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“Golgotha” redirects here. For other uses, see Golgotha (disambiguation).

Not to be confused with cavalry. For other uses, see Calvary (disambiguation).

Traditional site of Golgotha, within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Golgotha, or Calvary (Biblical Greek Γολγοθᾶ[ς] Golgotha[s], traditionally interpreted as reflecting Syriac (Aramaic) golgolta,[1] as it were Hebrew gulgōleṯ (גולגולת), “skull”,[2] Arabic: جلجثة‎), was, according to the Gospels, a site immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls where Jesus was crucified.[3]

Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels translate the term to mean “place of [the] skull” (Κρανίου Τόπος Kraníou Tópos),[4] in Latin rendered Calvariæ Locus, from which the English word Calvary derives.

Its traditional site, identified by Helena of Constantinople, the mother of Constantine the Great, in 325, is at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A 19th-century suggestion places it at the site now known as Skull Hill, some 500 m (1,600 ft) to the north, and 200 m (660 ft) north of the Damascus Gate. Historian Joan Taylor bases a location c. 175 m (574 ft) south-southeast of the traditional site on her reading of textual evidence.[5]


1 Biblical references and etymology

2 Location

2.1 Church of the Holy Sepulchre

2.2 Alternative theories

3 Church of the Holy Sepulchre

3.1 Temple to Aphrodite

3.2 Rockface

3.3 Pilgrimages to Constantine’s Church

4 Gordon’s Calvary

5 On Aelia Capitolina’s Decumanus

6 Outside Lions Gate

7 See also

8 References

9 External links

Biblical references and etymology

File:Altar of the Crucifixion in The Church of The Holy Sepulchre.ogv

Altar at the traditional site of Golgotha

The altar at the traditional site of Golgotha

Chapel of Mount Calvary, painted by Luigi Mayer

The recorded form Γολγοθα may be a simplified pronunciation of an Aramaic golgolta,[6] corresponding to Hebrew gulgōleṯ (גֻּלְגֹּלֶת) “skull”.[2]

English Calvary is the anglicized form of the Latin gloss from the Vulgate (Calvariæ), to refer to Golgotha in Luke 23:33, where the Greek text gives Κρανίον rather than the explicit Κρανίου Τόπος of Matthew 26:33 and Mark 15:22. The adoption the Latin form has a long tradition in English Bible translations, going back to at least the late 10th century (Wessex Gospels[7]), and is retained in Wycliffe’s Bible and Tyndale’s Bible as well as in the King James Version. By contrast, Martin Luther translates Luke’s Κρανίον into German as Schädelstätte (“place of skull(s)”).[8] The Latinism is also current in various other languages within the Latin sphere of influence, including Spanish and Italian Calvario, French Calvaire, Polish Kalwaria, Lithuanian Kalvarijos.

The church fathers offer different interpretations for the name; either deriving it from a topographic feature resembling a cranium (Pseudo-Tertullian),[9] or alternatively as the site where the skull of Adam was said to be buried (Origenes), or from the skulls of those executed there (Jerome, locum decollatorum).[10]

The association of the site with the “skull of Adam” is expanded in a number of noncanonical Christian writings, including the Kitab al-Magall, the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, the Cave of Treasures, as well as by Patriarch Eutychius of Alexandria (9th century). According to these accounts, Shem and Melchizedek traveled to the resting place of Noah’s Ark, retrieved the body of Adam from it, and were led by Angels to Golgotha — described as a skull-shaped hill at the centre of the Earth, where also the serpent’s head had been crushed following the Fall of Man.[10]

While the Gospels merely identify Calvary as a “place” (τόπος), Christian tradition since at least the 6th century has described the location as a “mountain” or “hill”.[10]

The location itself is mentioned in all four canonical Gospels:

Matthew 27:33: “And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha [Γολγοθᾶ], that is to say, a place of a skull [Κρανίου Τόπος]” (KJV)

Mark 15:22: “And they bring him unto the place Golgotha [Γολγοθᾶ], which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull [Κρανίου Τόπος]” (KJV)

Luke 23:33: “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary [Κρανίον], there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.” (KJV)

John 19:17: “And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull [Κρανίου Τόπον], which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha [Γολγοθα].” (KJV)

An alternative suggestion, due to Krafft (1846)[11] proposes that the reported association with the word “skull” is a popular etymology of an original name Gol Goatha, interpreted (by Krafft) as meaning “heap of death”, or “hill of execution”; the supposed toponym Goatha has also been identified, by Ferguson (1847), with the location called Goʿah (גֹּעָה)[12] in Jeremiah 31:39, in a description of the geography of Jerusalem.[13]


There is no consensus as to the location of the site. John (19:20) describes the crucifixion site as being “near the city”. According to Hebrews (Hebrews 13:12), it was “outside the city wall”. Matthew 27:39 and Mark 15:29 both note that the location would have been accessible to “passers-by”. Thus, locating the crucifixion site involves identifying a site that, in the city of Jerusalem some four decades before its destruction in AD 70, would have been outside the city walls and well visible to passers-by.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Christian tradition since the 4th century has favoured a location now within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This places it well within today’s Jerusalem’s Old City Walls, which were built in the 16th century. Proponents of the traditional Holy Sepulchre location point out at the fact that 1st-century Jerusalem had a different shape and size from the 16th-century city, leaving the church’s site outside the pre-AD 70 city walls. Those opposing it doubt this.

Defenders of the traditional site have argued that the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was only brought within the city limits by Herod Agrippa (41–44), who built the so-called Third Wall around a newly-settled northern district, while at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion around AD 30 it would still have been just outside the city.

Henry Chadwick (2003) argued that when Hadrian’s builders replanned the old city, they “incidentally confirm[ed] the bringing of Golgotha inside a new town wall.”[14]

In 2007 Dan Bahat, the former City Archaeologist of Jerusalem and Professor of Land of Israel Studies at Bar-Ilan University, stated that “Six graves from the first century were found on the area of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. That means, this place [was] outside of the city, without any doubt…”,[15] thus maintaining that there are no scientific, archaeological grounds for rejecting the traditional location for Calvary.

Alternative theories

Some Protestant advocates of an alternative site claim that a wall would imply the existence of a defensive ditch outside it, so an earlier wall couldn’t be immediately adjacent to the Golgotha site, which, combined with the presence of the Temple Mount, would make the city inside the wall quite thin. Essentially, for the traditional site to have been outside the wall, the city would have had to be limited to the lower parts of the Tyropoeon Valley, rather than including the defensively advantageous western hill. Since these geographic considerations imply that not including the hill within the walls would be willfully making the city prone to attack from it, some scholars, including the late 19th century surveyors of the Palestine Exploration Fund, consider it unlikely that people would build a wall that cut the hill off from the city in the valley.[16] However, archaeological digs within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre proved the existence of six graves from the first century on the area of the church, placing it outside the city area[15] and casting doubt on the “Strategic Weakness” and “Defensive Ditch” hypotheses.

Joan Taylor supports a location inside the Old City, east of Jaffa Gate, southwest of the David and Habad Street junction, but still north of St Mark’s Street.[5] She considers that canonical as well as apocryphal Gospels, in connection with the known history and archaeology of Aelia Capitolina and Byzantine Jerusalem, together with the works of Melito of Sardis and Eusebius, indicate that Golgotha was the name of an area created by a large First Temple Period quarry, and not just of the crucifixion site, the latter of which she locates at the southern margin of this area.[5] At the same time, Taylor supports the traditional location of the tomb.[5]

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Pilgrims queue to touch the rock of Calvary in Chapel of the Crucifixion

Disc marking traditional place, under the altar, where Jesus’ cross stood.

The Holy Sepulchre (1) in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem

The traditional location of Golgotha derives from its identification by Helena, the mother of Constantine I, in 325. Only a few steps away (within 45 metres (50 yd)), Helena also identified the location of the tomb of Jesus and claimed to have discovered the True Cross; her son, Constantine, then built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the whole site. In 333, the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, entering from the east described the result:

On the left hand is the little hill of Golgotha where the Lord was crucified. About a stone’s throw from thence is a vault [crypta] wherein his body was laid, and rose again on the third day. There, at present, by the command of the Emperor Constantine, has been built a basilica; that is to say, a church of wondrous beauty.[17]

In Nazénie Garibian de Vartavan’s doctoral thesis, now published as La Jérusalem Nouvelle et les premiers sanctuaires chrétiens de l’Arménie. Méthode pour l’étude de l’église comme temple de Dieu, she concluded, through multiple arguments (mainly theological and archaeological), that the true site of Golgotha was precisely at the vertical of the now buried Constantinian basilica’s altar and away from where the traditional rock of Golgotha is situated.[18] The plans published in the book indicate the location of the Golgotha within a precision of less than two meters, below the circular passage situated a metre away from where the blood stained shirt of Christ was traditionally recovered and immediately before the stairs leading down to “St. Helena’s Chapel” (the above-mentioned mother of Emperor Constantine), alternatively called “St. Vartan’s Chapel”.

Temple to Aphrodite



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