Israeli researchers using high-tech imaging finally unraveled a mystery surrounding etchings made into the walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem contains, according to Christian traditions dating back to the fourth century, the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus was crucified and an empty tomb it Christians believe he was buried. As such, the site has been the goal of Christian pilgrims for centuries.
Archaeologists have long been puzzled by the multitude of crosses carved into the walls of the church. Researchers were unsure who did the actual engraving of what amounts to medieval religiously inspired graffiti. The church is usually too busy to allow proper research but renovations in 2018 at one of its chapels controlled by the Armenian Orthodox Church allowed researchers, led by Israel’s Antiquities Authority and Hadassah Academic College Jerusalem, to study the graffiti using digital cameras and three-dimensional imaging. The researchers were surprised to discover that the thousands of crosses were inscribed by only a few hands.
“This unique phenomenon always baffled us: Is it graffiti of the pilgrims, or rather, something else?…,” Amit Re’em, Jerusalem regional archaeologist for the Authority, said in an interview with Reuters. “We saw that all of them (crosses) have the same depth and even the marking of the mason.”
“Maybe two or three hand artists made these crosses,” Re’em said. “…So it’s not graffiti, it’s something more organized.”
“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.
Re’em provisionally dating them to the 15th century.
The announcement of the discovery comes just before the Easter pilgrimage period. This year, the number of pilgrims is limited due to coronavirus restrictions.