Eusebius of Caesarea was a bishop and a Roman historian, who is best known for his work “Ecclesiastical History”, a detailed account of the early Christianity from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD. In his another important work, “Life of Constantine”, Eusebius described the new Christian buildings that were erected at the request of Constantine I, the first Christian emperor of the Roman empire. This work is the primary source of information about the history of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which has been destroyed and reconstructed multiple times over subsequent centuries.

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Eusebius writes that the site of the Church was initially a place of Christian veneration, but emperor Hadrian built a pagan temple on it. In the beginning of the 4th century, emperor Constantine I ordered to demolish the pagan temple and to construct the Christian church that would be “a monument of the Savior’s resurrection” (3:40). Therefore, the Church was built as the imperial scale, embellished with various precious stones and decorations. From the description of Eusebius it can be understood that the Church initially comprised four elements. The first element was the outer atrium in the eastern side, which was a broad courtyard, adorned with colonnades. The second element was the basilica itself, which Eusebius describes as “rising to a vast height” (3: 36). It was constructed opposite to the cave. The basilica was surrounded with two porticoes on each side. Three gates provided an entrance to the church. Opposite the gates was the rotunda, encircled with twelve columns. To the west of the basilica laid the fourth element of the compound, the inner atrium, enclosed with three porticoes.

The church was destroyed by the Persians in the 7th century. Much of the modern architecture of the Church dates back to the reconstruction by Crusaders in the 11th century. A lot of renovations were also made over the last two centuries. Nothing is left from the original architecture of the basilica. The outer portico and the rotunda were incorporated into the church, while the basilica and the inner atrium have not been rebuilt (Powers). The straight northern wall which can be seen in today’s church was initially the northern enclosing wall of the outer atrium. A part of the eastern entrance is visible in the nearby Russian Orthodox Hospice.

  • Eusebius of Caesarea. Life of Constantine, transl. by Ernest Cushing Richardson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890.)  .
  • Powers, Tom. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher: Some Perspectives from History, Georaphy, Architecture, Archaeology, and the New Testament. Artifax, Autumn 2004-Spring 2005.