Tomb and Temple

June sees the publication of Tomb and Temple, a collection of essays which explore the influence of the sacred buildings of Jerusalem on architecture worldwide. But such a simple description doesn’t do full justice to its great breadth, nor indicate the richness of its 68 colour and 124 black and white illustrations. It’s a perfect companion to The Temple Church in London: History, Architecture, Art (edited by David Park and, again, Robin Griffith-Jones). We’re very proud of it and are delighted to post this particularly evocative blog from Robin Griffith-Jones, Master of the Temple at the Temple Church in London.

No other sentiment draws people to Jerusalem than the desire to see and to touch the places where Christ was physically present, and to be able to say from their own experience, ‘We have gone into his tabernacle, and have worshipped in the places where his feet stood.’
– Paulinus of Nola (354-431), Letter 49.14.

Tomb and Temple is a book of architectural, cultural and religious history. We hope our readers will enjoy its variety. We open at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; and we view the pilgrims there, in centuries past, from the distance proper to such history. We hope our readers will then plunge into our authors’ studies of the lovely ‘imitations’ of Jerusalem and of the Sepulchre in Constantinople, Russia, the Caucasus, Ethiopia and Europe. We include a long section on such imitations in Great Britain and Iona.

Eventually all these buildings need to be repopulated with their pilgrims and worshippers. We end Tomb and Temple back in the Holy Sepulchre in 1288, with Riccoldo da Monte di Croce and his companions re-enacting the first Easter Day. But that is still a long time ago. In March 2018 I was in the Holy Sepulchre to record a program, Something Understood, for broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on (the Western) Easter Day. It was a happy opportunity to re-imagine the generations of pilgrims who had been before; and to see again how central to the pilgrims’ experience was – and is – touch.

‘Don’t touch me,’ the risen Jesus orders Mary Magdalene when at last she recognises him on Easter Day. Jesus is no longer there to be touched; but it is touch that still makes him vividly present in the Sepulchre. Touch is so intimate, and personal, and makes such an immediate connection with the place and its sanctity.

Of the three columns on the left of the main door into the Sepulchre, the middle column has a deep vertical fissure 1.2 m long. On Holy Saturday 1579, the Turkish governors forbad the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and people to enter the Church for the ceremony of the Holy Fire. The Patriarch and people remained in the courtyard outside the Church, candles in hand, all day and into the evening.

And then they say that the Holy Fire came out of that column which is still ruptured, and went to the column near which the Patriarch was standing. From it the Patriarch lit his candles, and from the Patriarch’s the people lit theirs. Seeing the miracle, those in control opened the sacred door.

Of the pilgrim-groups entering the Holy Sepulchre, a third – from Orthodox congregations – still gather at this column; the pilgrims then walk slowly towards the Church’s threshold, a hand outstretched to brush the column as they pass.

Immediately ahead is the Stone of Unction, on which the dead Jesus is said to have been laid out and anointed for burial (John 19.39-40). The present stone was installed in 1810. Pilgrims, here most of them women, kneel around the stone and lean forward almost to prostrate themselves as they kiss it. They pass their hands across its surface, and rub it lightly with cloths of their own, as the gospels’ women rubbed clean the body of Jesus; as if the pilgrims could transfer onto their own cloths and so take home some trace of the ointment that once honoured the body of their Lord.

Up steep stairs to the right are the two chapels of Calvary, Latin and Greek. Under the simple, open-fronted altar-table of the Greek chapel is a circular hole in the marble floor. To reach it the pilgrims, one at a time, must stoop low to kneel down under the altar. They reach through the floor up to their elbow, to touch the rock of Calvary itself.

Tomb and Temple: Re-imagining the Sacred Buildings of Jerusalem Edited by Robin Griffith-Jones and Eric Fernie.
Available in Hardback from Boydell and Brewer

Down the stairs, back past the Stone of Unction and onwards into the Rotunda; and at its centre the aedicule (“the little house”) built round the remains of the tomb that was discovered by Bishop Makarios of Jerusalem in 325 CE and was instantly declared to be the grave-chamber of Christ himself. The chamber was once the middle of three small rooms dug into the rock, with long rectangular silos dug horizontally further into its walls to take successive bodies. All the surrounding rock was cut away by Makarios, leaving just a shell of stone that has since been encased in marble. On the right is a stone slab placed over the ledge on which Jesus is said to have been laid. The chamber is glittering but cramped; it can, at most, hold four people at a time, cut off from the crowds in the Rotunda outside. In the quiet. pilgrim after pilgrim touches and kisses the slab. The pilgrims are, in Christian terms, at the holiest place in the world; and in their presence they are offered some small part of the blessing and holiness with which Christ, by his presence here, blessed and sanctified the tomb. Their mortality becomes his; his new and everlasting life becomes their own.

I hope that Tomb and Temple will re-animate its readers’ imagination of the spectacularly beautiful and numinous buildings that our authors describe. Few of our readers, perhaps, will be such pilgrims as Paulinus imagined; but these buildings which we can still visit, in person or in books such as Tomb and Temple, reunite us vividly and movingly with our forebears who visited them, touched them, felt their sanctity – and could then take home with them some hint of that sanctity in themselves. Tomb and Temple is, at heart, a book of profoundly human history.

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