Saturday 4 April 2015

"Behold the place where they laid him" (Mk 16:6)

The Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre today

"Behold, the place where they laid him." Rossi de Gasperis says that, reading Mk 16:1-8, with which the gospel probably first ended, one has the impression that the Tomb is one of the protagonists. At the break of dawn when the sun had risen, the women come to the tomb. They are concerned about the stone sealing the entrance. And the young man says: Behold, the place where they laid him.

According to some scholars, these last words contain an echo of the earliest liturgies in Jerusalem. The first Christians surely knew and revered the place where Jesus had been laid, and they probably made visits to the tomb - until the Emperor Hadrian, the same one who personally took part in the siege of Bether - Battir which Bar Kochba held stubbornly till he was captured and put to death - razed the Holy City to the ground in AD 136 and put up Aelia Capitolina, the great streets of which still provide the basic structure of the Old City today.
Modern day Battir. Close by, the ruins of Bether, last stand of Bar Kocha, which Hadrian destroyed

Behold, the place where they laid him. Hadrian tried to wipe out the memory of Calvary and the Tomb by erecting a temple to Diana over them, and in this way preserved their memory. The Christians, who had fled to Pella across the Jordan, probably carrying with them the Holy Shroud, returned when things were a bit more peaceful, within a generation, and were able to identify Calvary and the Tomb. So there is a long and sound tradition linking the present-day Holy Sepulchre, which is a Crusader construction more or less, with the actual place where Jesus died and was buried. Surely it is now within the walls of the Old City. But the present walls date back to Saladdin. When Jesus died, he died outside the then walls. I tried to explain that to an American young man, obviously Protestant, with the wonderfully American name of Rick, who was wandering quite lost inside the Holy Sepulchre, wondering what it was. I wonder if he understood. 

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