The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the site of Golgotha

The second Protestant church in Jerusalem (the first being Christ Church near Jaffa Gate) the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer its bell tower dominates the Old City skyline of Jerusalem.

The Evangelical Jerusalem Foundation, one of the three foundations of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) in the Holy Land owns the building which was built between 1893 and 1898 by the architect Paul Ferdinand Groth following the designs of Friedrich Adler. Today the Church of the Redeemer houses Lutheran congregations that worship in Arabic, German, Danish, and English. The Church, together with the adjoining provost building, is the seat of the Provost of the German Protestant Ministries in the Holy Land (“Evangelisch in Jerusalem”). It also serves as the headquarters of the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, since this Arabic-speaking (Palestinian) church became independent from the German provost in 1979. Some english speaking christians may came very surprised when they hear the priests speaking about ‘Allah‘ as their God (because lots of Americans and other English speaking people do not want to accept Allah is God).

But we are not here to discuss that matter, but want to look at the church itself and its whereabouts.

Wednesday 28 February 2018 Christian church officials reopened the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, after Israeli officials announced suspension of a plan to impose new taxes on church properties in the holy city. To protest the decision by the Jerusalem municipality to start collecting taxes on nearly 900 Church-owned properties in the city action was taken against systematic campaign against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land.

Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, the former archbishop of Baltimore and present Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, said that the proposed tax deal violated “international treaties and centuries of practice,” claiming that taxes on Christian properties would run to “tens of billions of dollars,” which would directly affect the services provided by Christian schools, hospitals, homes for the needy, health care facilities, and pilgrimage centres.

Three days after its doors were barred in protest at Jerusalem municipal tax demands and a Church Lands Bill placed before the Knesset, the Patriarchs and Heads of the churches in charge of the Holy Sepulchre in Old Jerusalem will reopen the building to the public following after Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Mayor of Jerusalem agreed to place the controversial measures on hold.

The Times of Israel reported the last Wednesday of February  that Netanyahu had come under heavy pressure from the Vatican, Orthodox countries like Russia and Greece, and Evangelical Christian groups over the proposed tax plan, which had influenced his decision.

In a statement to the press TheophilosIII,  Patriarch of Jerusalem
Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land and Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, stated

After the constructive intervention of the Prime Minister, The Churches look forward to engage with Minister Hanegbi, and with all those who love Jerusalem to ensure that Our Holy City, where our Christian presence continues to face challenges, remains a place where the three Monotheistic faiths may live and thrive together.

In a bit of theological irony, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem — believed by many to be the site of the tomb of Jesus Christ — was reopened after three days, the same time intervening between Christ’s death and resurrection, according to Christian belief.

File:Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre BW 22.JPG

9th Station, remembering that Jesus falls for the third time – Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem.

When you walk the Via Dolorosa —the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross, starting from just inside St. Stephen’s Gate in the Muslim Quarter and ending with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter —you walk right by the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. As you make your way toward the Holy Sepulchre between Station 9 (Jesus’ third fall) and Station 10 (the dividing of Jesus’ garments) you may see an impressive example of late 19th-century neo-Romanesque architecture. This church was completed for Kaiser Wilhelm’s famous 1898 pilgrimage to Jerusalem (the one for which the Ottoman ramparts were breached and opened near Jaffa Gate).

Opgehangen aan een paal

Hanged on a tree. Christ Jesus impaled.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is supposed to be the place where Jesus was brought to death at a stake. Though we do know that it was outside the walls of the city on Golgotha. At that time Romans killed criminals by hanging them on a piece of vertical wood, mostly part of a tree. Scholars believe that the first surviving public image of ‘Jesus’s crucifixion‘ was on the fifth-century wooden doors of the Basilica of Santa Sabina, which is located on the Aventine Hill in Rome.
In the Bible is written that Jesus died on a stake (a pole) or piece of wood, how it was historically done in that time by the Romans in order to sentence a murderer to death. But through the centuries, the image became fused with the wrong Renaissance image.

At the time of the Romans, everything to do with serious illness and death was kept out of the walls of town, where a fire was kept burning every hour of the day, to have the death bodies ‘in sheol’ (hence the fire of hell) to come to non-dangerous dust. We must remember that according to contemporary Roman and Jewish custom, impalement and burial must have occurred outside the city walls.

Of course, when the Romans impaled rebels and criminals, the poles with death bodies had a function, namely to warn people what could happen to them if they did something seriously wrong, acting as a deterrent. For instance, the Romans crucified Spartacus and his rebellious slaves on the Appian Way for everyone to see from Capua to Rome (Appian, The Civil Wars 1.120). A long row of poles  with rebellious slaves fastened to them must have discouraged other slaves from similarly revolting against their masters. Those ‘roads of dead’, the same as the killing places where always out of town, in the fields or on hills.

In the fourth century CE there was built a church on what was supposed to be the site of Golgotha as identified by Roman emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena. However, scholars began to question this identification in the 19th century, since the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is inside the city walls of the present-day Old City of Jerusalem. Golgotha would have to have been located outside the city in accordance with Roman and Jewish customs of the time. The Gospels, too, seem to suggest that Jesus was impaled outside of the city (Mark 15:20; Matthew 27:31ff; John 19:17ff).

It’s important to note that the current Old City walls are not the ones from Jesus’ time. As Serr and the German Biblical scholar and Prehistorian Archaeologist Vieweger note in their Archaeological Views column,

“Efforts to find a so-called Second Wall south of the Holy Sepulchre Church that had served as the northern wall of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time (and would have moved the site of the church outside the city in Jesus’ time) proved elusive—although Josephus, the knowledgeable first-century Jewish historian, does refer to such a wall (The Jewish War 5.146).”

Vieweger is since 2005 Director-General of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology Jerusalem and Amman, Research Unit of the German Archaeological Institute, founded by Eduard Gerhard.

Eminent scholars Conrad Schick and Louis-Hugues Vincent thought they had found the Second Wall in 1893 when a wall was uncovered during the construction of the Church of the Redeemer just south of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For almost a century this seemed to solve the problem of authenticity—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was located at Golgotha, where Jesus was brought to death!

But in the 1970s, German archaeologist Ute Wagner-Lux (the former director of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology GPIA in Jerusalem) excavated under the Church of the Redeemer and determined that this wall could not have been the Second Wall. Reason therefore was that

“This wall was only five feet thick — far too narrow to be a city wall,”

say Serr and Vieweger. So the search began anew.

The Church of the Redeemer around 1900.

Several people are convinced that the excavations at the Church of the Redeemer do reveal clues that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located outside the elusive Second Wall.

So, if you would like to visit it as such memorial place be welcome.

When you are fit enough it is worth to climb 178 spiral staircase steps to take in fabulous unobstructed views of Jerusalem. You can even look down on the domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But don’t worry — if climbing those stairs is not for you, there are more riches in store.

Originally there was an earlier Crusader church, known as Santa Maria Latina and various medieval elements which have been worked into the newer building may attract you. The complex adjacent to the sanctuary of the church includes a full four-sided medieval cloister. Apparently, it’s the only complete cloister in the entire Old City. And built into second-floor restored medieval rooms off the cloister is a small, but elegant, museum of archaeology, displaying a range of artifacts discovered during the construction of the church.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher



Objects around the birth and death of Jesus

Burial bed of Jesus Christ uncovered

Completion of historic renovation of the Edicule

From Jewish Christians to Gentiles and origin of Christianity


Additional reading

  1. History’s Most Famous Execution
  2. After darkness a moment of life renewal
  3. A fact of History or just a fancy Story
  4. Forbidden Fruit in the Midst of the Garden 4
  5. Swedish theologian finds historical proof Jesus did not die on a cross
  6. Marriage of Jesus 7 Impaled
  7. Review: What happened at the cross?
  8. Jesus three days in hell
  9. Why think that (3) … Jesus rose from the dead
  10. Eostre, Easter, White god, chocolate eggs, Easter bunnies and metaphorical resurrection
  11. 3 Reasons the Resurrection Matters
  12. If Shroud of Turin was fake, how come no man on earth able to replicate it
  13. Icons and crucifixes



  1. Exploring Israel in Two Days
  2. Holy Week in the Holy Land
  3. Glimpses of the holy – in the Holy Land day six
  4. And did those feet in ancient times…
  5. Holy Jerusalem
  6. Jerusalem, Part 1: A Holy City
  7. The Old City of Jerusalem
  8. Jerusalem’s Old City with Khaled
  9. Jerusalem Tour: Via Dolorosa in Pictures
  10. Stations of the Cross
  11. Walking Through Old Jerusalem
  12. Pools of Bethesda and a Saturday Stroll through Old Jerusalem
  13. Church of the Holy Sepulchre
  14. Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Patterns for living)
  15. BBC again amplifies church leaders’ PR hyperbole
  16. Israel suspends actions that led to closure of Christian holy site in Jerusalem
  17. Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed to protest Jerusalem taxes
  18. Taxing Situation for the Church in Palestine
  19. BBC News amplifies church leaders’ Nazi analogy yet again
  20. Church of the Holy Sepulchre Reopens After Israel Suspends New Taxes on Church Properties
  21. Church of Holy Sepulchre reopens after three-day protest over taxation
  22. Church at Jesus’s traditional burial site reopens after protest
  23. Church of the Holy Sepulchre reopens
  24. Pious Graffiti at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Pilgrims’ Prayers and Traces of the Self
  25. Easter 2018
  26. Holy Land 2017: Day 5
  27. Day six
  28. Israel Trip – Day 7 – Around Jerusalem
  29. Day 8: Pre-dawn Via Dolorosa, Garden Tomb, Holocaust Museum, Farewell Lunch
  30. Wonderlast: Israel Day 13
  31. On my Knees … Not

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