The Syrian Chapel
Inside the Jewish Tombs at the Holy Sepulcher
Location – Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Map Coordinates - 31.778460, 35.229556
This is called the Syrian Chapel, because this room is used every Sunday for worship by the Syrian Orthodox Church, which claims to be the oldest Christian denomination in the world. The Syrian church worships in the first-century language of Aramaic, and their Bible is written in the Syriac language, which is very similar to Aramaic.
According to tradition, the Apostles Peter and John were the founders of this church, which started in the first century in the city of Antioch, where, according to Acts 11:26, the followers of Christ were first called Christians.
The Syrians worshipping on Sunday morning inside the Syrian Chapel at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Fire Damage.
There was a fire that ravaged the church in 1808 AD, and there is faint evidence that this room was once covered with colorful frescos. But it’s also quite apparent that there is still a lot of soot on the walls and ceiling as a result of this fire.
The old altar in the center of this room was damaged by this fire. The room has been partially renovated with a new floor, but the reason that the altar and walls appear damaged is that both the Armenians and the Syrian church disagree as to which of them owns the chapel, let alone who should pay for the repairs.
The Jewish Tombs.
There are five tombs in this room that were used in the first century. Three of them are blocked, as if they have no significance. But I noticed that the two open tombs in the middle are surrounded by a decorative arch. That means that these tombs were for special people. But who could they be?
First-century Jewish tombs inside the Syrian chapel.
It is believed that these were the tombs of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, members of the Jewish ruling council who were secret disciples of Christ. These are the men who took Jesus down from the cross, and who laid Him in His own tomb. That would explain the embellishment of this artistic arch above these tombs. However, later traditions suggest that these were not their actual tombs, but were rather used for someone else.
The fate of these two men is shrouded in shadowy legends.
According to one account, Nicodemus was beaten, stripped of his position with the Jewish council, driven out of the city of Jerusalem, and left to live in poverty in the countryside until his death, where he was buried in a cave.
Joseph of Arimathea.
The life of Joseph of Arimathea was considerably different. Believed to have been the great uncle of Jesus Christ, tradition has it that he became a missionary, ultimately traveling to Britain, where he founded, what many people believe, was the world’s first physical church, a church located on the site of what is now called Glastonbury Abbey.
An artist’s rendition of the world’s first physical church at Glastonbury Abby.
It is believed that Joseph of Arimathea lived up to 86 years; that he was buried close to this church, and that he was instrumental in converting many thousands of lost souls, in one case overseeing the baptism of eighteen thousand people in a single day, leading them out of the darkness of ancient paganism into the light of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Joseph of Arimathea preaching in Britain.