Boniface of Ragusa

1555: the last time the Holy Sepulchre was opened

In 1555 Boniface of Ragusa, the Custos of the Holy Land, obtained permission to restore parts of the church and to build a completely new Edicule. This was a major restoration project, and the Franciscan left a detailed description of the work carried out. For the first time since 1009, the rock bench on which the body of the Savior had been laid was seen by human eyes. Boniface described the momentous event in a letter:

La descrizione di Bonifacio da Ragusa dei lavori nell'Edicola

Sub Paulo Quarto, et Carolo Quinto Imperatore invinctissimo, anno a Christo nato millesimo quingentesimo quinquagesimo quinto, XXVII Augusti, hora XVI

“ There appeared clearly before our eyes the tomb of the Lord that had been cut out of the rock, in which images of two angels could be seen, one carrying an inscription that said “He is risen! He is not here!”, while the other, pointing to the Tomb, proclaimed “Here is the place where they laid him”. The images of these angels, immediately upon coming in contact with the air, vanished almost completely. When, out of urgent necessity, we had to remove one of the alabaster slabs which covered the tomb, placed there by St. Helena in order that the holy mystery of the Mass could be celebrated at that spot, there appeared before us that ineffable site where for three days the Son of Man had rested; ut plane coelos apertos videre tunc nobis, et illis, qui nobiscum aderant omnibus videremur. The site, which had been soaked with a mixture of the sacred blood of Lord Jesus and the ointment with which he had been anointed for burial, and where light as brilliant as the sun glowed in all directions, was revealed to us and venerated together with those present, with spiritual joy and tears. At the center of the Holy Place we found a piece of wood that had been placed there, wrapped in a precious cloth. No sooner had we taken this reverently in our hands and affectionately kissed it, than with its first exposure to the air the cloth vanished from our hands, leaving behind only a few of its gold threads. On that precious piece of wood there were several inscriptions, but they had deteriorated so much with age that not a single complete phrase could be made out, although at the beginning of one, the following words in Latin capital letters could be read: HELENA MAGNI...”