Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over Calvary – place where Christ was crucified, entombed and where he resurrected from, stands in a very central place within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. However, as we can easily imagine, at the time of Jesus, the topography of the Holy City varied a lot from the present one.
The Gospels describe Golgotha (place of the Skull) as a garden just outside the walls of Jerusalem. That clearly means that the procession leading Jesus to death must have left the city through one of the city gates – the Judgment Gate.
It was only around 41 AD, when the Holy City was enlarged towards northwest by Herod Agrippa and the Christ’s sepulchre was included into the proper area of Jerusalem.
Can the Judgment Gate be seen today?
Not all the visitors to Jerusalem are actually aware that the threshold of the Judgment Gate remains excellently preserved and is one of the most sacred shrines of Christianity. But where can it be seen today?
Our fully understandable admiration and focus on the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre might overshadow many things located around it. But we need to remember that the Holy City of Jerusalem hides plenty of precious and important sites.
St. Alexander Nevsky Church
One of such places is St. Alexander Nevsky Church that was named after an admired warrior and Russian prince from the 13th century. The edifice was completed and consecrated on 5th of September 1891, and today, it serves as the focal area of the Russian Orthodox mission in the city of Jerusalem.
It is located just next to the present form of the Holy Sepulchre, on the grounds purchased by Russia in 1859. The shrine houses important archaeological findings.
The archaeological dig at the site, which begun in 1883, was led by A. Kapoustin. It revealed massive walls with and opening between them, dating back to the Roman era and determined as the “Holy Threshold of the Judgment Gate” – the edge of the city walls and the place where Jesus passed on during his crucifixion journey.
Looking to the left from the threshold, we can also see an “eye of needle” – a hole where stake of the gate’s door shall be placed. When the church was built, the threshold was covered with glass in a wooden frame. Behind it was placed a large stone taken (purchased) from the Calvary, on which a traditional Orthodox Crucifix was fixed.
The excavations also revealed remnants of the columns and arches dating back to the 2nd century AD, which might have been parts of the Hadrian’s temple built over the site of the Holy Sepulchre.
What is more, there were also found ruins of the Constantinian’s Basilica from the 4th century. For example, part of a massive column can be seen behind the Judgment Gate.
Take some coins (5 NIS) with you, as there is a small entrance fee (totally worth the experience). Please remember about modest clothes, covering your arms and knees. At the entrance to the church, women will receive something to cover their hair and a skirt – the dress code of Russian holy sites.
Beata Andonia is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem four years ago. She works at the local tourism office and writes regularly for Travelujah.