The feast we celebrate today (September 14) originated in the 4th century in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus died and rose again. On September 13, 335 AD an immense throng of Christians gathered to dedicate a church built by theEmperor Constantine over the empty tomb of Jesus and the place where he was crucified– Golgotha.
The resplendent church, one of the world’s largest, was called the Anastasis (Resurrection), or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Christian pilgrims from all over the world still flock to see where Jesus was buried and where he died.
Until the Moslem conquest of Jerusalem in the 7th century, bishops, Christians from all over the Roman empire came here annually to celebrate the feast, which went on for 8 days. It was Holy Week and Easter in September. One visitor, Egeria, a widely-traveled 4th century nun, said the celebration recalled the Church’s dedication, but also the day when “the Cross of the Lord was found here.”
Many Christian denominations continue to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross on September 14th.
If you visit Jerusalem’s Old City today you’ll see a smaller, shabbier successor to Constantine’s great church, which was largely destroyed in 1009 AD by the insane Moslem caliph al-Hakim and was only half rebuilt in the 11th century by the Crusaders. Today the church bears the scars of sixteen centuries of wars, earthquakes, fires, and natural disasters.
The scars of a divided Christendom also appear in the church, where various Christian groups, upholding age-old rights, warily guard their own turf. Visitors have to wonder: Does this place proclaim the great mystery that unfolded here?
Our reaction to this church is like our reaction to the sacraments; we ask Is This All There Is? It takes time to discover the Cross and its triumph.
Here are some pictures of the great church.