Jerusalem is a holy city for many different religions, who have controlled the land at different points in history. Christianity falls in the middle historically, with the Jewish faith going back thousands of years before Christ, and Islam emerging in the 7th century. One of the main holy sites in Jerusalem for Christians is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is traditionally where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. The church was built in 326 A.D. after Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, rediscovered what she believed to be Christ’s tomb. In the 18th century, some archaeologists and researchers did not believe that this church was really where Christ was crucified and buried, so they went searching for a different site.
The garden tomb was discovered in the late 1800s and has been operated by a British non-denominational trust since then. It does not claim to be the authentic tomb of Jesus, although evidence suggests this could be the place where He died and was buried. The mission of this trust is to provide a physical location for visitors to ponder on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I think they have done a fantastic job accomplishing that goal.
Located just a few blocks north of the Damascus gate of the old city, the Garden Tomb is the site of the crucifixion and resurrection most commonly claimed by those of Protestant faiths. There are pictures of the Garden Tomb in the LDS Bible, along with photos of other Biblical places, so we definitely wanted to go there and see where Christ may have risen from the tomb.
To reach the Garden Tomb, we walked north from the Damascus gate for a few blocks, then turned right down a narrow alleyway following a sign for the Garden Tomb. The entrance is then through a doorway on the right side of the alley. Entrance to the garden is free, but donations are accepted and visitors are encouraged to shop in the gift shop to help support the British trust that operates the site. At the entrance, we received a pamphlet, and could have waited a few minutes for an English tour to start, but our boys wanted to explore so we could not wait.
Our first stop along the suggested route was skull hill. Aside from looking kind of like a skull, this was an old quarry where Jews performed their religious executions by stoning. Later on, Romans may have used the same place for their political executions by crucifixion. The Romans liked to do their executions along the side of main roads in order to warn others to not break the law. This hill was right on the side of the bustling road to Damascus, so it is plausible. The details about historical executions also make the Church of the Holy Sepulchre a more unlikely place, since it was within the walls of the city. Nowadays, the land below this hill is a bus terminal, so this part of our time in the garden was a little noisy and the air was filled with bus exhaust. It’s just another example of the ancient juxtaposed against the modern. As a popular site for religious groups to visit, there were several different areas with bench seating and a pulpit facing toward skull hill. There were also placards describing the discovery of the hill by archaeologists, but the boys were ready to move on, so we did.
From skull hill, we followed the signs to the garden tomb. The garden surrounding the tomb was so pretty with all sorts of flowers and landscaping. At this site, an ancient winepress was unearthed, which suggests it was once a vineyard and garden. A rich man, like Joseph of Arimathea, may have had his new tomb in a garden like this one.
Owen was in need of a nap when we visited the tomb. He would not fall asleep in the stroller, and was screaming to get out, so we let him roam around the garden in order to maintain some semblance of reverence. Logistics-wise, there are some short series of steps in the garden, so a stroller was not really the best choice. However, we walked from the Jerusalem Center because it is so difficult to find parking near the Old City, so having the stroller to move our children over long distances was worth it to us. The gift shop had olive oil from Bethlehem and many other Christian-centered items. The marked exit is through the gift shop, so it’s hard to miss.
Down a few steps at one end of the garden was the place everyone came to see- the tomb where Jesus may have risen from the dead! Austin took Landon over to the tomb and they talked about what may have taken place there. Some of stones near the opening of the tomb had been damaged, so the bricks were placed there to repair it. As with many other holy sites in Jerusalem, there were lots of tour groups coming through, and church groups sitting at outdoor makeshift pews at various locations around the garden. Even with so many people around, it was still fairly quiet and peaceful during our visit.
After the large tour group left, we were able to sneak a peek inside of the tomb itself. The place for the body of Christ would have been on the right of the tomb, and it is similar to other tombs from the time of Jesus. Later, it was used in the Byzantine era, which is why there is a Byzantine cross painted on the wall.
Landon was a little disappointed that there was not a circular stone to roll away from the tomb entrance, but then we was excited when there was a circular stone in the garden to show what it may have looked like. He tried to roll it himself and found it to be very heavy and very stuck.
Visiting the Garden Tomb, where Jesus Christ was laid after His death, was surreal. He rose from the dead and may have walked out of the same tomb that we did! The feeling there was reverent, but joyful. I also had the thought that although it was so amazing to be able to visit the place and to see it in person, individuals do not NEED to go to Jerusalem and see these places in order to know that Jesus Christ lives, and that He loves us. Communing with God through prayer, we can ask Him about Jesus Christ, and He will answer us with thoughts and feelings that confirm our beliefs in our hearts. I am so grateful that we could visit where Christ rose from the dead just a few weeks before Easter! It was a short visit, but one I will never forget!