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The Site of the Crucifixion and the Tomb - Golgotha and Anastasis


The hill on which Jesus was crucified is commonly known as Golgotha (a Greek corruption of the Hebrew for "the place of the skull"), or by its Latin name, Calvary. This site is actually a rock so named because of its skull-like shape. The rock, today in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, was in Byzantine times in the corner of an open courtyard surrounded by columns. On top of the rock stood a large cross. Tradition links the rock to the tomb of Adam and the place of the Binding of Isaac. Sixth-century accounts even relate that the altar on which Abraham laid his son could be seen at the site.

According to the New Testament, after Jesus was taken down from the cross, he was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in "his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock" (Matthew 27:60). When the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built by Constantine some three hundred years later, the section of rock containing the burial cave was separated from the rock around it and was transformed into a small, independent structure (Anastasis) that stood on level ground. Later, an entrance was built, and the cave was surrounded by columns and covered with a pointed roof, all of which were plated with silver and gold.

The stages by which the burial cave was made into
an independent srtructure during the time of Constantine
Drawing from: J. Wilkinson, "Christian Pilgrims in
Jerusalem in the Byzantine Period." Palestine Exploration Quarterly 108, 75-101.

The Piacenza pilgrim, who visited the Holy Land in the mid-sixth century, describes the adornments of the Holy Sepulcher (Anastasis) as follows: "There are ornaments in vast numbers, which hang from iron rods: armlets, bracelets, necklaces, rings, tiaras, plaited girdles, belts, emperors' crowns of gold and precious stones, and the insignia of an empress."

Of the three sections of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher - the tomb (sepulcher), the rock of Golgotha (where according to tradition the crucifixion took place), and the basilica (called the Martyrion) - the rock, shown surmounted by a cross, and the tomb are the most frequently depicted. According to literary sources, a large cross indeed stood on the rock of Golotha. In 420, the emperor Theodosius II replaced it with an elaborate cross, ornamented with gold and precious stones.

The Holy Sepulcher within the Rotunda as it appeared during the Byzantine period, proposed reconstruction
Drawing: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem / by Balage

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Water and Oil from the Holy Sites

In addition to the eulogia containers, vessels bearing similar decorations, apparently produced in the same workshops as the containers, also came to light in Israel. The shape of these vessels, each of which has a handle and a trefoil mouth (or spout), indicates that they were used for pouring liquids. Their similarity to the eulogia containers suggests that they were used in ceremonies in which oil from the lamps that burned in the holy places was transferred to the pilgrims’ flasks.

Hexagonal or octagonal glass vessels bearing Christian or Jewish symbols were also used for carrying water or oil from the holy sites. These containers bear crosses of various types, apparently representing the cross on Golgotha: a cross on steps; a cross erected on a double circle – a symbol of the center of the universe, which according to tradition was marked by the rock of Gogotha; and a cross with branches growing out of its lower part, suggesting the Tree of Life in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, likened to the Garden of Eden.

Oil lamps bearing the Greek inscription: “The light of Christ shines beautifully for all” were particularly common during this period. Recently, a new reading of the inscription has been suggested: “The light of Christ shines for all, good (evening),” connecting the inscription to the evening service celebrated in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Byzantine period.

Left: Pottery oil lamp bearing inscriptions in two circles: "Blessing of the Mother of God; Inscription of Johannes."
Right: Pottery oil lamp bearing the Greek inscription: “The light of Christ shines beautifully for all.”
Provenance unknown, Byzantine period
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Louis and Carmen Warschaw Collection, 76.6.1382,
Photos: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem / by Avraham Hay

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Eulogia Tokens

The most common pilgrimage objects of the Byzantine period are the eulogia tokens, which bear a variety of scenes. The tokens are lumps of earth or clay taken from the pilgrimage centers, which were stamped with scenes related to the events that took place at the sites, or to the holy people that lived there. They were not souvenirs in the modern sense of the word, but rather a means of transporting a blessing from the holy site, for use against all sorts of adversities - from disease to storms at sea and other calamities.

Apart from simply holding the tokens, it was also common to scrape their edges (the tokens were fired at low temperatures and thus crumbled easily) and either scatter the resulting dust over the area in danger, or mix it with some sort of liquid, to be ingested as medicine. The protective qualities of the tokens lay not only in the material from which they were made, but also in the scenes they bore. Many scenes are clearly attributable to specific holy places. The Adoration of the Magi, for example, can be attributed to Bethlehem; the Baptism – to the Church of John the Baptist in Samaria; the Two Women beside the Empty Tomb – to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In certain cases, it is not possible to attribute the tokens to a specific holy place; nevertheless, the scenes they bear attest that they had remedial or protective value.

Syrian tokens bearing the image of St. Symeon Stylites (left) and depicting Jesus' Entry to Jerusalem, along with the Greek inscription: "St. Sergius" (right)
Provenance unknown, Byzantine period
Collection of Shlomo Moussaieff, Hertzliya

Tokens from Beth Shean and Samaria
bearing various scenes: Apparition of Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Adoration of the Magi, Jesus’ Baptism and Ascension
Israel Antiquities Authority, 47.3525, 52-50, 52-123, 52-126
Photos: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem / by Avraham Hay
Drawings: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem / by Pnina Arad

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In the Days of Jesus |In the Early Church |Pilgrimage |Images & Symbols |Monasticism in the Holy Land

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