Interior of the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
In order to discuss pilgrimage sites in the Christian tradition it is important to first make a distinction between those sites outside the ‘Holy Land’ of the Middle East and those inside that general territory. Christian pilgrimage sites outside of the Holy Land are considered sacred because of several reasons including: the presence of relics attributed to Christ, Mary, or the twelve apostles; because of 'apparitions' of Jesus or more often Mary; because of miracles attributed to the holy family or various angels; or because of the association of some saintly Christian figure.
Christian pilgrimage sites inside the Holy Land however, are considered sacred because of their direct association with the actual life of Jesus. Whether or not Jesus was ever present at these places is a subject of intense scholarly debate. Certain narrow-minded theologians and fundamentalist Christians may insist on the fact of the matter on the basis of their faith. Historians however, explain that there is scant historical evidence to substantiate the matter. The Gospels of the New Testament are not considered historically accurate documents as they show many signs of multiple authorship, later additions and changes, and significant internal contradictions.
The church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem marks the traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion at Golgotha, or Calvary, and of his burial and resurrection. Golgatha is a natural rock pinnacle, a sort of miniature sacred mountain, which at the time of Jesus stood just outside the city walls of Jerusalem. There is archaeological evidence that Golgatha was once a place of pagan sanctity and it is traditionally claimed that the skull of Adam is buried there. About 35 meters northwest of Golgatha is the site of the cave where (some sources say) Jesus was entombed. According to Christian tradition, Helena, the mother of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine, determined the exact location during her pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326 AD. Helena believed that the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who had constructed a pagan temple to Jupiter and Venus on the site in 135 AD, had done so in order to divert Christians from their pilgrimages. She sponsored excavations at Hadrian's temple, soon uncovering the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea and three crosses, which she surmised had been hastily left after the crucifixion as the Sabbath approached. According to the four gospels, Joseph of Arimathaea, a secret disciple of Jesus, obtained the body of Jesus from Pilate and buried it in his own tomb site (Joseph himself was not buried in the tomb, but according to legend went to Glastonbury, England where he is considered a saint).
Emperor Constantine built a great church over the tomb site in 335 AD. This church was later destroyed by the Persians in 614, rebuilt, and again destroyed by the Turks in 1009. Remains of the original structure built by Constantine underlie the present church begun by the Crusaders in 1048. Inside the church may be found the stone on which Jesus was anointed before he was buried, and (shown in the photograph) the tiny chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, the supposed burial place. The raised marble block that is used as an altar covers the rock on which Jesus' body was laid. One of the most venerated buildings on the earth, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is also one of the most confusing and poorly maintained; this resulting from the constant squabbling amongst the Franciscan, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, and Ethiopian religious orders who jointly watch over the site. The doctrinal diversity of its keepers certainly lends the sanctuary some of its fascination and color, but it also keeps the building in shambles and under perpetual reconstruction.
Concerning the matter of whether Jesus was buried in this church and, even more important, whether he died upon the cross at all, there is absolutely no historical evidence whatsoever. When presented with this matter, devout Christians will quickly offer “proof” by quoting various passages from the Gospels of the New Testament. However, it must be emphasized that the gospels are not accurate historical records but rather a compilation of beliefs and theories composed by numerous, often-contradictory writers, over a period of hundreds of years. While the Gospels are sometimes beautifully written and indeed contain much inspiration and deep wisdom, they cannot be used as factual evidence to authenticate the death of Jesus in Jerusalem. This matter is far to lengthy to begin to discuss here, yet mention should be made of the extensive and serious scholarly research which contradicts the crucifixion story; of the many legends from Asia (even Africa and the New World) that indicate Christ traveled in these areas after the supposed time of his crucifixion; and of the legend that Christ finally died and was buried in the town of Srinagar in the Himalayan country of Kashmir. Narrow minded and unstudied persons may scoff at these matters - and as of yet there is no conclusive proof of them - but scholars of Christianity acknowledge that its history is filled with many examples of deceit and corruption on the part of church leaders, much of it for reasons of social, sexual and political control. While it is convenient and socially expected to blindly believe gospel and church assertions on the basis of 'faith', a growing number of intelligent people are deeply questioning the consensual myth at the basis of Christianity. Fundamental to this questioning is the matter of whether such incidents as the virgin birth and the crucifixion of Jesus are really true, or rather the fabrications of clever ecclesiastical authorities interested in social control.
Other sacred places in the life of Christ:
Chapel of the Nativity of Christ, Bethlehem, Israel
Chapel of Mary, Monastery of Almuharraq, Egypt
Holy Grotto of the Temptation of Christ, Jericho, Israel
Additional information of related interest:
From City of God, by E. L. Doctorow
Pagels, working from the scrolls discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, finds that the early Christians were profoundly divided between those who proposed a church according to apostolic succession based on a literal interpretation of Jesus’ resurrection and those who rejected resurrection except as a spiritual metaphor for gnosis emotionally, mystically achieved, as knowledge beyond ordinary knowledge, a perception beneath or above the everyday truth....So there was a power struggle. Gnostic and synoptic contested with competing gospels. The gnostics, who said no church was needed, no priest, no episcopate, were routed, inevitably, having no organization, given their views. While the institutionalist Christians were understandably concerned that their persecuted sect needed a network to survive, with rules of order and common strategies for survival, the concept of martyrdom, for example, being created to make something positive from their terrible persecution, it is also true that the struggle for Jesus was a struggle for power, that the idea of an actual resurrection, which the institutionalists put forth and the gnostics ridiculed, provided authority for church office, and that the struggle to define Jesus and canonize his words, or interpretations of his words by others, was pure politics, as passionate or worshipful as it may have been, and that with the desire to perpetuate the authority of Jesus continuing in the Reformation and the creation of the Protestant sects, in which a kind of residual gnosis was being proposed in protest against the sacramental accumulations of a churchly bureaucracy, what is now Christianity, with all the resonance that it has as a belief and a rich and complex culture, is a political creation with a political history. It was a politically triumphant Jesus created from the conflicts of early Christianity, and it has been a political Jesus ever since, from the time of the emperor Constantine’s conversion in the fourth century throughout the long history of European Christianity, as we consider the history of the Catholic Church, its Crusades, its Inquisitions, its contests and/or alliances with kings and emperors, and with the rise of the Reformation, the history of Christianity’s active participation, in all its forms, in wars among states and the rule of populations. It is a story of power.
From Twelve Tribe Nations, by John Michell, pages 158/159.
Three famous births have made Bethlehem the mother city of Israel. Benjamin, the last and most beloved of the sons of Jacob, was born here, and on the northern outskirts of town is the tomb of his mother, Rachel. This tomb is still venerated by Jews, Muslims and Christians, and it is a place of importance for women who want to bear children. At Bethlehem was born the shepherd boy, David, the youngest son of Jesse, and he was later recognized by the Prophet Samuel as the future king of Israel. A thousand years later, another descendant of Jesse, also known as a shepherd, was born in a grotto on the hill of Bethlehem. This event, coinciding with the dawn of the Age of Pisces, was marked by the appearance of a strange star in the night sky. It was observed by eastern astrologers, and three magi appeared in Jerusalem, Prophecies that a future king of Israel would be born in Bethlehem, and the guidance of the heavenly light, brought them to the birthplace of Jesus. The account is given in Matthew 2, and in Luke 2 is the story of the angels appearing to shepherds to announce the nativity of Christ in the city of David. The Romans made the natal cave of Christ into a shrine of Adonis, but its Christian legend endured, and in 326 AD the first church of the Nativity was built over the site. It was rebuilt in magnificent style in the sixth century, and has ever since been the holiest shrine of Christianity.
From Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess, by Lynn Picknett, page 176, 184.
As we have seen, all the many other dying-and-rising gods also shared Jesus’ birthday at the Winter Solstice, although when the pope finally announced that Jesus was not born on that day after all, this caused widespread astonishment. The fact that this amendment came as late as 1994 is breath-taking. However, the pope did not elaborate on this theme for obvious reasons: it would not have appealed to his flock to know that Osiris, Tammuz Adonis, Dionysus, Attis, Orpheus and (some versions of) Serapis were not only born on the Winter Solstice, but clearly their mothers, too, for their births also took place in humble circumstances, such as caves, where they were attended by shepherds and wise men bringing expensive symbolic gifts. These pagan gods were given very familiar titles such as ‘Saviour of Mankind’ and ‘Good Shepherd.’
According to the accepted story, Jesus only gave the form of words for one prayer to his disciples, which is known and loved as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ today – ‘Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed by Thy Name’ and so on, in the familiar words of the King James Bible. Yet this most solidly Christian prayer has an unexpected history: despite the universal belief to the contrary, Jesus did not invent the form of the words, for it is only a slightly altered version of an ancient prayer to Osiris-Amon, which began: ‘Amon, Amon, Amon, who art in heaven……and the Christian mode of ending prayer with ‘Amen’ although encompassing the Hebrew for ‘certainly’ originates from the Egyptian custom of doing so with three repetitions of the name of the god – ‘Amon, Amon, Amon.
From The Second Messiah, by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas; pages 70, 77, 79
In Rome, the gentile Christians merged the myths of their old gods into the cult conceived by Paul to create a hybrid religion that had great appeal to the maximum number of people. On 20 May in AD 325, the non-Christian emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea and a vote was taken as to whether, or not, Jesus was a deity. The debates were vigorous, but at the end of the day it was decided that the first-century Jewish leader was, indeed, a god.
The establishment of the Romanised Christian era marked the beginning of the Dark Ages: the period of Western History when the lights went out on all learning, and superstition replaced knowledge. It lasted until the power of the Roman Church was undermined by the Reformation.
At the time even before Jesus was born, the priests of the Temple of Jerusalem ran two schools: one for boys and one for girls. The priests were known by titles which were the names of angels, such as Michael, Mazaldek and Gabriel. This was the way in which they preserved the pure lines of Levi and David. When each of the chosen girls had passed through puberty one of the priests would impregnate her with the seed of the holy bloodline and, once pregnant, she would be married off to a respectable man to bring up the child. It was the custom that when these children reached the age of seven years they were handed back to the Temple schools to be educated by the priests.
Thus, stated the Frenchman, was a virgin called Mary visited by the priest known as ‘Angel Gabriel’ who had her with child. She was then married off to Joseph, who was a far older man. According to this verbal tradition, Mary found it difficult to enjoy life with Joseph, her first husband, because he was to old for her but, over time, she grew to love him and had another four boys and three girls.
Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln in their book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, claimed to have identified an organization called the Prieure de Sion. Baigent and his colleagues believed that Jesus had survived the cross and gone to live in France, where he raised a family, and his bloodline, coming through the Merovingian kings and the Dukes of Lorraine, had been preserved by Godfrey de Bouillon who was a descendant of Jesus, and had preserved his bloodline intact to the modern day.
From Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess, by Lynn Picknett, page 221.
In The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln suggest that the ‘sangreal’ should be the ‘sang real’, or royal blood, the line of sacred kings who could trace their ancestry back to Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ. But there is a problem with that: the alleged protectors of that line, the Priory of Sion, are Johannites and would never uphold any connection with Jesus. If there is any reverence given to any putative bloodline (although the very concept is unworkable, not to say ethically suspect) it is surely because of her involvement, not his. She is the representative of Isis, the goddess of love and magic, who empowers the sacred god-king. Why should she of all women be craven to the man she anoints and spread his gospel rather than their shared belief in the goddess?
From Uriel’s Machine: Uncovering the Secrets of Stonehenge, Noah’s Flood, and the Dawn of Civilization, by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas; page 325.
According to the Bible, Mary conceived at the spring equinox and gave birth to Jesus at the winter solstice (in 7 BC). Her much older cousin, Elizabeth, conceived at the autumn equinox and gave birth to John the Baptist at the summer solstice. So, with these two holy figures of the New Testament, we have all four key points of the solar year marked out.
Important books regarding the origins and history of Christianity.
The Origins of Christianity; by Revilo P. Oliver
The Bible Fraud; by Tony Bushby
The Crucifixion of Truth, by Tony Bushby
Conspiracy in Jerusalem: The Hidden Origins of Jesus; by Kamal Salibi
Saving the Savior: Did Christ Survive the Crucifixion; by Abubakr Ben Ishmael Salahuddin
Christ in Kashmir; by Aziz Kashmiri
The Dark Side of Christian History; Helen Ellerbe
The Lost Magic of Christianity: Celtic Essene Connections; by Michael Poynder
Bloodline of the Holy Grail; by Laurence Gardner
Genesis of the Grail Kings; by Laurence Gardner