The era of Constantine

Remains of the apse of the Martyrium unearthed in today's Greek Choir

In 325 the Bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius, requested and obtained from Emperor Constantine the commitment to destroy the pagan temples that had been constructed over the Holy Places. During the removal of the material that had been massed together by Hadrian to level the land in the area, Jesus’ tomb was discovered.

Eusebius of Caesarea described the surprise of the discovery:
“Little by little the underground site was uncovered, and contrary to all expectation, the revered and most sacred testimony of the Savior’s resurrection was revealed, and this most holy of caves itself presented a faithful similitude of the Savior’s return to life. Thus, after having been buried in darkness, it again emerged to light and provided to all those who came to see it a clear and visible proof of the wonders that had been wrought there, testifying by evidence louder than any voice to the resurrection of the Savior.”

The surprised tone shows that the discovery had not been foreseen. It is likely that only the location of Calvary had been handed down, the spur of the hill being too high to have been completely flattened. Eusebius doesn’t indicate how the tomb was identified as that of Christ; some believe that it may have been through the presence of Christian graffiti.

In 333 a pilgrim from Bordeaux recorded having seen in Jerusalem a hill called Golgotha located “a stone’s throw” from where the body of Jesus had been buried.
After the discovery, Constantine’s architects developed a new project that included a mausoleum to protect and exalt Christ’s tomb.

To erect the imposing complex of structures, the saddle part of the hill then known as Gareb was further excavated, on the north and west sides. The tomb, now separated from the quarry, no longer resembled a cave, and was referred to instead as the “Edicule” – the small structure, enclosing the tomb, that had been erected at the center of a vast space on which rose the majestic mausoleum of the Anastasis, the only Roman Christian mausoleum.

The spur of Calvary, further reduced in size, was left open to the sky and enclosed within a colonnaded atrium (the Triportico, for its three porticos) which occupied the space between the Anastasis and a new large basilica, the Martyrium: “The larger church is called Martyrium because it is at Golgotha, behind the Cross, where the Lord suffered the Passion”, explained the fourth century pilgrim Egeria.


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The era of Constantine