Father Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre holds candles to illuminate crosses etched into the ancient stone wall of the Saint Helena chapel inside the church
Father Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre holds candles to illuminate crosses etched into the ancient stone wall of the Saint Helena chapel inside the church
Photo: Reuters
Father Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre holds candles to illuminate crosses etched into the ancient stone wall of the Saint Helena chapel inside the church

Graffiti or homage? Hi-tech imaging sheds light on Holy Sepulchre wall crosses

Researchers investigating site believed to be location of Jesus's crucifixion and burial, find thousands of close-bunched and hand-engraved markings, which they estimate served as a transactional tool between pilgrims and local priests

Reuters |
Published: 03.31.21 , 16:31
Crosses etched in mysterious abundance across the walls of Christianity’s most sacred church were long assumed to be graffiti, but they may be the work of medieval masons paid to carve them by pilgrims, research suggests.
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  • Revered in Christian tradition as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial, Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre usually bustles with worshippers and clergy. That has made study of the sacred markings difficult.
    2 צפייה בגלריה
    Father Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre holds candles to illuminate crosses etched into the ancient stone wall of the Saint Helena chapel inside the church
    Father Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre holds candles to illuminate crosses etched into the ancient stone wall of the Saint Helena chapel inside the church
    Father Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre holds candles to illuminate crosses etched into the ancient stone wall of the Saint Helena chapel inside the church
    (Photo: Reuters)
    But renovations in 2018 at one of its chapels featuring thousands of the close-bunched and hand-engraved crosses gave Israel’s Antiquities Authority and Hadassah Academic College Jerusalem an opportunity for research.
    In coordination with the Armenian Orthodox Church, which controls the chapel, the scholars used digital cameras and three-dimensional imaging to map out, compare and date the crosses.
    “This unique phenomenon always baffled us: Is it graffiti of the pilgrims, or rather, something else?...,” said Amit Re’em, Jerusalem regional archaeologist for the Authority.
    “We saw that all of them (crosses) have the same depth and even the marking of the mason,” he said, provisionally dating them to the 15th century.
    “Maybe two or three hand artists made these crosses,” Re’em said. “...So it’s not graffiti, it’s something more organized.”
    2 צפייה בגלריה
    Crosses etched into the ancient stone wall of the Saint Helena chapel are seen inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
    Crosses etched into the ancient stone wall of the Saint Helena chapel are seen inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
    Crosses etched into the ancient stone wall of the Saint Helena chapel are seen inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
    (Photo: Reuters)
    He suggested an intercessory purpose.
    “Let’s say that you are an Armenian pilgrim, so you pay something to the priest, you pay something to this special artist and he carved for you, for the benefit of your soul and your relatives’ souls, ...a special cross in the most sacred place for Christianity on earth,” Re’em said.
    Father Samuel Aghoyan, the Armenian superior at the Holy Sepulchre, saw benefits to the church from the research, especially as it struggles to emerge from COVID-19 lockdowns‮ ‬and prepares for Easter.
    “Now there are no pilgrims here, (but) still their spirit is here, we know, I believe in that,” he said.
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