Every year, hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (as it is known by Protestants) in Jerusalem. Historians and archaeologists increasingly support its claim to be built on the site of Jesus' burial. But the church we see today is not the original church built in Constantine's era, and the site has seen tragedy and tensions for 1400 years.

When the Persians invaded Jerusalem in 614, they set the Church of the Anastasis, or Resurrection (as it was then called), on fire, killing countless priests and deacons who had taken refuge there. The Byzantines retook the city promptly, expelled the Persians, and restored the church.

The first Muslim conquest in 638 was utterly different. Caliph Umar refused to pray in the church out of respect, lest it be turned into a mosque, and so the church was spared. Four hundred years of uninterrupted devotion continued. But in 1009, an Egyptian Fatimid ruler, al-Hakim bin-Amr Allah, ordered the complete destruction of the church and its sacred tomb, despite the complaints of his mother and sister, who were Christians. Within three years, the caliph relented and permitted Christians to rebuild the church. Even al-Hakim's mother (Maria) came to Jerusalem to aid in the work as compensation for her son's madness. This rebuilding essentially gave the church its present form. Almost all of what can be seen now stems from this era, rather than the era of Constantine.

When the Crusaders arrived in 1099, they increased the adornment and strengthened the church's walls. They added chapels, enclosed the rock of Calvary, and built the sanctuary just east of the tomb—the Katholikon—for services. It was a breathtaking feat of medieval engineering at its finest (domes ...

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