.
*Excerpt from the chapter "The Church of the Holy Sepulchre" in "Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem" by Aviva Bar-Am.  Used by permission of Michael Olteanu.
Gospels text prepared by John Abela ofm based on articles and research by Virgilio Corbo ofm, Michele Piccirillo ofm and Eugenio Alliata ofm.
Photo text information by John Abela, ofm and Michael Olteanu based on research by Albert Storm (SBF-Jerusalem). 
Pictures prepared by Michael Olteanu.  The Christus Rex, Inc. web site -

Matthew 27:33-35, Mark 15:22-24, Luke 23:33 and John 19:17-19 from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version.  Published by 1962 The World Publishing Company.

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