The Chapel of the Angel
The Mystery of the Chapel of the Angel
Location – Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Map Coordinates - 31.778460, 35.229556
Merged Gospels, Story - 287
There are two chapels in the interior of the Edicule. The first one is called The Chapel of the Angel. This chapel commemorates the moment that an angel moved away the rolling stone from the tomb of Jesus, and this angel sat on it.
On a Sunday morning 2000 years ago, there was an earthquake that shook the ground in Jerusalem. According to the Gospel of Matthew, an angel had descended from heaven, and had rolled away the stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus.
It was at this exact location that a miracle-working man from Galilee, having died, literally walked out of His own grave, after which he appeared over the next forty days to hundreds of people. This account was recorded in detail by four independent historians. They are His Apostles Matthew and John, a disciple of the Apostle Peter, named Mark, and a doctor called Luke, who interviewed and recounted the testimonies of many eyewitnesses.
The Biblical Story.
Here’s what happened. There were several women who came to the tomb on that Sunday morning in order to anoint Jesus’ body with perfumes and spices. They found the stone rolled away from the door, the guards were missing, and Jesus’ body was not inside. Mary Magdalene, who was among them, immediately ran away to tell the Apostles what had happened. At the time, she believed that Jesus’ body had been stolen, but the other women did not follow her. They remained at the tomb, and went inside. The Gospels report that two angels met them, and explained to them that Jesus had risen from the dead. They too walked back quickly to the place of the Apostles, and reported what they had seen and heard.
Until the year 135 AD the tomb of Jesus remained just the way it was when He stepped out of it on a Sunday morning into the chilly predawn air. The same thing is true of the stone that covered the tomb. It remained untouched, and it lay on the ground in the same place since the day that it was pushed away from the tomb by an angel.
After the resurrection of Jesus, many people in the city of Jerusalem had heard about this event, and this began a regular vigil of worship at that location that lasted over 100 years.
But something happened in the year 135 AD. Jerusalem was still under the occupation of the Roman Government, and one of its pagan Roman emperors, by the name of Hadrian, decided to build a pagan temple on this very spot, dedicated to the Greek goddess Venus, also called Aphrodite. This shrine covered both the tomb of Jesus and the hill of Calvary on which He was crucified.
In the year 313 AD the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine the first, legalized Christianity, and thirteen years later he sent his mother, the Empress Helena, to Jerusalem to tear down this pagan temple of Venus, and to build a church at the same location.
The Constantinian Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Three ancient historians tell us that during the prior two centuries when the tomb was hidden underground, Christians in Jerusalem never forgot where Jesus was buried. (Melito of Sardis, On the Passover, 160 AD; Saint Jerome, Letter to Paulinus, circa 400 AD, Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, Before 439 AD)
Constantine’s historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, records that when the holy tomb was finally uncovered, there was incontrovertible evidence that they had discovered the very crypt in which Jesus had laid. One thing that led them to that conclusion was probably the fact that the rolling stone was still lying right outside the tomb. Within nine years, not only did the Church in Jerusalem complete the construction of this church, but they also built a little structure, called an Edicule, over the tomb of Jesus.
What happened to the rolling stone? While the church was being built, and even afterward, the builders never moved the stone. They left it lying in the same spot where they found it, right in front of the tomb.
The limestone tile, believed to be part of the Rolling Stone.
On this pedestal you can see a tile of limestone under a thick pane of glass. This is assumed by many to be part of the rolling stone that covered the tomb of Jesus. This pedestal is in the exact same location as the original large rolling stone. But the original stone was certainly much larger than this. In fact, for 675 years people had to walk around the large rolling stone in order to enter the tomb of Jesus. It was six feet long, three feet wide, and two feet thick. It had rounded corners, and it weighed over two tons.
Many local tombs were comprised of two rooms. The first room was called a weeping chamber, and the second room was the tomb itself, where the bodies were buried. There may have been a weeping chamber in Jesus’ actual tomb, but none of the edicules built around His tomb have ever had a weeping chamber. That’s because Jesus rose from the dead, and there was no justification for weeping. By rising from the dead, Jesus transformed this tomb from a place of mourning into a place of celebration.
Historic References to the Rolling Stone.
As I said earlier, over the past 2000 years there have been four edicules built on this site. The first one lasted for about 675 years, and it didn’t have a Chapel of the Angel. The last three Edicules, starting in the 12th century have all had a distinct Chapel of the Angel, which started out as an outdoor portico, and then later evolved into an enclosed room, as it is today.
The earliest mention in the history of the rolling stone, outside the Bible, is by a man named Cyril of Jerusalem, who, in 370 AD said, “The stone which was laid on the door…lies to this day by the tomb.” (Source: Catechetical Lectures, 13.39)
At about the same time (370 AD) Saint Jerome recalls that his faithful servant, Paula, “kissed the stone which the angel moved from the door of the tomb.” (Source: The Pilgrimage of the Holy Paula, VI)
In 570 AD, Antoninus Martyr said, “The stone by which the tomb was closed lies in front of the tomb.” (Source: Of the Holy Places Visited by Antoninus Martyr, 18).
Also around 570 AD, The anonymous Piacenza Pilgrim (18) writes, “The stone with which the tomb was enclosed is before the mouth of the tomb, but of the same color as the rock, since it was cut from the rock of Golgotha. Now this stone is decorated with gold and jewels, and the rock of the tomb is like a millstone.”
Notice that every description of the stone says that it is lying on the ground.
Then something happened in the year 680 AD. A French monk named Arculf gave us an entirely different description of the rolling stone. While he described the same pedestal that we see today, displaying this same small rectangular limestone tile, he also said that the larger stone that used to be in this same spot was moved about 40 feet to the east, and that it was part of an altar, covered by linens. In his memoirs we read the following:
But among these things, it seems that one ought to tell briefly about the stone, mentioned above, which was rolled to the mouth of the Tomb of the Lord, after the burial of the crucified Lord slain by many men: which, Arculf relates, was broken and divided into two parts, the smaller of which, rough hewn with toils, is seen placed as a square altar in the round church, described above, before the mouth of that often-mentioned cabin, that is, the Lord's Tomb; while the larger part of that stone, equally hewn around, stands fixed in the eastern part of that church as another four-sided altar under linen cloths. (De Locis Sanctis, I.4)
According to Arculf, the large rolling stone was now part of an altar that was somewhere near the central doorway of the rotunda, or in today’s terms, right in the middle of the doorway as you enter the Catholicon.
Is the square tile actually part of the original rolling stone?
Arculf was just simply repeating what he had been told - that this small tile was part of the original rolling stone. But not everyone was convinced of this.
1. Sometime around 725 AD, Saint Willibald from England visited Palestine, and he also described the same thing that Arculf saw. He said,
“In front of the door of the sepulcher lies a great square stone, a replica of that first stone which the angel rolled away from the mouth of the sepulcher.” (The Hodoeporican of Saint. Willibald, 166).
Note that he uses the word “replica”.
2. The coloration between the tile in the Chapel of the Angel, and the great rolling stone on mount Zion are quite different. The one on Mount Zion is altogether uniform in its yellowish color and texture. In contrast, the tile at the Holy Sepulcher is mottled, with veins and distinct patches of light and dark stone (see below).
3. After having examined the rolling stone on Mount Zion, I cannot see where on this great stone there is a spot from which this tile was carved. In other words, there is no evidence that this small tile was ever part of the larger stone.
4. Lastly, there is no historic documentation by which we can conclude that the small tile was chiseled from the large stone, nor have any of the communities at the Holy Sepulcher gone on record to claim as much. In other words, total silence.
In the year 1244 AD, a Muslim army known as the Khwārazmians raided Jerusalem, destroying most of the Christian shrines, and killing many believers. There was a brief travel manual written for Holy Land pilgrims called Innominatus III (in Itinera, III, pp. 17–21, 1191- 1244), and it seems to record that the larger rolling stone was moved to Mount Zion prior to this time, but the date of this move is inconclusive. In any event, it was the Armenian Church which transferred the large rolling stone to Mount Zion for safe keeping, to the Church of Saint Saviour, where it is today.
By the year 1280, The German Catholic priest Buchard records that he had personally seen both the small fragment of the rolling stone in its usual position in front of the tomb of Jesus, and the larger piece where it currently rests today, on Mount Zion. (Source: A Description of the Holy Land, Buchard of Mount Sion, 1280 AD). He says,
“The other part of it has been translated to Mount Sion, to support the altar there. This piece also I saw at that place.” A Description of the Holy Land, Buchard of Mount Sion, 1280 AD.
Here it has been locked away for about 800 years.
The actual rolling stone that covered the tomb of Jesus is currently housed in the Church of Saint Savior on Mount Zion.
The Holes in the Walls
There are two holes in Chapel of the Angel, one on either side as you walk in.
These holes are used only once a year, and for only one purpose. It’s an event that occurs on Holy Saturday, just before Easter Sunday. When the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem enters the tomb shortly after noon he walks in with unlit candles, and with nothing to light them. He waits in the tomb for several minutes, and then by an alleged miracle the candles are miraculously lit as he’s holding them, and he then passes the flame to those waiting outside through both of these holes, where the fire is then transferred from one person to the next. In other words, he disperses the flame through the holes before he exits the Edicule. Otherwise, he himself would be swarmed by worshippers, who are thrusting their candles at his, trying to acquire this flame, and this helps him keep from being injured or crushed during this celebration.