Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"A camel is a horse designed by a committee."

Last semester, I got the privilege of attending an extracurricular seminar talk given by Robert Ousterhout of University of Pennsylvania on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I just found the notes on that talk last night, and it's probably one of the most interesting buildings, in terms of history, that the -world- has to offer. So...

Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Jerusalem, Israel

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was erected on the supposed location where Christ was crucified (Calvary) and contained the sepulchre where he was buried.

The site of the church in the 2nd century originally belonged to a temple to the Greek goddess Aphrodite. In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine had the temple demolished and the first phase of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built. His mother, Helena, was put in charge of the new church's construction. During this time, she discovered what was thought to be the true Cross and the sepulchre itself. This first phase included a 5-aisle basilica plan with a colonnaded atrium, and an "Anastasis" ("Resurrection") rotunda thought to be the burial site. There was also a courtyard featuring a Rock of Calvary.

The building was damaged during a fire in 614 and again in 966. The Persians invaded Jerusalem in 614, capturing the Cross. Emperor Heraclitus restored it to the Church in 630. Under Muslim rule from 630 to 1009, the Church was maintained and protected as a holy Christian site. It wasn't until October 1009, that Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the complete and total destruction of the site, continuing an anti-Christian campaign that had already begun in Egypt and Palestine.

The church was rebuilt in the 11th century when the Byzantine rulers reached an accord with with the new Fatimid caliph, al-Hakim's son. In this new plan abandoned the basilica completely, focusing on the rotunda as the central space. The courtyard became flanked by auxiliary chapels (containing relics). Control of Jerusalem, and therefore control of the church, continued to change hands from the Fatimids to the Seljuk Turks to the Crusaders in 1099.

In the 12th century, under the Crusaders, additional alterations were made to the church. A chapel was created to celebrate St. Helena, the courtyard was replaced with transept and a pilgrimage choir. The entrance was monumentalized, the church was re-done in a Romanesque style, and a bell tower was added.

Franciscan friars did another renovation in 1555 and after another fire wrecked the structure in 1808, the exterior decoration was redone in the Ottoman Baroque style (Turquoise bubble domes! :)). Suffice to say, the church has changed drastically since it's original conception.

And here's where things get interesting.

With so many different groups having had contributed to the church, all felt that they had a say in how it should be run and maintained. But how do you maintain a building as a whole when so many differing groups have differing ideas on how to go about it?

The answer? You divide it into sections.

Eastern (Greek) Orthodox, the Franciscans, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syriac Orthodox groups all claim parts of the church.

And I give you, instead of 3 Fun Facts...1...BIG...SUPERFUN FACT!

In 1767, the law dividing the church amongst the groups was enacted. The arrangement became permanent in 1852, known as the "Status Quo" agreement. Under this law, absolutely no part of what is designated as "common territory" may be moved without the consent of all groups. For example, this means that certain parts of the church can never be cleaned (and have NEVER been cleaned) without the consent of all parties, because cleaning implies ownership.

The most obvious issue with the Status Quo is unfortunately located, blatantly, on the entrance facade. Sometime before Status Quo became official, during renovations, a wooden ladder was placed between the entrance and the window. The doors and windows are designated as "common ground" and therefore, the ladder cannot be removed. It can be renovated, but not removed. Can you see it? It's under the right window.

"There, at present, by the command of the Emperor Constantine, has been built a basilica, that is to say, a church of wondrous beauty." - The Pilgrim of Bordeaux, 333 A.D.

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