Burial and resurrection
The Tomb that contained the body of Jesus and was inundated with the light of Christ’s resurrection is the heart not only of the entire church, but of all Christianity that for centuries has responded to the angel’s invitation: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay (Matt 28:5-6).”
After entering the church, to the left is the way to the Anastasis, the Constantinian Rotunda, with the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre at its center towered over by the dome that was restored and inaugurated in 1997.
The Rotunda is one of the areas of the sanctuary that has undergone the fewest changes in terms of layout since the time of Constantine: a series of three columns alternating with pillars supports a flight of arches that opens onto an upper gallery that has been divided between the Latin and Armenian communities. Cosmatesque mosaics from the 11th century were uncovered when the galleries were being restored.
The massive columns of the Rotunda, which replaced the original ones damaged by age and fire, are decorated with modern capitals sculpted in the Byzantine style of the 5th century. In Constantine’s design, the columns separated the center of the rotunda from a circular ambulatory, permitting the pilgrims to move freely about the Edicule. Over time this latter area has been transformed into a series of closed spaces reserved to the Greek, Armenian and Coptic sextons.
The only space accessible to pilgrims is the room to the rear of the Edicule known as the “Chapel Saint Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea”, occupying the western apse of the Rotunda. A low and narrow door leads from this to a shaft (or kokhim) tomb from the time of Jesus, said to be that of Joseph of Arimathea.
At the center of the Rotunda is the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre. The tomb of Jesus, which was separated from the surrounding rocks by Constantine’s architects, has through the centuries been the object of destructions, reconstructions, embellishments and restorations. It is now contained in the Edicule built by the Greek Orthodox following the 1808 fire, which replaced that of the Franciscans from the 16th century.
The Edicule, with its onion-shaped cupola, consists of a vestibule or passageway, the Chapel of the Angel, that leads to the narrow burial chamber where on the right is the rock-cut marble bench on which the body of Christ was laid.
Attached to the rear of the Edicule is the Chapel of the Copts, who since 1573 have had an altar there for services inside the church. Beneath the altar, exposed to the veneration of the faithful, is a portion of the bed of rock from which the tomb of Christ’s burial was excavated.