Golgotha-The Protestant Site in the Garden Tomb.

My Mom asked me to go with her and her church–Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa to Israel .
Despite going to Israel with Calvary Chapel, I thought we would still be visiting a lot of Catholic Churches b/c they are at all of the holy sites. But the tour avoided them and went to other nearby locations instead, except one Church. I sneaked away on several occasions and visited the Catholic Church but I was always afraid I might get Left Behind because there was no precise or even estimated time schedule.

But on to our topic. I knew of course that the Church of the Holy Seplechure was supposed to be built over the site of Jesus’ tomb. I did not know that it is also built over the site of Golgotha/Calvary also until I went online yesterday to find out what was what. It is a HUGE Church.

On the last day of our tour we went to the Garden Tomb. First we were taken to site overlooking a rock formation that looked very much like a skull and given a little talk and Bible readings.

This is what “Golgotha” looked like at the time of my visit April 2008.
Click on the thumbnails for full size view.

Then we were taken through a lovely garden to the Garden Tomb.

There was a channel in front of the door to roll a large stone, almost like a millstone.

There was a window and inside an unfinished tomb site. After going inside we came out and waited for the whole tour to view the tomb. While waiting I ran up to the gift shop and bought one of the fold out souvenir post card packs with lots of pictures of the Garden Tomb etc.

Then the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ was recounted as we gazed at the entrance to the Garden Tomb reclining comfortably in the shade of the lovely garden trees surrounded by nicely landscaped rock gardens. Chuck Smith did admit that we don’t know that this is actually the tomb of Jesus, but one was supposed to imagine that this really might be it.

I was feeling convinced myself but then I had reservations b/c I knew the Catholic Church had a very good track record of keeping track of Holy Sites and had existed continually since the time of Christ. Whereas this Garden Tomb was not discovered until a century ago and was left in complete obscurity by every church. And even our Israeli guide very clearly informed us that the Garden Tomb had absolutely no archeological support for it being the tomb of Christ. Still, it was a lovely site and close to what we might imagine the garden and tomb would have actually looked like 2000 years ago. Therein lies its appeal.

Before our visit to the Garden Tomb, I had visited the Church of the Holy Seplechure. I went for mass and a quick look around. But due to time constraints I had no guide and no audio guide. So I had no idea what I was looking at. While waiting for mass to begin in a chapel of the Blessed Eucharist I saw and heard a wonderful procession, in Latin I think. There was Gregorian Chant echoing around the interior of the gigantic church and organ music that sounded majestic ( I don’t really care much for organ music ordinarily but here it was absolutely chills-down-the-spine-BEAUTIFUL!!!! Then this procession came in to our Chapel and we had the unexpected pleasure of exposition and benediction of the Holy Eucharist. What a grace! I heard mass in Italian. When I left it was getting dark so I hurried off to catch a taxi. I came close to getting robbed or worse but that is another story.

As I said I looked at photos of the Church of the Holy Seplechure (CHS) online once I got home. I don’t think I ever saw the Tombwhen I was at the Church of the Holy Seplechur, but I did kneel and pray and touch the rock of Golgotha…someone spoke English and explained it that day to me. I would like to know more about the history of this site. But the fact that the Catholics, Armenians, and Orthodox all have a presence at the CHS argues for its authenticity. If the Garden Tomb was even a plausible alternative why wouldn’t one of these transfer their veneration to the Garden Tomb instead of CHS? Especially in light of the altercation at the Church in the spring 2008, between the Orthodox and the Armenians at the CHS.

As a Protestant I heard and also on this tour I heard again some irritation at the fact that Churches had been built on all the Holy Sites. Of course, ornate Catholic and Orthodox Churches are in complete opposition to the style of a Calvary Chapel Church in a warehouse or storefront or even in the decor of a proper church building in the Protestant Tradition.

So, Protestants in general are somewhat repulsed by all the gold, silver, and decorative elements meant to honor the holiness of historical Christian sites. They really want to go to the Holy Land and see what Jesus saw. But this is impossible. If the Catholic Church had not built churches on these sites the memory of their location would undoubtedly have been lost. Years ago, the Muslims did not destroy the Church in Bethlehem because in that church they saw a depiction of the Wise Men in Arabian dress, for instance. Pleased to see a familiar depiction of their people, they left the church alone.

But, I have to admit that when you go to the CHS it is hard to envision what it must have looked like before the Church was built over Golgotha and the Tomb. But it is much more edifying to be in the very place Jesus was crucified and buried. The Garden Tomb is more a representation of what it might have been like but I have to reject that it is authentic.

Remember the post card folder of pictures I bought? I saw in it two cards picturing “Golgotha” in the Garden Tomb area, the place of the skull. They looked very different. I asked the salesgirl why and she said one picture was an earlier photo

Early Black and White Photo

The more recent photo looks much more readily like a skull….so I think someone or many people have been fiddling with the site.

Communion was served, but I did not partake, of course. However, sensually the whole experience was very aestetically pleasing. IMO the Garden Tomb could be visited to gain a sense of what it might have looked like, sort of, but keeping clearly in mind that it is a sort of reproduction. And the Protestant alternative to visiting a Catholic Church. But, the Church of the Holy Seplechure has the REAL THINGS, the HOLY SITES –CALVARY/Golgotha and the Tomb.

3 Responses

  1. I dare hardly make the comparison but I will. We were invited back in October to join an Anglican pilgrimage to Walsingham. I don’t know how much you know about the site but it has been claimed by Anglo Catholics as well as The Roman Catholic Church. When we arrived at the Anglican shrine we explained [again] that we were very grateful for the transport [Walsingham is in a very obscure part of England and neither my friend or I drive] but were going onto the Catholic shrine. There we enjoyed a wonderful Mass and prayed in may chapels and the presence of the Holy Spirit was very tangible – especially at mass, when I was first taken over with tears of repentance which changed to joy and adoration.
    Eventually we made our way back to the Anglican shrine which felt all wrong – like a religious theme park compared to the simple modernity of the Roman shrine.
    In a garden a hillock had been fashioned to resemble Golgotha according to someone’s imagination and what I assumed was a rock and fibre glass ‘tomb’ had been set in a wall of the garden. I’m sure that the intention was good but it felt all wrong! Spiritually and aesthetically.
    The chapels, likewise, felt ‘overdone’ as though holiness could be evoked by material design.

    However let me end by saying how very glad I am to have found this site and to find much to aid me and to benefit from.

  2. So you were already Catholic when you went to Walsingham? Is that where people used to take off their shoes and walk the rest of the way barefoot? they have a slipper chapel somewhere. I thought it was in the UK.

  3. I was already a Catholic at Walsingham, yes, but had lapsed for so long that I might as well not have been. For many years I had been in Protestant churches and was more or less committed to the protestant belief of Sola Scriptura However, some weeks prior to my pilgrimage to Walsingham I had gone to confession to the first time in fifteen years because I really felt a strong pull back to Rome. Upon hearing my confession the priest suggested I approach my parish priest to go over how I had fallen out of The Church. Much as I’ve tried, for reasons only the priest knows, nothing has ever come from my leaving a message on his aswerphone and making myself known to him after mass as ‘the voice on your phone’. But your site and my experience at Walsingham have resulted in a full return to The Church which I count as my first true entry into the faith.

    Walsingham is indeed in the UK – as am I.

    There are still occasional barefoot pilgrimages from the town to the shrine.

    Your site is now bookmarked as it has proved such an inspiration to me and has led to a much deeper understanding and appreciation of my religion than ever before.

    My only loss, as such, is fellowship and a particularly dynamic ‘Gospel’ style of worship. In the UK in so many churches, Catholic or Anglican, there is very little fellowship outside of London and other major cities. I suspect it has to do with English reserve.

    May your site continue to be a blessing to many who come here.

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