The Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem, Israel

Holy Sepulcher

The temple of the Holy Sepulcher (the Resurrection of Christ) is the main sanctuary of Jerusalem and the whole Christian world. It is a complex of buildings, which are assumed to have been built at the place of execution, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The temple is located in the old part of the city, in the Christian quarter. Since the IV century A.D. it became an object of mass pilgrimage of believers. The complex of religious buildings also serves as the headquarters of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, which is based here in the administrative buildings.

At the same time, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is administered by several Christian denominations through a complex arrangement that has been in place for centuries. Also, this is where the rite of descent of the Holy Fire takes place every year, which is televised around the world and is of great importance to all believers.

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Video: The Descent of the Holy Fire – 2016

History

This place enjoyed special reverence back in the days of the early Christians, the first mass followers of the teachings of Jesus. The shrine was not forgotten even in the difficult days for Jerusalem, when in 70 A.D. the city was almost completely destroyed by the Roman army. At that time there were no temple buildings here. But in 135 AD, Emperor Hadrian ordered the erection of a sanctuary dedicated to Jupiter and Venus in this area.

Religious buildings existed until the Byzantine emperor Constantine, who took over the power of these places, did not make Christianity the state religion. His mother, who ruled on an equal footing with her son, had already adopted religious doctrine at a fairly advanced age and went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is believed that the main impetus for this was Helena’s dream in which God told her to travel to Jerusalem and bring out the holy places covered with ungodly buildings.

Under the direction of the emperor’s mother, as well as of Macarius of Jerusalem, the chief bishop, excavations were made at the site of the pagan sanctuary. As a result they discovered the Life-Giving Cross, the cave where Jesus was buried, 4 nails, and a tablet (titlo) with the inscription INRI, which means “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.

According to legend, Helena found three crosses at once. To determine the real one, she took turns putting them on the coffin with a recently deceased person who was being prepared for burial. When she touched the deceased with the real crucifix, an instant miracle of resurrection occurred.

Illustration showing what the first Church of the Holy Sepulchre was like, built under Queen Helen

The original Church of the Holy Sepulchre was laid out on the site of all these findings. In particular, the Resurrection Rotunda called Anastasis, the Basilica Martirium, and the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea, where Golgotha is believed to be located, were erected. The consecration of the temple complex took place in 335 in the presence of the emperor, his family, and envoys of the clergy of several countries.

“The Immovable Staircase” in a lithograph by David Roberts, 1842

In 614 the Persian king Khozrow conquered the city, with the shrine damaged by fire and its main relics appropriated by the conquerors. After this unfortunate incident, restoration work continued for several years, financed by the treasury of Khozrov’s wife, who was a Christian, and by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius. It was he who in 629 took the relics and Jerusalem itself from the invaders.

Engraving, Edward Feinden, 1834

Already in 636 a new disaster befell the city – the Arab conquest, but the Caliph Umar ibn Hatab did not destroy the temple and even allowed regular Christian services there. At the beginning of the 11th century, another ruler, succumbing to anti-Christian conspiracies, ordered the sanctuary to be completely destroyed. The tomb and the basilica were badly damaged as a result. By 1050 the temple passed to the Byzantine rulers again – Constantine Monomachus ordered to rebuild it.

Now it was a much more modest building, which regained its former splendor only after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in the XII century. The temple complex was reconstructed in the Romanesque style, and all its buildings were united under one roof. The pillars of St. Helena, the main pillars in the rotunda, were also reconstructed.

In later years, when Jerusalem was periodically taken over by Muslim invaders, the temple was not damaged. But the earthquakes in 1545 and 1927 and the fire in 1808 caused serious damage to all the buildings, which in the XX century were further strengthened with steel structures, and decorated with new frescoes. This is how the Church of the Holy Sepulchre can be seen today.

Prayers in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Exterior Decoration of the Modern Church

The main facade is on the south side and is an outstanding work of art in the Romanesque style of the 12th century. Here is the entrance with two large doors. Only one of the doors is still open, and the second has been brickworked up since the Muslim era. Originally there were picturesque bas-reliefs, which are now in the Jerusalem Museum.

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The Immovable Stairs, Facade of the Temple

On the right side of the door, which is still in use, is the tomb of Philip d’Aubigné, the knight who accompanied Frederick II on his journey to the shrine in the 13th century.

Nuns leave the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the end of the day

Of the exterior sights of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we might also note the Column of the Holy Fire. This is one of the pillars of the left, working entrance, which was split by lightning – the first descent of the Holy Fire in 1634 during the celebration of the Great Sabbath. On that day a dispute arose between Orthodox and Armenian Christians over who had the right to hold a service first. During this bickering, the strongest lightning struck from a thundercloud, generating the Holy Fire in the split column.

Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre The faithful at the entrance View of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

One of the most eye-catching features of the temple is the wooden ladder, which at its lower end rests on the ledge of the Greek part of the temple, while its upper end leads to the window of the Armenian shrine. It was built for the monks’ easy access to the upper floors, but at what time is unknown. This staircase is already present in the engravings of the XIX century. This artefact is a living testimony to the rigorous observance of ancient traditions and the agreement that no element of the temple can be changed without a unanimous decision. The staircase is called the “Immovable” staircase.

Internal arrangement, distribution between denominations

The temple of the Holy Sepulchre has for centuries been the subject of disputes not only between Muslims and Christians, but also between different religious currents. Today the shrine is in joint ownership and management of several denominations. All the main and secondary rooms are strictly divided between the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Armenian and Syriac Christian churches. All property, as well as territorial rights, were enshrined in the relevant treaties several centuries ago.

The rotunda dome above the mausoleum

In addition, the keys of the main entrance of the Holy Sepulchre have been handed over since 638 to the Arab dynasty of Judah, and the right to unlock the entrance every day with these keys belongs to the Nusseib family. This privilege has been handed down from father to son for centuries. Thus, the Arabs also take part in the life of the temple.

The Catholics are in charge of the Altar of Nails, the Church of the Apparition of the Risen Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the northern part of the second tier of the Rotunda and gallery, the southern limit of Calvary, the throne of Magdalene, the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross, and the Franciscan monastery.

The Church of St. Helena, the eight columns of the Rotunda, the southern part of its second tier, the throne of the Myrrh-bearers, as well as the chapel of the Three Maries, the Chapel of Vardan and the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea belong to the Armenians.

The hole in the south wall of the Tabernacle through which the Holy Fire is served to the Armenians.

The western altar of the Qulukwiya belongs to the Copts. Ethiopians – Church of the Four Apostles, a monastery on top of the Temple of St. Helena. The Syriacs are allotted the right to hold their services on feasts and Sundays in the Armenian precincts of Nicodemus. The general administration of all the parts of the sanctuary, the Culukion and the Catholicon, belongs to the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. In addition, each day, in turn, almost all denominations hold their services at the Holy Sepulchre.

The Descent of the Holy Fire

The Holy Fire is a special fire, which is removed from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the solemn service on Holy Saturday, the eve of Christian Easter Sunday. This ceremony symbolizes the coming out of the True Light from the Tomb, in other words, the resurrection of Jesus. It is believed that the fire descends from Heaven after a special prayer by a member of the high clergy of the Jerusalem Church.

The descent itself takes place in a closed chapel, after which hundreds of pilgrims present light their bundles of candles from a lighted lamp. There are exactly 33 in each – the number of Christ’s earthly years. The action is broadcast live in many nations around the planet. It is believed that the year when the Holy Fire does not descend in the temple in Jerusalem will be the last in the history of mankind.

The Descent of the Holy Fire

Main parts of the shrine

The main parts of the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre are: Golgotha, the place of Christ’s burial, the Rotunda with the large dome where the Catholicon is located, the Culuccia, the Church of the Presentation of the Life-Giving Cross, the shrine of the canonized Empress Helen, as well as several side chapels.

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The Scourging Pillar on which Christ was humiliated before His Death

In addition there are several Christian monasteries, many galleries, auxiliary and outbuildings. All this actually exists under one roof.

Right near the entrance, a few steps away, is the first attraction of the shrine: the stone of anointing. It is believed that it was here that Nicodemus and Joseph covered the body of the executed Christ with aloes and myrrh. Behind it is the masonry wall of the Cathedral of the Resurrection. To the left of the stone is the entrance to the central rotunda of the temple. It is here that the marble Kulukvias, a small chapel that divides the space of the rotunda into the Angel’s Rectory and the Holy Sepulchre, resides in the center. On the side of the first part there are two inconspicuous windows, through which the Holy Fire is passed to the faithful.

The modern view of Golgotha

The Tomb of the Lord is the final resting place of Christ. In this small room is the bed cut out in the rock where the body was placed. Today the surface is covered with a marble slab so that visitors don’t chip away at the pieces of holy stone as souvenirs.

Also particularly revered place of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is Golgotha. There are 13 steps that lead up to the local temple. The supposed location of the cross of Jesus is marked with a rather large silver circle, and the other two, on which the robbers were crucified, are black. A crack can be seen in the rock nearby. It is believed to have appeared at the moment of Christ’s last breath.

Mosaic depicting the body of Christ on the anointing stone after His removal from the cross

The Bible says that the site of the crucifixion was formerly the grave of Adam, whose skull was buried here by Noah after the Great Flood. Christ’s blood seeping into the earth washed away the remains, thereby atoning for original human sin.

In the Church of the Resurrection you can see a symbolic “navel of the earth”, in place of which a stone vase is embedded in the floor. Nearby is the entrance to the place where the Cross was found. It is believed that this is where Empress Helena found the authentic crucifix with nails. You can go down into this basement room by climbing the stone steps.

The Tabernacle The entrance to the Tabernacle of the Holy Sepulchre. Candles are lit at the place where the head of Christ was. The transverse crack in the marble slab is clearly visible. The crack in the rock (to the right of the orthodox throne, covered by glass) – recall that when Christ died, there was an earthquake and the ground shook The place where the cross of the crucified prudent thief was secured. The inscription in Greek is a quote from the Gospel: “And when they came to the place called the Left Handel, there they crucified Him and the thieves, one to the right and one to the left” The Anointing Stone (top view) The pedestal with part of the sacred stone. Adam’s Chapel, where through a small window you can see the cleft leading from the place of Christ’s Crucifixion

Opening Hours and Visiting Order

From April to September the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are open to visitors from 5:00 to 20:00 every day. From October to March, you can tour the site from 4:30 to 7:00 pm. Very often the doors of the shrine close a little later than the officially stated time. Note that there are fewer tourist groups and in general visitors around 16.00-17.00 – this is considered to be the best period for a quiet sightseeing.

Armenian clergymen praying in the parish of the Separation of the Robe of Christ

During the Christian holidays it can be extremely difficult to get here because of the large number of pilgrims. Anyone who wishes to attend the daily services is welcome to do so, as long as they observe the rules of appropriate behaviour. The schedule of services is available on site.

When visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre it is necessary to dress appropriately: no tight or too bright clothes, short skirts and short sleeves, shorts, deep necklines, heels. Women are required to wear a headdress.

The pilgrim can kneel and kiss the place where the Cross of Christ was attached.

Visiting costs

Free of charge, but free photo opportunities.

Address and contacts: Address: 1 Helena Str., Old City, P.O.B. Address: 1 Helena Str., Old City, P.O.B. 186, Jerusalem. Phone: 972-2-6273314; 972-2-6284203. Fax: 972-2-6276601

How to get there

To get to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre one must go to the Old City of Jerusalem and enter the area from Suq Khan az-Zeit, turning to Suq al-Dabbagh or from the Christian Quarter.

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The Holy Sepulcher is a Christian pilgrimage center in Jerusalem

The Shrine of the Holy Sepulcher is a unique site that desires to be visited by pilgrims and tourists from all corners of the earth. Despite the lack of pretentious pomp and costly decorations there is an atmosphere of grandeur and undeniable holiness. You won’t find another place like this anywhere else!

Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Overview

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, or the Resurrection of Christ, is among the most important holy sites not only in Jerusalem but in the entire religious world. It is a huge complex of buildings built on the place of execution, burial and ascent of the Son of God Jesus Christ. The first records about the temple, located in the Christian quarter of the historic part of the city, date back to the 4th century A.D. Even then it was an object of mass pilgrimage of the God-believers, arriving in Israel from different countries.

Ritual of the Descent of the Holy Fire

Today the religious temple complex belongs to six Orthodox denominations: Syriac, Greek, Coptic, Roman Catholic, Armenian and Ethiopian. Each of them has not only its own limits, but also its own hours for prayers. In addition, the administrative wing of the Temple is the headquarters of the Christian Church of Jerusalem. Most importantly, the annual ritual of the descent of the Holy Fire is held here and is televised around the world.

A Brief History

The mountain on which the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Israel is built is considered one of the oldest places of worship – people began to come to it since the 2nd century. Unfortunately, scientists have not been able to establish what exactly was here in those distant times. But according to the most popular version on the top there was a temple dedicated to the goddess of beauty Aphrodite.

Subterranean Church of St. Helena

St. Helen’s Church

The situation changed only a few millennia later, when the mother of Emperor Constantine I, Helena, ordered a Christian basilica to be built on the site of the pagan altar. During the excavations conducted before construction began, it was she who was lucky enough to find unique shrines associated with Jesus! These included the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord, four nails, a tablet with the inscription INRI and the cave where the Son of God was supposedly buried. It was these findings that led to the dedication of the church to the Messiah. The consecration of the new complex took place in 335 in the presence of the emperor, his family, and priests who had come to Israel from other countries.

Plan of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 1872

At the beginning of the 11th century, the Church of the Resurrection was almost completely demolished by order of the “mad Egyptian caliph” Al-Hakim Amrullah. The losses were so great that the subsequent reconstruction of the structure took almost half a century. But these were not all the ordeals that befell the main sanctuary of Jerusalem. Ahead of them were pogroms, natural disasters and serious fires. The last one, which occurred in 1808, damaged all the buildings and decorative elements. Not only did it entail regular repairs, but it also led to major changes “in appearance.

A diagram of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

After Jerusalem was conquered by Saladin’s troops, the complex passed into the possession of the Muslims. Despite the fact that the Temple was, is and will be a Mecca for all Christians, the keys to it are kept in the ancient Muslim family. The main reason for this decision was the desire of the religious elite to avoid conflicts between representatives of different denominations.

Architecture of the temple

On the photos of the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre in Israel, presented in tourist brochures, it is clearly seen that it consists of several architectural structures. Let us consider only the main ones.

Main Entrance

The facade of the church on the side of the main entrance is considered one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture of the 12th century. Originally, the interconnected lunettes of the portal were decorated with marble panels depicting the Burial of the Savior and the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem. They were later donated to the Rockefeller Museum.

The area to the right of the door deserves no less attention. There you can see the wooden hatch that covers the tomb of Philippe d’Aubigné, the French knight who protected Emperor Frederick II as he entered the city. By the way, the door itself is more than a thousand years old – it was laid during the reign of Salah ad-Din.

Holy Fire Column

Another attraction of the temple complex is the Corinthian column, made of white marble and decorating the left side of the portal. Unlike other pilasters of exactly the same kind, it simply cracked on one of the Great Sabbaths. Perhaps the reasons for this phenomenon could be easily explained in terms of physics, but the religious community tends to believe in the divine origin of this defect. The fact is that in those days there were fierce disputes between the Antiochalcidonian Armenians and the Orthodox over the Passover. The latter celebrated Easter as much as 7 days earlier. As a result, the Ottoman ruler ordered the Temple to be closed and the Orthodox faithful not be allowed to attend the annual service. The believers, led by priests Athanasius and Parthenios, who were indignant at such a decision, came to pray at the door. Suddenly, a wind kicked up, dark clouds gathered and a mighty rumbling sound was heard. It cracked the column, from the middle of which the Holy Fire suddenly arose.

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Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows

The Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows is a small structure that rises at the eastern end of the courtyard and served as the anteroom of Calvary’s side chapel. It is often called the Franconian Chapel or the Chapel of the Presentation of the Robe, because of the events that took place after the execution of Jesus Christ. Scholars believe that it was in this room that Roman soldiers were dividing the belongings of the dead Messiah.

Picturesque photos of Temple of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (Israel) specify that Triumphal arch or Arch of Monomakh, combined with internal premises only by small step, is one of the most beautiful constructions of a complex. It was built in memory of Constantine IX, the Roman ruler who rebuilt the church in 1048.

Arch of Triumph

The main decoration of this structure can be called the balconies arranged on both sides of the aisle and turned towards the Tabernacle. Before 1917, they housed consuls, presidents, and guests of honor from the major Orthodox nations who came to Israel for solemn services. Also below the archway is a stone lintel with an inscription glorifying “the Mother of God’s Churches.

The anointing stone in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, lying just outside the entrance, is hidden behind a slab of white marble. Everyone who comes here wants to touch it, because this is the place, according to ancient legends, where Christ was crucified. Over the holy relic eight lamps are lit, symbolizing the spheres of influence of religious denominations. Stone myrotochite mixture, which includes 40 components not found in nature. This includes incense, which our ancestors used to clean the bodies of the dead before burial.

Anointing Stone

For several decades, scientists have been trying to understand the nature of this phenomenon. But neither round-the-clock video filming, nor close observation of the stone, nor all sorts of analyses have yielded anything. But thousands of pilgrims coming to Israel seek not scientific evidence and explanations, but solace and the possibility of healing.

Interior Decoration

The Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, whose photos are present in most Israeli travel brochures, consists of 3 parts.

The Church of the Resurrection or Kafolikon, located in the central part of the complex, walled off from the others not reaching to the ceiling. Originally it included some sanctuaries, but the Greek reconstruction cardinally changed the general structure of the construction. In addition to the side walls, which also appeared at its end, a high iconostasis, two throne seats (for the Patriarch of Israel and his epitrope), and a gallery with three balconies from which the priest reads the texts of the Gospel were installed in the church.

Church of the Resurrection

Under the dome of the Kafolikon, which rises above its northern part, is the “mezomphalos”. It is a marble hemisphere placed on a special stand and pointing to the so-called “navel of the Earth”. The dome itself is decorated with mosaics depicting the 12 saints, the Virgin Mary, St. John and the two main guardian angels, Gabriel and Michael. The niches between the windows are decorated with contemporary portraits of the angels. The Church of the Lord’s Resurrection is surrounded by wide galleries. In one of them one can see the Arcade of the Virgin – majestic four-sided obelisks and columns, among which the remains of the marble structure of Emperor Hadrian can be seen.

Entrance to Golgotha

This area of the temple complex can be accessed by a staircase of 13 steps located at the entrance to the Kafolikon. There are 2 aisles (for the Orthodox and Catholics) and a hole in the ground, from which the cross was taken (marked with a circle of silver color). Dipping your hand into the hole, you can touch Golgotha, the place where Christ was executed. Next to the silver circle there are 2 black ones – they indicate the crosses of the criminals who were killed with the Prophet. There is a rather noticeable crack in the nearby rock. It is said to have appeared at the same time as the last breath of the martyr.

Church on Golgotha

In addition, there is another interesting legend associated with Golgotha in Israel. It is believed that at the site of the future crucifixion was buried Adam, the progenitor of all mankind, kicked out of Paradise because of sin. The blood of Christ, seeping through the earth, fell on the remains of the first man and atoned for his sins.

The marble Tabernacle, built over the Holy Sepulchre, includes two parts – the cave that became the tomb of Jesus and the Angel’s side-chamber. This is where the Holy Fire is lit on Easter Saturday, which is then dispersed around the planet.

Entrance to the Cubiculum

In the middle of the chapel stands a pedestal with a piece of sacred stone broken off by an angel. It is used as an altar during the liturgy. Along the wall burns lamps – 15 in 3 rows (according to the number of confessions). The entrance to the Cubiculum is decorated with a marble portal, on one side of which is depicted the Archangel Gabriel, and on the other side – the myrrh-bearing women. The marble canopy at the top of the portal deserves no less attention. The inscription on it points to the resurrection of the Son of God.

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Holy Sepulcher Chapel

The main attraction of the chapel, however, is the Thrice-Day Stone Bed of Christ, set in a small chamber. It was once freely accessible, but in 1812 it was covered with a marble slab protecting the shrine from vandals. On shelves nailed near the Thrice-Day Lodge are icons of the Resurrection, one from each Orthodox denomination.

How to get there.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Israel is located at 1 Helena Str., Old City, P.O.B. 186, Jerusalem. You can get to it in several ways.

You can enter the area of Israel’s main shrine from both the Christian Quarter and Suq Khan al-Zeit.

A bus in Jerusalem looks like this

  • Nos. 99, 13, 41, 19, 30, 20 of the transport company “Eged” – go to the Jaffa Gate of Old Jerusalem;
  • #38 – runs to the Jewish Quarter;
  • #1, 2, 3 and 21 – stop at Damascus Gate.

Important: You are advised to ask about the route at the hotel reception.

The Jerusalem Overground, which looks more like an ordinary streetcar, is represented by one branch – “City Hall” – “Damascus Gate”. The first station is near the New Gate. The second is near Damascus Gate.

Jerusalem Overground Subway

This option is considered not only the most convenient, but also the most expensive. For those who want to save money it is better to get off at the New Gate.

Working time

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem.

Working schedule of the Temple complex in Israel depends on the time of year.

In summer (April – September):

  • Mon-Sat. – From 5.00 to 21.00;
  • Sun – from 5.00 to 20.00.

Winter (October-March):

  • Mon-Fri from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Important: More information can be found at the official website: churchoftheholysepulchre.net/.

Useful hints

When you decide to visit the shrine, be sure to take into account a few important points:

  1. The smallest influx of tourists is observed in the early morning (about 8:00) and in the evening (16:00-17:00). At this time you can quietly see the sights, take pictures and touch the stone of anointing in the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre;
  2. The complex often closes a little later than that time, so don’t rush to leave the grounds;
  3. Before you leave, find out if there are any major Christian holidays during your stay in Jerusalem. Because of the huge number of pilgrims it will be difficult to get into the church;
  4. The daily services are open to all who wish to attend. The only condition is proper appearance and observance of the basic rules;
  5. There is a dress code in the temple, so short skirts, shorts, dresses with cleavage, high-heeled shoes, as well as tight and too bright outfits cannot be worn during its visit. Women need to cover their heads with a scarf;
  6. Do not forget to choose comfortable and closed shoes as much as possible – you will have to walk a lot;
  7. If you want your loved ones to be mentioned during the prayer, write their names on a sheet of paper and give it to one of the monks. There should be no more than 10 names, the case should be nominative, and the text should be in Cyrillic. There should be no superfluous words, because the notes are read by the clergymen, who do not know the Russian language.

And one more nuance. After visiting the complex, many people ask how to use candles from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. First, it should be noted that they are sold in bundles of 33 pieces each. Jerusalem candles are customary to light from the Holy Fire and extinguish with a special hood or bare hands (blow out the bundle is not allowed). Then the bundle is taken home, in no case dividing it into parts. It is believed that the Jerusalem candles contain life-giving power and are an incredibly powerful amulet. Not only that, but every candle lit from the holy bundle receives the same qualities.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (Israel) – it is not only an important historical site, but also the main symbol of the Christian religion. Everything here is so saturated with the spirit of the time that even complete atheists begin to feel the grace of heaven. You don’t believe it? Well, you have every chance to experience it for yourself. Have a great holiday and new amazing discoveries!

Author: Olga Musienko

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