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The Chapel of Calvary

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Touching the Rocks of Calvary

Location – Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Map Coordinates - 31.778460, 35.229556

Merged Gospels stories - 279-285


The Chapel of Calvary is the twelfth station of the cross. Calvary is the Latin equivalent of the word Golgotha, which means “the place of the skull”. It is difficult to imagine that in a room this ornate, the most heinous crime in history occurred: the murder of the Son of God. In 135 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a pagan temple to the goddess Venus right on this spot, with a statue of Venus over what is now the altar of Calvary. In 326 AD the Empress Helena, who built the first church here, was able to locate the place of the cross, in part, because of this statue.

A statue of Venus (Aphrodite).

In around the year 393 AD, Saint Jerome, who lived here, said that the cross stood not just near this hill, but literally “on the hill” where the altar of Calvary is now. This strongly suggests that the place now venerated as the location of the cross is authentic.

The Icons of Mary and John.

Mary and John at the base of the cross.

In this chapel you can see the life-sized images of Jesus, Mary and the Apostle John. In their places of worship, The Orthodox churches use 2-dimensional images, and not three-dimensional statues. This is to resist the temptation to make an idol out of a statue, as the Greeks and Romans did.

John was the only Apostle who was present at the crucifixion of Jesus. The rest of them were in hiding, probably in the Upper Room. John and Jesus’ mother, Mary, were both close enough to the cross to hear Jesus tell John, “Behold your mother” (John 19: 27), and to His mother, Jesus said, “Behold your son” (John 19:26).

The Footrest on the Cross.

Although the icon in the Calvary chapel shows Jesus’ feet being nailed directly onto the vertical post of the cross (called the stauros), it is most commonly understood that beneath His feet was a piece of timber called a suppedaneum - a small platform nailed to a cross for supporting the feet. We shouldn't presume that this platform was a mere footrest, although it was a device to keep the condemned person from falling off the cross. It was a brace for the feet to be pushed hard against in order to prevent the victim from suffocating, thus prolonging his life and his torture. You see, a cross was not meant to kill a person quickly, but slowly, over a matter of days, amplifying the horrific spectacle of the event. The cross was developed as a brutal means of crowd control, serving to warn other potential lawbreakers to stay in line.

However, Jesus did not endeavor to prolong His life. He chose the hour in which He was to die – that is at the ninth hour (or after 3:00 PM), the same hour that the Passover lamb was to be slaughtered in the Temple. Therefore, Jesus, our Passover Lamb, gave up His life after only six hours.

The Roman soldiers break the legs of the two thieves beside Jesus.

The Titulus Crucis (the plaque on the cross).

The Titulus Crucis (plaque) that was posted above Jesus’ head on the cross.

Pontius Pilate put a sign above Jesus’ head, which read, “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.” This was to insult the Jews, saying, in essence, "What a pitiful king you Jews have!"

Originally retrieved by Saint Helena in the early fourth century, the walnut relic of the Titulus Crucis that the Catholic church claims is authentic is kept at The Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (actually located in Rome, Italy). It is inscribed on one side with three lines, the first one being written in Hebrew is mostly destroyed. The second line is written in Greek letters, and the third line is in Latin. In 383 AD Egeria reported seeing this titulus in the Church of the Apostles on Mount Zion (Itinerarium Egeriae, 37, 1)

In the Chapel of Calvary, the letters that you see on the titulus are all abbreviations – first Greek, the second Latin, and Hebrew at the bottom.

The Nails.

After having collected the nails used in Christ’s crucifixion, it is written that Saint Helena had a portion of the nails placed into her son’s, Constantine’s, helmet, and another portion woven into the bridle of his horse. Since then, many nails have turned up in ancient venues, all claiming to be authentic.

The Crack.

The crack on the crest of Mount Golgotha.

The rocks that you see under the glass case are the actual rocks of the summit of Mount Golgotha. On the right side of the altar (shown above) you can see a crack in the rock. (You can also see the lower portion of this crack directly below this altar in the Chapel of Adam, through a window behind the altar of this chapel.) When Jesus died, Mathew 27:51 says, “And the earth shook and the rocks were split.” Many believe that this crack was created at the moment that Jesus died. Scientists have also determined that there was an earthquake originating at the Dead Sea, sometime between 25 and 35 AD. (This was reported in the May, 2012 edition of the International Geology Review.)

The Altar.

In the Old Testament, an altar was where sacrifices were made. It is where something that was living died, and this altar is no exception.

The Hole.

There is a hole at the base of this altar where you can reach down and feel stones, believed to be part of the hill of Calvary.

To touch these stones, every knee must bow before the cross of Jesus. When you reach into this hole, to touch something you cannot see, you’re not just touching the rocks of Calvary. You’re touching the place that received the blood of Jesus. The blood that was spilled under this altar is now calling out to us.

The penalty for the sins of every person who has ever lived was fully paid in this room. Nowhere in the world should our gratitude to God be more earnest than where we are standing. So my question to you, dear reader, is what will your response be to the price that Jesus paid for us on this hill?

The Entire Hill of Golgotha.

Here is a rare sight. We were allowed permission to film behind the Altar of Calvary, overlooking what is left of the entire hill of Golgotha. While visitors to the church can only see the crest of the hill, the hill still remains, and here is photo of us looking down over the entire 20-foot drop from above.

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