Ancient altar rediscovered in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy

Pressed against a wall in the back aisle of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, a stone slab testifies to the frescoes engraved on it by hordes of pilgrims over the centuries.
But the 2.5-by-1.5-metre (8-feet-by-5-ft) stone turned out to be far more valuable when its other side was exposed during recent renovations to the church, the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Was. ,

The researchers believe that the elaborate looping ornaments they found on the long-covered side of the slab indicate that it was once the decorated front of a medieval high altar that centuries ago served as one of Christianity’s holiest sites. The place was made.

“You can’t see it now, but originally it was studded with precious marble pieces, shards of glass, small, finely made marble pieces,” said Amit Reem, a Jerusalem regional archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The decorated frontal altar of the Crusader-era high altar of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City on April 11, 2022.

The decorated frontal altar of the Crusader-era high altar of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 11, 2022. Credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

“It was shining and it was a truly amazing artifact,” said Reim, who conducted the research with Ilya Berkovich of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

He identified the unique decoration method as “cosmetic”, which combines classical, Byzantine and early Islamic art, using finely cut tiles of colored marble to fill the circular carvings on the stone.

“It stood on top, in the sanctuary of the church (of the Holy Sepulcher),” said Reim.

“All the eyes of the believers, of the pilgrims, went to this object. And right above and around it, all the high priests, priests and monks of the church, all the liturgy, did the main worship. Church, at the table, right here in this At the altar table,” he said.

Researchers said that similarly decorated altars in the 12th and 13th centuries have been found inside churches in Rome.

The stone slab was recently replaced during renovations and rediscovered its importance.

The stone slab was recently replaced during renovations and rediscovered its importance. Credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

They believe that the remains in Jerusalem coincide with previous archaeological findings and the consecration of the church by the Pilgrim Crusaders and the formation of its main altar in 1149.

Rem said that the altar was used by Catholic clergy for mass celebrations until the Crusaders left Jerusalem. It was later used by the Greek Orthodox Church until it was damaged in a fire in 1808, thrown aside and forgotten until recent renovations, he said.

Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina, chief secretary of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, welcomed such research in the Church.

“Works from people of art, people of archeology, contribute to us, to the faith of the Church, to the faith of the Church, that this is the place … on which Jesus Christ was crucified was … was buried and from which he came to the resurrection,” he told Reuters.

The researchers’ findings are due to be published by the Exploration Society of Israel by the end of the year.

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