Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

Holy Sepulchre |
When paganism held the Holy Land

Holy Sepulchre is drawn from Chapter Six, beginning on page 184, of Volume Three, By This Sign of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

Reversing Hadrian’s bold effort to secularize Jerusalem, Constantine begins to build: Two splendid churches he constructed still hold their central importance for Christians

Holy Sepulchre - When paganism held the Holy Land

Holy Sepulchre - When paganism held the Holy Land
Constantine dedicated the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 336, on the site of Christ’s Crucifixion and entombment. It was comprised of a number of buildings, but centered on the Anastasis (Resurrection). This was a round structure surmounted by a dome with an opening for light, supported by twelve columns embellished with silver. Candles sparkle in the Resurrection rotunda (above) around the monument of the Tomb, created by carving away most of the hill which originally surrounded it.

Jerusalem and its environs had long been holy to the Jews, and after such monumental events as the Resurrection occurred in the region it became deeply significant to Christians as well.

Recognizing its importance to both religions, and having no affection for either, the emperor Hadrian had attempted to secularize the Holy Land. He renamed Jerusalem as Aelias Capitolina and, among other things, erected a pagan temple directly over a site Christians believed to be Jesus’ empty tomb.

When Constantine became emperor, he set out to reverse Hadrian’s work, beginning a vigorous building campaign in the Holy Land. First, in 333, he constructed a chapel and basilica where the Virgin Mary reportedly gave birth to the baby Jesus. Additions, repairs and reconstructions over the centuries produced the structure that stands in Bethlehem today, the Basilica of the Nativity, the focus of centuries of turbulence and violence as various factions seized and held it. In mid-2002, a group of Palestinian gunmen occupied the church for more than a month in a standoff with the Israeli army. The Basilica of the Nativity is the oldest church still in use in the Holy Land.

Encouraged by his mother, Helena, Constantine also demolished the pagan temple that Hadrian had built on the site of Jesus’ Resurrection, replacing it in 336 with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and summoning a council to Jerusalem to dedicate the new church–arguably the most important site of the Christian world if it was, indeed, built at the place of Christ’s Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection. It was destroyed during a sixth-century revolt, and then rebuilt by Justinian. When the Persians invaded the Holy Land in the seventh century, they spared the church while destroying every other major house of worship. As Muslim and Christian forces occupied and defended the building in ensuing centuries, it became increasingly barricaded and buttressed, taking on its present appearance of a fortress.

This is the end of the Holy Sepulchre category article drawn from Chapter Six, beginning on page 184, of Volume Three, By This Sign. To continue reading more about Holy Sepulchre from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at