The Site That May Be Jesus’ Tomb
Archaeologists have discovered that Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands on the site of a Jewish cemetery dating to the time of Jesus. The shrine at the heart of the church, known as the Edicule, encases remnants of a tomb revered since the fourth century, imagined here.
Tomb, A.D. 30
Was this Jesus’ tomb? The evidence is inconclusive, but the site’s layered history holds many clues.
Ground level of the original tomb
The Romans favored highly visible places for crucifixion—a grim warning to would-be rebels.
By some accounts, a statue of Venus is placed on the site of Golgotha.
Hadrian’s workers fill the quarry and pave it over with stone.
A large complex is built enshrining the sites of the Crucifixion and Resurrection and providing a hall of worship.
Constantine’s mother, Empress Helena, finds crosses from Golgotha here, tradition holds.
Stone of Unction honoring the anointing of Jesus’ body is placed in the church.
Chapel of St. Helena
ca A.D. 30
In the Time of Jesus
Jesus is crucified outside Jerusalem on a hill called Golgotha and buried in a nearby tomb. Archaeologists have found evidence of an abandoned quarry used as a Jewish cemetery.
Emperor Hadrian builds a pagan temple over the tomb. Later Christian writers saw this as a bid to desecrate the site and erase the memory of Jesus, but scholars dispute that claim.
Emperor Constantine has the Roman temple razed, revealing an intact tomb below. Builders remove most of the rock around the tomb and construct an edicule and rotunda above it.
Byzantine Christians and crusaders rebuild and expand the church following its destruction by the region’s Muslim ruler in 1009. The tomb and Golgotha/Calvary are enclosed in one basilica.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Dedicated in 1149, the current church dates to the crusader era, though portions are older. Pilgrims and tourists from around the world visit the historic basilica each year.
During the 2016 restoration of the Edicule, technicians used ground-penetrating radar and other tools to peer behind the shrine’s walls. They were stunned to discover earlier walls still intact, including pieces of a tomb cut from the bedrock.
Greek Orthodox priest
Recent study revealed parts of a tomb from Jesus’ day. The “holy rock” hallowed as the bed on which Christ’s body lay is covered by later slabs.
The altar contains part of the stone said to have been rolled away from Jesus’ tomb by an angel.
LAWSON PARKER; VICTORIA SGARRO. ART: FERNANDO G. BAPTISTA, NGM STAFF; ROCÍO ESPÍN
SOURCES: MARTIN BIDDLE, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD; JODI MAGNESS, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL; FATHER ATHANASIUS MACORA; FATHER EUGENIO ALLIATA, STUDIUM BIBLICUM FRANCISCANUM; ERIC H. CLINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY; BELÉN BRAVO DE RUEDA. SPECIAL THANKS TO ANTONIA MOROPOULOU, NATIONAL TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS