Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre (pictured) is a cavernous and depressing place. Its ornate chapels puncture the gloom with their glitter and bling. The air, soupy with incense and candle wax, shifts and stirs with the chanting of monks and the irritable jostling of tourists and worshippers, reports The Tablet.
Like Jerusalem itself, it is a place of religious rivalry, with frequent fights breaking out among the monks of the Orthodox, Armenian, Catholic and Coptic Churches that control the building.
It is said to contain both Golgotha, where Christ was crucified, and the sepulchre where he was buried and rose again, but it is a place that evokes more a sense of the brooding darkness and mob violence of Good Friday than the Resurrection joy of Easter Sunday.
In the nineteenth century, General Charles Gordon claimed that another location, outside the walls of Old Jerusalem, near the Damascus Gate, was the real site of the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus. This site, known as the Garden Tomb, has become popular among Protestants, who have tended to reject the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because of its heavily Catholic influences.
Archaeologists still dispute whether either or neither of these sites is authentic, but the quest for historical authenticity sometimes has to yield to the more poetic and imaginative interpretations that inspire the life of faith.
To say this is not to discount the importance of historical research, but to recognise that there are different ways of telling the same story, and truth must find language appropriate to what it seeks to communicate.
For example, my friend’s lovely disabled daughter died last month. The autopsy diagnosed the medical condition that caused her death, but the story that moves and inspires me is the family’s account of being with her as she died, and my friend telling me of how, when she realised what was happening, she prayed for God to send angels to take her daughter to heaven.
FULL STORY Towards the shining city (Tablet)