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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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or, as it is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, "a skull," or "place of skulls," supposed to be thus denominated from the similitude it bore to the figure of a skull or man's head, or from its being a place of burial. It was a small eminence or hill to the north of Mount Sion, and to the west of old Jerusalem, upon which our Lord was crucified. The ancient summit of Calvary has been much altered, by reducing its level in some parts, and raising it in others, in order to bring it within the area of a large and irregular building, called "The Church of the Holy Sepulchre," which now occupies its site. But in doing this, care has been taken that none of the parts connected with the crucifixion should suffer any alteration. The same building also encloses within its spacious walls several other places reputed sacred. The places which claim the chief attraction of the Christian visitant of this church, and those only perhaps which can be relied on, are, the spot on which the crucifixion took place, and the sepulchre in which our Lord was afterward laid. The first has been preserved without mutilation: being a piece of ground about ten yards square, in its original position; and so high above the common floor of the church, that there are, according to Chateaubriand, twenty-one steps to ascend up to it. Mr. Buckingham describes the present mount as a rock, the summit of which is ascended by a steep flight of eighteen or twenty steps from the common level of the church, which is equal with that of the street without; and beside this, there is a descent of thirty steps, from the level of the church, into the chapel of St. Helena, and by eleven more to the place where the cross was said to be found. On this little mount is shown the hole in which the cross was fixed; and near it the position of the crosses of the two thieves: one, the penitent, on the north; and the other on the south. Here, also, is shown a cleft in the rock, said to have been caused by the earthquake which happened at the crucifixion. The sepulchre, distant, according to Mr. Jolliffe, forty-three yards from the cross, presents rather a singular and unexpected appearance to a stranger; who, for such a place, would naturally expect to find an excavation in the ground, instead of which, he perceives it altogether raised, as if artificially, above its level. The truth is, that in the alterations which were made on Calvary, to bring all the principal places within the projected church, the earth around the sepulchre was dug away; so that, what was originally a cave in the earth has now the appearance of a closet or grotto above ground. The sepulchre itself is about six feet square and eight high. There is a solid block of the stone left in excavating the rock, about two feet and a half from the floor, and running along the whole of the inner side; on which the body of our Lord is said to have been laid. This, as well as the rest of the sepulchre, is now faced with marble: partly from the false taste which prevailed in the early ages of Christianity, in disguising with profuse and ill-suited embellishments the spots rendered memorable in the history of its Founder; and partly, perhaps, to preserve it from the depredations of the visitants. This description of the holy sepulchre will but ill-accord with the notions entertained by some English readers of a grave; but a cave or grotto, thus excavated in rocky ground, on the side of a hill, was the common receptacle for the dead among the eastern nations. Such was the tomb of Christ; such that of Lazarus; and such are the sepulchres still found in Judea and the east. It may be useful farther to observe, that it was customary with Jews of property to provide a sepulchre of this kind on their own ground, as the place of their interment after death; and it appears that Calvary itself, or the ground immediately around it, was occupied with gardens; one of which belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, who had then recently caused a new sepulchre to be made for himself. It was this sepulchre, so close at hand, and so appropriate, which he resigned for the use of our Lord; little thinking perhaps, at the time, how soon it would again be left vacant for its original purpose by his glorious resurrection.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Calvary'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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