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The Byzantine monument at the Garden of Golgotha (335 AD)


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"Light from light, he is risen for us, Christ our king"
(An Easter Hymn of the III-IV cent.)

With great joy the church of Jerusalem assisted to the liberation of the site from the pagan temples and debris. A new building project was planned by the architects of Constantine. And this was to be a monument worthy of the shrine it was to encompass:

"the emperor sent forth injunctions which breathed a truly pious spirit, at the same time granting ample supplies of money, and commanding that a house of prayer worthy of the worship of God should be erected near the Saviour's tomb on a scale of rich and royal greatness. This object he had indeed for some time kept in view, and had foreseen, as if by the aid of a superior intelligence, that which should afterwards come to pass. He laid his commands, therefore, on the governors of the Eastern provinces, that by an abundant and unsparing expenditure they should secure the completion of the work on a scale of noble and ample magnificence."

But this meant also a complete change in the topography of the site. To make way for this monument the architects had to isolate the tomb from the surrounding rocky spur of Ghareb on the northern and western flanks. In this way, the tomb which was dug out in the western façade of the quarry's walls ended up free-standing at the centre of a wide empty space. Here a building in the form of the royal Roman mausoleum was to be erected which was to become known as the Anastasis (Resurrection). The spur of Golgotha too was trimmed on the northern and western flanks to give way to the new construction which was to leave Calvary outside of the new building.

An artistic representation of the basilica built by Constantine

An artistic representation of the basilica built by Constantine

The new building comprised five structures which covered the whole area previously occupied by the pagan temple of Hadrian. A flight of steps led from the Cardus to the western atrium. This was the space of the atrium of the Temple which was further embellished by Constantine. The façade of the Martyrium, with three doors (one still visible in the Russian Hospice), dominated this western atrium.

Remains of the Martyrium

Remains of the façade of the Martyrium in the Russian Hospice

The Martyrium was a five nave basilica terminated by an apse and a raised presbytery where the main Sunday and festive liturgies were celebrated. Twelve silver columns surrounded the main altar on the presbytery.

Remains of the Anastasis built by Constantine

Remains from the Fa¡ade of the Anastasis built by Constantine
(incorporated in today's structure)

A large cloister-garden was developed behind the apse of the basilica and served to join the Martyrium with the Anastasis. This open air three portico cloister was "guarded" by the bare rock of the spur of Calvary left under the open sky in the southwest angle (adorned with precious stones and surmounted by a cross protected from the weather by a gilded ciborium). It is because of this bare rock of Calvary that the basilica was called Martyrium as the pilgrim Egeria recounts: "It is called the Martyrium because it is in Golgotha behind the Cross, where the Lord suffered."

Remains of the apse of the Martyrium

Remains of the apse of the Martyrium unearthed in today's Greek Choir
(seen in the lower left corner of the picture)

Other remains of the Martyrium

The same remains of the Martyrium seen from the other side

When these constructions were carried out the architects did their best to hide completely the area under Calvary where the cult to Venus was carried out. It was only recently that this "hidden area" has been traced.

West of the cloister garden stood a circular Church, the Anastasis (Resurrection), with the Tomb of the Redeemer in the centre. From the sources of the time and from the recent archaeological research carried out we are able to reconstruct the structure built over the tomb of the redeemer: the façade had eight doors over which opened up eight windows elongated skywards. The rotunda was supported by twelve massive columns alternated by three groups of pillars which supported a balcony and over which rose a cupola with an "oculus" (eye). All around the lower part of the rotunda large decorated windows filtered the light which filled this space. Light came in from the façade, from the windows and from the "oculus" because here the Light of the Resurrection won over the powers of darkness.

Constantine wanted that the inner tomb itself remain completely bare because no human decoration could embellish this site which witnessed the light of resurrection. The exterior was richly decorated.

A surviving apse from Constantine's Anastasis

A surviving apse from Constantine's Anastasis

The residence of the bishop was built to the north of the basilica. The grandiose monument of Constantine, at the construction of which Bishop Macarius presided, was inaugurated in 336 and the plan, its position and arrangement are still discernible today.

The underground Chapel of Saint Helena

The underground Chapel of Saint Helena
medium sized image (78k) - large image (220k) - detail (large) (190k)
another small image (31K) - - medium sized image (77k) - - large image (215k)

The beauty of this monument is extolled by Eusebius in his work "The Life of Constantine:

"First of all, then, he adorned the sacred cave itself, as the chief part of the whole work, and the hallowed monument at which the angel radiant with light had once declared to all that regeneration which was first manifested in the Saviour's person. This monument, therefore, first of all, as the chief part of the whole, the emperor's zealous magnificence beautified with rare columns, profusely enriched with the most splendid decorations of every kind. The next object of his attention was a space of ground of great extent, and open to the pure air of heaven. This he adorned with a pavement of finely polished stone, and enclosed it on three sides with porticos of great length. For at the side opposite to the cave, which was the eastern side, the church itself was erected; a noble work rising to a vast height, and of great extent both in length and breadth. The interior of this structure was floored with marble slabs of various colors; while the external surface of the walls, which shone with polished stones exactly fitted together, exhibited a degree of splendor in no respect inferior to that of marble. With regard to the roof, it was covered on the outside with lead, as a protection against the rains of winter. But the inner part of the roof, which was finished with sculptured panel work, extended in a series of connected compartments, like a vast sea, over the whole church; and, being overlaid throughout with the purest gold, caused the entire building to glitter as it were with rays of light. Besides this were two porticos on each side, with upper and lower ranges of pillars, corresponding in length with the church itself; and these also had their roofs ornamented with gold. Of these porticos, those which were exterior to the church were supported by columns of great size, while those within these rested on piles of stone beautifully adorned on the surface. Three gates, placed exactly east, were intended to receive the multitudes who entered the church. Opposite these gates the crowning part of the whole was the hemisphere, which rose to the very summit of the church. This was encircled by twelve columns (according to the number of the apostles of our Saviour), having their capitals embellished with silver bowls of great size, which the emperor himself presented as a splendid offering to his God. In the next place he enclosed the atrium which occupied the space leading to the entrances in front of the church. This comprehended, first the court, then the porticos on each side, and lastly the gates of the court. After these, in the midst of the open market-place, the general entrance-gates, which were of exquisite workmanship, afforded to passers-by on the outside a view of the interior which could not fail to inspire astonishment. This temple, then, the emperor erected as a conspicuous monument of the Saviour's resurrection, and embellished it throughout on an imperial scale of magnificence. He further enriched it with numberless offerings of inexpressible beauty and various materials,--gold, silver, and precious stones, the skillful and elaborate arrangement of which, in regard to their magnitude, number, and variety, we have not leisure at present to describe particularly."
(III, XXIV-XL. Taken from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library server, at Wheaton College)

Constantine's Triportico
Constantine's Triportico 2

Still standing columns from Constantine's Triportico
(known as the Arches of the Virgin)

Another view of the remains of the Triportico

Another view of the remains of the Triportico



© Text prepared by John Abela ofm based on articles and research by Virgilio Corbo ofm, Michele Piccirillo ofm and Eugenio Alliata ofm
Hi-Res pictures prepared by Michael Olteanu - Other pictures prepared by John Abela ofm and Michael Olteanu
B&W pictures courtesy of SBF-Jerusalem Archives - A joint project betweeen the Franciscans and Christusrex

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Created / Updated Wednesday, December 26, 2001 at 20:31:23 by John Abela ofm
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