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Jerusalem: Discoveries at the Holy Sepulcher

The report on the recent archaeological excavations carried out in the area immediately in front of the Aedicule, in the Holy Sepulcher complex in Jerusalem by Professor Francesca Romana Stasolla of the Department of Antiquities of the Sapienza University of Rome was published on 7 July.

The Custody of the Holy Land has published a note and some photos on the archaeological activity carried out at the Holy Sepulcher. The activities are part of a program of restoration of the ground of the basilica, the excavations are focused on the approaches to the Constantine shrine, which dates from the first half of the fourth century.

Taking advantage of the renovation work on the paving, a dozen archaeologists have excavated the area in the northwest part of the Anastasius rotunda that surrounds the Holy Sepulcher itself. The discovery of earlier sections of masonry from the end of the fourth century confirms the presence of forms of organization of the rotunda during the century.

The orientation of the raised masonry sections confirms the circular shape of the structure built in this distant period. In the center of this area, notches in the rock testify to the location of a small altar that supported a part of the stone closing the tomb.

This arrangement represents the final appearance of the rotunda at the end of the fourth century, as evidenced by the treasure trove of coins found underneath the lithic slab floor preparation. It has the coins of the emperor Valen (364-378) as its last issue.

Archaeologists will now compare the elements found with those notably mentioned in the Peregrinatio Aetheriae, a manuscript attributed to Egeria, who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem around 380 AD.

Among the artefacts, a fragment of wall cladding, probably from the kiosk, from a phase prior to the reconstruction of the 19th century, is significant. It is rich in 18th century graffiti in different languages, including Greek, Latin, and Armenian.

Inside the tomb, a section shows an earlier marble floor from the Middle Ages and the working of the rock itself, with traces of intense frequentation that made it extremely smooth.

Among the graffiti, two are particularly interesting, since, according to the Custody, they are engraved on two bricks that reveal the inscription: “Legio X Fretensis.” This mention could be referring to the tenth legion of the Roman army created by Octavian around 40 B.C. But this must be confirmed by future studies.

These discoveries confirm that the Holy Sepulcher was already highly venerated in the first centuries. The discovery of “a burial chamber similar to those found in the northern part of the rotunda” shows that Christ’s tomb was originally next to other tombs, in what could never have become a place of worship in a Jewish context.

The ongoing restoration of the grounds of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher has made it possible to carry out new archaeological surveys that confirm the use of this place from the beginning of the Christian era and the accuracy of the descriptions left by the pilgrim Egeria.


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