BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Holy Archaeological Sites

The Holy Sepulchre and the challenge of studying holy sites

Outside the Holy Sepulchre

Holy Archaeological Sites: The courtyard outside the main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer.

Excavating archaeological sites is rarely easy or straightforward. Many factors can drastically hamper or even block an excavation. In the archaeology of the Holy Land, one frequent issue that arises is the continued use of historical and archaeological sites, especially religious ones, such as Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Archaeological projects are exceedingly rare in the Holy Sepulchre and even when excavations can happen, researchers face a slew of challenges. Now, a recent project that successfully carried out work in the Holy Sepulchre has outlined the challenges they faced as well as the solutions they came up with to solve them.


Become a Member of Biblical Archaeology Society Now and Get More Than Half Off the Regular Price of the All-Access Pass!

Explore the world’s most intriguing Biblical scholarship

Dig into more than 9,000 articles in the Biblical Archaeology Society’s vast library plus much more with an All-Access pass.

access

Excavating Holy Sites—The Project

The joint British and Israeli team set out to study the thousands of small crosses carved into the wall of the Chapel of St. Helena, one of the oldest sections of the Holy Sepulchre. According to tradition, these crosses were carved into the walls by medieval pilgrims. Among their objectives was to “investigate whether these graffiti were made randomly by different pilgrims or, perhaps, the engraving of the crosses was an established ritual action, authorized by the church.” To study this question, the team set out to photograph the walls and combine the photos into a series of three-dimensional images that could be studied in greater detail.

Crosses carved into the wall of the Holy Sepulchre

Crosses carved into the wall of the Chapel of St. Helena. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer.

 

Excavating Holy Sites—The Challenge

The team got their chance in 2018 when the chapel was closed for renovations. However, they needed to work fast. In the end, the team was allowed only 2 days to conduct their project. The team had to double-check all of their photos on the spot and make any needed adjustments with only the equipment they had with them. They also had to contend with limited space. The project’s work area, located behind the chapel’s apse, was often narrower than 1 foot. The narrow confines, together with poor lighting, caused the team a great deal of difficulty, as most cameras cannot focus properly or photograph large surfaces under such conditions.

Saint Helena Apse tile 07 by Moshe Caine.

 

Yet another challenge was the limited equipment the team was allowed to use inside the church. Due to regulations, the project could only bring in small portable gear and could not even use a ladder or tripod. A final issue was created from the floor repaving work that allowed the team to carry out the project in the first place. Although repaving of many sections of the Holy Sepulchre only began in 2022, work in the Chapel of St. Helena was started in 2018. It was during these repairs that the team was allowed into the site. However, the repairs also generated a great deal of dust, which not only made breathing difficult but also caused problems for the team’s cameras.

 

Excavating Holy Sites—The Solution

Despite these challenges, the team was still able to proceed and take photographs of a large section of the wall. The most effective way to create three-dimensional models of the chapel would have been to take numerous high-resolution images of the entire wall. However, due to space limitations, the team decided to photograph the wall brick by brick. For this, the team used advanced digital cameras as well as a small LED light. The various images were later stitched together digitally into a composite map using three separate techniques: photogrammetry, reflectance transformation imaging, and gigapixel photography. Although the limitations put on the team did reduce the accuracy of the work, they were still able to overcome these challenges and a peer-reviewed article detailing their results is expected in late 2022.

 


Read more in Bible History Daily:

Restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Practical Uses for Photogrammetry on Archaeological Excavations

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?

The Evolution of a Church—Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre

Evidence of Earliest Christian Pilgrimage to the Holy Land Comes to Light in Holy Sepulchre Church

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

Related Posts


1 Responses

  1. Jared Rifkin says:

    Question re “Saint Helena Apse tile 07 by Moshe Caine”: Almost in the center, appear the letters “K K”or possibly “K I K”. Pilgrim’s grafitti? The carver’s initials? Any idea whether contemporary to the crosses?

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published.


1 Responses

  1. Jared Rifkin says:

    Question re “Saint Helena Apse tile 07 by Moshe Caine”: Almost in the center, appear the letters “K K”or possibly “K I K”. Pilgrim’s grafitti? The carver’s initials? Any idea whether contemporary to the crosses?

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Send this to a friend